Ganassi's Charlie Kimball has been steadily growing in confidence and ability as a driver over the last two and a half seasons ever since he made his IZOD IndyCar Series d?but at St Petersburg in 2011.

Often overlooked as 'the other Ganassi driver' after the more famous Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, Kimball started to make people sit up and notice when he put in a robust showing at Toronto in 2012 to clinch second spot, and this year he had an effective run at Barber Motorsports Park to finish in fourth during a part of the season when his team was, not to put too fine a point on it, going through a rocky patch.

Once Ganassi got back on from, however, Kimball was reaping the benefit every bit as much as Franchitti and Dixon, and last month in Pocono he joined them both for the first-ever podium lockout recorded by the team in any motor sports series in which Ganassi has competed. He followed that up with a top six performance in the second race at this year's visit to Toronto, leaving many to wonder whether just how long it would be before the 28-year-old - originally born in Chertsey in England, but who grew up in Camarillo, California and who now lives in Indianapolis - would be rewarded with his big break and a visit to victory lane.

Turns out we didn't have to wait that long to get an answer: on Sunday, Kimball followed in the tyre marks of James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato and Simon Pagenaud to become the fourth first-time winner of an IndyCar race in 2013.

He'd already equalled his best grid position for the race after clinching fifth place in qualifying on Saturday afternoon, and he soon moved up a spot with a nice move on Marco Andretti in turn 4 just three laps into the 90-lap race on Sunday. That's where he stayed until lap 19, at which point he came in for his first visit of the day to pit lane, committing himself to a three-stop strategy where the leaders of the race - Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Scott Dixon - were all doing their utmost to stretch out their fuel for a two-stop strategy that meant making it all the way to lap 30 and then to lap 60 for the second.

Given that road courses - even a pleasantly open and airy one such as the 13-turn, 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course permanent facility in Lexington - are usually hard work for open-wheel cars to pass on, this conservative two-stop approach seemed the right idea despite IndyCar having upped the event distance by five laps after 2012 to discourage fuel saving processions. As well as Dixon, Kimball's other team mate Dario Franchitti was also going for it. It just seemed that Kimball had been offered up as the guinea pig (and safety net) for the three-stopper strategy in case of any unforeseen eventualities.

Such as: Kimball being able to put his foot down and burn through his fuel at a prodigious rate while so many others ahead of him were playing the smart but frustrating fuel numbers game. That saw him go into the lead of the race for the first time on lap 31 ahead of James Hinchcliffe and Simon Pagenaud, both of whom were similarly gambling on three stops but all slightly out of sync - Hinchcliffe as early as lap 9, Pagenaud a late-in-the-day lap 25, leaving Kimball holding the middle ground among the trio. The question is which of the three would come out of it best - and would it in any case be enough to overcome the two-stoppers?

If any of the teams' pit wall planning relied on a conveniently-placed caution, then they were out of luck on Sunday: the colour yellow did not appear, the nearest thing to a safety car coming when Tony Kanaan became the sole retirement of the afternoon on lap 65 after reporting a loose tyre and pulling safely off to the side of the circuit in turn 3.

"It wasn't our weekend," signed Kanaan after the finish of the race allowed him to get back to pit road. "Nothing seemed to go our way. We just have to put this behind us and move on to Sonoma."

Not that a caution-free race at Mid-Ohio was unprecedented - in fact it happened in 2012, which was the last time an IndyCar race ran full distance without interruptions, so it should have been a factor in team planning for the weekend.

No cautions, no retirements, no accidents: what we had instead was the purest play-out of competing race strategies that you're ever likely to get in a motor race. Now the question was, which team had the right idea for the way the race was unfolding, and who was the best driver to execute the plans to a successful conclusion. If two stops was the right way to go then the money had to be on reigning champion Ryan Hunter-Reay; whereas if three stops was the answer then surely the smart choice for victory had to be road course specialist Simon Pagenaud in the #77 Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports car, which took over the lead from Kimball when the #83 pitted on lap 41.

It was at this midway point of the race, after Kimball had rejoined in second place behind Pagenaud, that at least one of the outstanding questions of the day was quickly answered: the numbers didn't lie, and they were telling teams that the three-stoppers had this one in the bag unless anything went awry - Hinchcliffe excepted, whose stop had been too early and ended up putting him almost back into sync with the fuel conservation group with little to show for the extra stop.

For the rest of the afternoon, Kimball and Pagenaud exchanged first and second places between them as the off-sync pit stops played out. No one else got near them, although the Ganassi team was quickest to wake up and smell the coffee and do an emergency convert to three stops for its other drivers, which worked out fairly well for Franchitti and boosted him up into third place but did Scott Dixon no favours at all and dropped him to seventh behind the Chevy trio of Power, Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves.

By the time the race entered it final lap, the two leaders were almost half a minute ahead of Franchitti, who himself had a big 14 second margin over the ten cars headed up by Will Power. It was a quite beautifully pure demonstration of the sheer power that choosing the perfect race strategy could give you in a motor race.

The only question was who would come out on top between Kimball and Pagenaud. The Frenchman might have had the experience and proven winning talent, but on this occasion it was Kimball with the hunger for the win. When Pagenaud emerged from his final pit stop just ahead of the #83, Kimball knew that he had to seize the moment and make his pass down the inside before Pagenaud's tyres were full up to temperature. After running wide at turn 1, he was able to recover and complete the pass through the Esses between turns 4 and 5. From there he had the maturity to keep it all together in a faultless drive to the line to deliver the fourth win on the bounce to the Ganassi team - a far cry from where they were just a couple of months ago when it looked like the powerhouse team would be lucky to even score a podium position in 2013.

"It's nice when the team gives you such a great car," said Kimball in victory lane. "All I needed to do was to hit the lap times they needed me to. For a while they were saying 67.5s, and I threw down a couple 67.1s. They said okay, see if you can do a 66. We just kept pushing the limit.

"Simon was on a similar strategy," he added. "I caught traffic at just some of the wrong times, so that meant that he came out of pit lane ahead of us. But we had the momentum to take the lead and make the pass for what turned out to be the win."

Pagenaud was magnanimous in defeat and praised the new addition to the ranks of IndyCar Series winners: "I've got to say, Charlie did a fantastic job today. I gave it all, just him and Ganassi were stronger.

"Charlie was bold enough to stick it on the inside and I didn't think he would make it but he did so congrats to him," he said. "Congrats to Honda - it's 1-2-3. It's a Honda track so it's important for us to bring a 1-2-3 home. But I've got to say, congrats to Charlie because I gave him hell!" he laughed.

It was indeed another all-Honda podium, showing once again that raw speed in qualifying (where rivals Chevrolet had locked out the front row with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power) could be overcome by an engine's race performance and fuel conservation, making this a much more finely-balanced and interesting championship season than many had been expecting.

Power admitted that the fourth place was ultimately a disappointment for him and for Penske: "I guess you could say we won the two stopper (pit stop) race today at Mid-Ohio," he shrugged. "We had great pit stops during the race and at the end of the day we did our best. We got stuck on a two pit stop strategy for the race and it was too late by then to make it up. It would have been great to get a win but I'm happy for the top-ten finish."

"We picked the wrong strategy today, we went with what we thought," agreed Hunter-Reay after finishing in fifth, having lost position to Power after a hold-up on pit lane on lap 60 after the #1 stopped slightly out of position, delaying the refuelling. "If we had one yellow in there it would have been our race - it would have been between Will and I, I think. Will and I were on the same strategy and we both worked really hard to save fuel, I know I worked my tail off. It is some of the hardest work in a race car to save that much fuel - and to have nothing to show for it, that sucks."

Slightly happier with the world was Helio Castroneves, whose sixth place at Mid-Ohio means that he extends his lead in the championship standings over Scott Dixon to 31 points. "I know that it was only a sixth place finish but it could win the Championship at the end of the year," he said. "I have said all along that we will continue to do our thing and not change a thing and it will pay off at the end of the day."

Dixon himself finished just behind in seventh, just ahead of Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson, who ran as high as fifth in the first stint on red option tyres before pitting on lap 26 for the first of what turned out to be three fuel stops. He was back down to tenth in the final phase of the race, before pulling off a nice move on Hinchcliffe for ninth and then taking over eighth place by out-manoeuvring his way past Marco Andretti in the Esses with six laps remaining.

"It was just frustrating we got caught in the middle of the strategies there - the three stop and the two stop - and we had to decide what to do and try to do something different," Wilson said after the finish. "It was a hard-fought race, pushing like crazy the entire race ... There wasn't a lot of grip today so we were slipping all over the place. it was tough.

"I was hoping we could do a little bit better but we'll just keep pushing away," he added. "It's hard to get close enough to make something happen here. It's just tough - nobody's getting even close enough to crash into each other!" he laughed. "For a while there we were just trying to do what the leaders were doing. We were saving fuel like they were but it just didn't work for us. We weren't quite good enough today but we'll keep working on it. We're doing the right things and I think we'll have another podium pretty soon."

Wilson had been joined at Dale Coyne Racing this week at Mid-Ohio by James Davison, the latest in an ever-changing rota of drivers in the team's #18 car. The Australian was able to pick up 15th place in his maiden outing in the series, just ahead of his fellow d?butant Luca Filippi who picked up 16th spot in the #98 Barracuda Racing/Bryan Herta Autosport machine.

It really wasn't all that long ago that Charlie Kimball was himself a rookie in the series; in fact, this was only his second IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio after having been forced to sit out the 2012 event with an injury sustained in testing that meant he'd been forced had to temporarily hand over the keys of the #83 to Giorgio Pantano. The lack of track knowledge hadn't show this weekend though, as Kimball had gone on to become the ninth different winner this season in a championship that is more wide-open and unpredictable in 2013 than it had been for at least a decade beforehand.

Up to now, Kimball has been perhaps best known in the sport as being the first person diagnosed with type 1 diabetes to become a driver in IndyCar. It's a condition that he doesn't hide, rather he wears it with pride on his firesuit thanks to sponsorship from Novo Nordisk whose products include the NovoLog FlexPen insulin delivery system, and Kimball himself speaks often on the subject as part of the Racing with Insulin national campaign. But after Mid-Ohio, he's no longer just 'the driver with diabetes' - he's a proven race winner at the highest level of US open wheel competition, a match for anyone in the business regardless of any medical issues.

"Getting a win quiets a lot of voices, for sure, especially voices within myself as a driver," Kimball agreed, who described the diagnosis of diabetes in 2007 as "pretty dark" as it threatened to end his fledgling racing career on the spot.

"To come five years later and get a race win in what I think is the most competitive openwheel series - for sure in the Americas and probably in the world at the minute - is pretty fantastic," he said. "It's a racetrack that I love, and to be able to come back and come back from that dark day and have so much success and be able to give back to that community like this is very fulfilling and very satisfying."

After that, anyone not rooting for Kimball to be a frequent repeat visitor to victory lane from now on in the future just doesn't have a beating heart.

See full race results from Mid-Ohio.