Charlie Kimball is a hell of a race car driver. You don’t make 156 career NTT IndyCar Series starts if you’re not. The California native won at race at Mid-Ohio back in 2013. He also has 14 top five finishes over the course of his career as well as 59 top 10’s too. In 130 of those 155 races, he’s crossed the finish line as the checkered flag.
The problem is, the funding from a long time sponsor dried up a bit, so a full time ride wasn’t around to be had for the 2021 season. So, he instead had a part time plan with AJ Foyt Racing, the team he drove for last year. The first race would be the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in May. The second would be the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30.
He qualified 21st and finished 22nd on the road course. Unfortunately, they just didn’t have enough speed to make the ‘500. With 35 cars going for 33 spots, he was one of the two drivers bumped from the field.
How much of a factor did Texas play into that?
See, Sebastien Bourdais has been honest with me that tearing up a ton of cars in Texas earlier that month forced them to reel back their aggression levels moving forward.
“I mean, we’ve had such a complicated year anyways with a lot of crash damage, especially over a 48-hour period at Texas that really doesn’t allow us to wreck a whole lot of material,” Bourdais told me on a zoom call a few weeks ago. “I think Larry (Foyt) is pretty deep in the pocket already, so that definitely sets the tone as far as how much you want to dare it, and plus for the longest time and really until Gateway, we were really starving for points.”
What he was meaning by that is, the crash damage forced him to have to play it conservative. At Indy, they had to then go with more downforce and not risk crashing. Bourdais said then that crashing in Indy normally breaks more parts and more parts cost more money. By doing that, one of their four cars, Kimball’s, didn’t even make the race on speed and Bourdais qualified 27th and finished 26th.
That trickled down to the other races. In turn, it put them on the Leaders Circle bump line and they had to be even more conservative. They needed to finish races and score as many points by doing so. In a day and age of Indy Car racing where he need to be aggressive in your pursuit of passing, Bourdais couldn’t be. By being aggressive, you cross the line to incur more crash damage. He nor AJ Foyt Racing could afford for Bourdais to put themselves in that situation.
In turn, guys that were pushing hard would just run over Bourdais in their pursuit to the front and in wake of that, the 14 team had more bad luck fall their way.
“The fact that when you are behind the 8-ball like that and you really need to score fairly consistently and at a fairly higher rate than we definitely did, again, to be able to score points, you need to finish the races,” Bourdais continued. “Yeah, you definitely kind of maybe become a little bit more conservative than you should be, and I think unfortunately it kind of showed with the performance of our starts and restarts at times, you just kind of hang back a little bit, you leave a half a car, whatever, and then unfortunately right away you get swarmed with a couple of cars that just get on top of you and lose a couple spots.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a tough balancing act to get on top of, but yeah, it’s just the way it is. The management of aggression is definitely a harder thing to do when you’re trying to cover getting to the finish, not crashing more than you already have. Yeah, it’s not exactly what you want to be thinking about when you’re in the middle of a tight pack as it is these days.”
How much of that translated over to Kimball’s No. 11 Chevrolet at Indy? He was honest in his assessment in saying, not much. They just didn’t have the speed to make it he notes.
Still, with missing the race, it caused adversity. Some people respond well to it. Some don’t. Which end is Kimball?
He told me that it motivates him. He’s going to use that situation in May and fuel his fire even deeper. It’s helped him find a ride in fact to come back and take it out on the field on Sunday.
He never gave up. He kept working. He found a deal to come back to the team this weekend for the season finale on the streets of Long Beach and is very much looking forward to being back in the race car. He last street course race, he finished eighth. His last Long Beach race, he came home 10th.
What about his home race makes him so good there?
He says it’s a course that suits him.
In saying this, the old adage is that you’re only good as you’re last race. Kimball’s last appearance was a DNQ at Indy. How important is it for him to showcase to other teams that he’s a name that should be on their list for 2022 rides and how important is it that he gets another chance this weekend on a good track for him in being the last race of the season at that?
He told me a good one. While he has nothing lined up for next season yet, being in the season finale doesn’t hurt those prospects. He’s not ready to give up and will continue being at the track in hopes of securing a ride for 2022.
“Have helmet, will travel,” he says.