Charlie Kimball is hoping less means more in 2019.
Turning 34 today, the Californian finds himself in uncharted territory with a part-time schedule for the upcoming NTT IndyCar Series season. While the adjustment comes after eight previous years as a full-time competitor, Kimball is looking more at the positives of his five guaranteed races in the No. 23 Carlin Chevrolet.
“I think it's a great opportunity to continue to learn,” Kimball said. “I've always said that, as a driver, the day I stop learning is the day I should hang up my helmet. To be a part of a team like Carlin as they continue to grow and become more and more successful in INDYCAR – I have every confidence they will be – so being a part of that both on and off the track is going to be a lot of fun for me personally, an opportunity to grow and learn as a person and now, as a father.”
Welcoming back longtime partner Novo Nordisk for an 11th year, Kimball’s handful of races include the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10, the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 26, the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 18 and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey that closes the season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 22.
“There's enough track time (to get into a rhythm), especially when we get to the month of May,” said Kimball, the 2013 race winner at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“There's plenty of track time to get into that sequencing, but visualization and simulation is a big part of our sport, anyways. The opportunity to do it, to prepare for those discrete moments while I'm in the car will be helpful.
“I hope that I can turn it into the chance and the opportunity to be even more successful because of those discrete packets when I'm in the car.”
While the Indianapolis 500 is the highlight of every driver’s schedule, Kimball is excited for the return of Indy car racing to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the first time in 15 years. Kimball was at the track in Monterey, California, for one of its most legendary moments – when Alex Zanardi passed Bryan Herta at the Corkscrew in 1996 to pull off an unimaginable victory. It’s still called “The Pass.”
“I was there as a 13-year-old kid because my dad was there doing some engineering work,” Kimball said. “Until they went up in smoke a little over a year ago (when the Kimball family home in Southern California sustained heavy damage during a wildfire), I had a film negative in print of the pass with Alex sliding by the inside of Bryan at the top (of the Corkscrew). I took the photo of that and went, 'Oh my God!' and didn't take any more photos, which is why I'm not a professional photographer because I stop to enjoy the moment rather than take photos of it.”
There is optimism within the Carlin camp as the team readies for its second NTT IndyCar Series season. The maiden campaign was highlighted by Kimball’s six top-10 results, including a fifth-place finish at the Honda Indy Toronto. Kimball and teammate Max Chilton went through the entire season without suffering a single mechanical failure.
Kimball admitted that managing race weekends in 2019 will likely “have to evolve and develop” as he gets accustomed to not driving when someone else is in the No. 23 Chevy. He is looking at taking on a teaching role for the other 12 races, whether that includes assisting engineers with feedback or helping the other Carlin drivers improve their sector times.
Put simply, Kimball views himself as a “voice of experience in pit lane.”
“I hope I can provide enough value to help point them in the right direction,” Kimball said.
He also enjoys the chance to work alongside Chilton for a fourth straight season: two at Chip Ganassi Racing before both drivers moved to Carlin last year.
“I think Max and I have worked really well together,” Kimball said. “We did it at Ganassi and moving over to Carlin last year, he and I continued to build and grow that relationship. And the engineers, the strategists, mechanics, everybody at Carlin is so committed to being successful in INDYCAR.
“I hope that my experience, especially when I'm not in the car this year, I can help give them some direction on how to be successful long term because that's our goal.”
Kimball will be part of the field at the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, on March 10 (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).