INDIANAPOLIS — Pressure isn’t something that gets to Charlie Kimball. He doesn’t allow it to. See, Kimball is a race car driver with diabetes. Talk about pressure. He has a health condition, luckily a manageable one, but a health condition nonetheless that could affect how well he does his job. That in turn affects his paychecks.
Kimball, deals with diabetes every day even the ones where he drives a race car at a very high rate of speed that also sees his body pull 3-4 g-forces each time he turns the wheel. Oh yeah, that car he’s driving at those speeds, pulling those g-forces, while his lean frame deals with diabetes, well it doesn’t have power steering.
That job is his paycheck. He’s a husband and a father and this difficult profession is what supports them. Now that’s pressure.
But, Kimball faces more pressure on his shoulders for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. See, he found himself a full time ride again. After running only 7 of the 17 races a year ago for Carlin, Kimball will run the full slate during this upcoming season in the No. 4 Chevrolet with AJ Foyt Racing.
This is the same team that hasn’t won a race since 2013 – the lone victory for this organization in the last 17 years. Since 2003, they’ve also have earned a grand total of 16 top five finishes — combined. The most top fives any driver who’s raced for them has scored in a single season? Try two.
Kimball’s arrival to Foyt marks the fourth time in the last five years that they’ve at least had one new driver. Now, the team is looking for Kimball, a driver who himself hasn’t won a race since 2013, to help them turn the corner.
That too, is pressure. Despite that, Kimball doesn’t listen to the outside noise. While expectations are relatively low this season for Foyt, Kimball said that any pressure that he feels is on himself.
“Well, I’ve long said that any expectation or pressure that I feel is greater internally than anything that exists externally,” Kimball said on Wednesday. “I really feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself to be successful, and if the expectation is there externally or not, it’s irrelevant because that’s secondary to the drive that I have and making sure that I take care of, firstly, A.J. Foyt Racing, secondly, my partners in Novo Nordisk.”
Kimball, expects to win at Foyt. He expects to end the seven year droughts for himself and Foyt in 2020. But, in order to do so, Foyt is going to be leaning on Kimball a lot to help them overcome years of bad results.
See, the last several seasons have been miserable for the entire organization. This second car that Kimball will drive was brought back on a full-time basis in 2015. Its run 83 races. That car has two top five finishes in that time frame.
The No. 14 car hasn’t been much better. Takuma Sato, Carlos Munoz and Tony Kanaan have combined for four top fives in the same amount of races run.
That’s why expectations are low for the team in 2020. Then even admitted as much on Wednesday.
Team President Larry Foyt said that they’re going back to a rebuild mode for 2020. In comes a new set of engineers again in Mike Colliver and Mike Pawlowski. In comes Kimball. Combined, this trio is going to be leaned a lot upon to right this ship.
“We are in a bit of a reset coming off a tough year,” Foyt said on Wednesday when announcing Kimball as one of his drivers for 2020. “So I really like the fact, when we started talking to Charlie (Kimball) and he was available, here’s a guy with a lot of experience. I think Charlie’s a technical driver. He showed he can win. He showed he can finish in the top ten in the championship. And those are just all the things that we want to build on.
“So that’s just a really good fit for us because we have some new engineers on board. So I think a guy coming in with Charlie’s mindset and with what Charlie can do behind the wheel is exactly what we needed.”
This wasn’t the only time Kimball’s name was mentioned on Wednesday in terms of being a technical driver and good fit for them.
“With Charlie coming in — and like I said, I think he’s going to do great stuff for our setups and be able to give great feedback, from everything I’ve heard of speaking with people who have worked with him in the past,” Foyt said again later in the conversation. “I think that’s going to be big for us to quickly just try to find those few tenths that we were missing last year. I think that’s going to pay a lot of dividends for the team.”
Foyt, not only noted that he expects to be better than last year, saying he’d be very disappointed if 2020 looked a lot like 2019, but he expects a better start out of the gates too. He says that in order to be competitive in this series, you have to come out of the gates strong. You can’t come out heading in the wrong direction and hope to turn it back around quickly.
See, there’s four races between now and Indy. That’s not a lot of data to base decisions off of on whether you’re heading the right way or not. But, once you get to Indy, it’s the road course race, Indy 500 qualifying, the Indy 500 itself, a doubleheader in Detroit, then a night race six days later in the heat at Texas. If you don’t have your stuff together heading to Indy, you’re at least nine races into a 17 race campaign before you can even breathe. Then, good luck finding the valuable testing time, because there’s not a lot of it to get things steered back in the right direction once we hit June anyways.
“What’s so tough about the INDYCAR SERIES is, once you get into the season, it’s very tough to dig yourself out of a hole,” Foyt noted. “It’s not saying it can’t be done. But you know the summer stretch that we have after Indianapolis and we’re going back-to-back races, and it’s hard to — there’s not a lot of testing at that time, and it’s just very hard to dig yourself if you’ve gone down a wrong path.”
The other factor is, this series is always evolving. Just because you find areas you can fix doesn’t mean the top teams aren’t improving either. Last year’s Indy 500 was a prime example. In 2018, Tony Kanaan was one of the top three cars that day. They’d come back a year later and were lost with not much change between the cars in the two years.
Foyt admitted that they made changes to gain, but the other teams did that much of a better job to counter.
“We were very confident going back into the Speedway last year that we’d be strong, and we just weren’t. Where other teams had gained a little bit, we hadn’t gained as much. That’s how tough INDYCAR is. Everybody is constantly gaining, and if you don’t, you’re going to fall behind very quickly.”
Foyt said that they went down the wrong path for all the races last year. He didn’t hide behind that. What’s disappointing to him is that they worked hard and even found things that could work, only to see them not being able to keep up with the changing tracks as the weekends progressed.
“Last year was such a tough year for us because the effort just wasn’t equaling anything on the track that we were putting in, and that was very frustrating for everybody.
“It was just stuff that a lot of times we felt showed well in our off-track testing, and when we got to the track, it seemed like, when we tried it, that was the right way to go still. But then as the track rubbered up and things like that started to happen, all of a sudden, you’re not where you need to be. And understanding the way that happens for race weekend is one of the really difficult parts of INDYCAR. The tracks change from session to session, and all of a sudden, you thought you were in a good place, and now you’re behind a little bit.
“So it’s just all of that stuff together. We’ve been doing this a long time, so as your setups evolve, we don’t feel like we’re in a terrible place there, but we felt like maybe the way our setups were working with our dampers, that wasn’t the right way, and I think that’s an area where we try to get to a place where we feel like we know better and start working from there.”
Translation? They need some big time help. Maybe a fresh set of eyes with a technical background to propel them back to trending up.
Foyt said multiple times, this is one of the main reasons Kimball was brought to the team. He only has funding right now for six races but they still hired him on for the additional 11.
Kimball has been here before. He’s ready to embrace it.