5 August 2013
Mid-Ohio: Kimball claims maiden win in IndyCar
It took a lot of team work and strategy to put him out in front with a chance of winning, but once the victory was in sight Charlie Kimball brought home the win with an astonishing assurance.
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 début 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."
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