Neither the Daytona Prototype’s horsepower, its braking nor suspension caught Charlie Kimball off-guard during his initial round of testing the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates car for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Actually, not feeling the wind at his visor was the thing that struck the IZOD IndyCar Series driver.
“It was the first time I’ve ever driven anything with a roof competitively,” said Kimball, who will compete in his first Rolex Sports Car Series race this weekend. “Just very different sensations, visuals, audio, and it took me a couple of laps to get used to it. The last time I was on a track with three or four different classes of cars at the same time was British Formula Ford on a track day at Donington Park where you had everything from the Jaguar Le Mans car to Formula Ford to a 1970s’ Mustang sports car.”
Kimball is among more than 10 INDYCAR drivers, including reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti, who will compete in three categories in the 51st edition of the endurance race on the 3.56-mile, 12-turn Daytona International Speedway circuit.
Kimball, who is entering his third season with Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing, will co-drive the No. 01 car with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Juan Pablo Montoya. Pruett and Rojas have teamed up to win the Grand-Am series title six times, including the past three years. A Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates car has won the 24-race four times, the latest in 2011.
Getting a handle on the car didn’t prove elusive. It’s just different from his regular ride.
“Pruett was on the stand during my first stint and watched the telemetry and said, ‘You might want to consider doing this,’ ’’ Kimball said. “ ‘In an IndyCar you have a third of the weight and the same horsepower. This takes a little longer to develop so give it a second to get going. Feel like you’re driving slower and you’ll actually go faster.’ ”
The rookie of the group is welcoming to any and all pointers. He’s texted questions to Pruett and introduced topics to Rojas during their recent physical workouts in Indianapolis.
“Much of the advice hasn’t been about driving the car or racing the car or looking out for traffic,” Kimball said. “It’s been about the perspective of your job in the car is to get in, not hit anything, drive it at 95 percent while taking care of the car and the gearbox, the brakes, the engine and tires and hand the car over to the next guy in a position to go out and win the race. Run clean, run smart.
“For an IndyCar, that’s totally different. The green flag flies and you’re nose to the grindstone for the whole time.”
Running after dusk on a road course is another other element new to Kimball.
“At night, it’s a different perspective,” he said. “You come off the banking into the infield and there’s the first hairpin. You come back around and you’re facing cars coming off the banking and see these yellow, bright headlights. You get used to ignoring that input.”
Current INDYCAR drivers in the Rolex 24 At Daytona
Daytona Prototype category: Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson (defending race winner)
GT category: Tony Kanaan
GX category: James Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot, Tristan Vautier
Other notables with Indy car ties: Paul Tracy, Rubens Barrichello, Bruno Junqueira, Felipe Giaffone, Gustavo Yacaman, Rafael Matos, Christian Fittipaldi, AJ Allmendinger, Memo Gidley, Scott Sharp, Alex Figge, Max Papis, Joel Miller, Jonathan Bomarito and Jorge Goncalvez.