The common theme goes that, in order to grow, one must move out of a comfort zone. Charlie Kimball is looking to do both as he prepares for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
The 32-year-old Californian endured an admitted “up-and-down” year with an overall theme of heartbreaking moments in his seventh season.
The highs included scoring his first career Verizon P1 Award pole position, at Texas Motor Speedway in June. However, chances for victory were thwarted by a mechanical issue just 41 laps into the race. At the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May, Kimball was running second in the No. 83 Tresiba Honda with less than 40 laps to go when an engine failure dashed his hopes to fight for the win on the biggest stage of all.
Those two outcomes were symbolic microcosms of Kimball’s season. The Chip Ganassi Racing pilot was left with just five top-10 finishes, a far cry from a stout 2016 campaign that saw him collect 11 top-10 results.
The net result was 17th in the final standings this year, Kimball’s worst season performance since he finished 19th in his first two Verizon IndyCar Series seasons. That’s a big reason why he is looking for a fresh start potentially outside of Chip Ganassi Racing, the only team he has driven for since his rookie campaign in 2011.
CGR recently announced it was downsizing from four to two cars in 2018. Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon will be one of the drivers. The team has yet to announce who will pilot the second car.
Driving for the 11-time Indy car championship-winning organization has given Kimball a strong idea of what to look for as he aims to join a team that shares his vision.
“I mean, there’s a reason they are so successful,” Kimball said of CGR. “But at the same time, I think change is good and I’m looking to go somewhere that I can grow and I can develop as a driver.
“Maybe being with a smaller team, a two-car operation, would be a good thing for me. The focus and the ability to get a little more customization done would be nice. With a four-car team, sometimes it’s information overload at times.
“So it’s a chance to find something different and learn something with new people and new situations. With the aero kit next year, it’s all new.”
Like many drivers, Kimball’s focus is to stay fit in the offseason until testing begins for the new universal aero kit that is set to debut in 2018 with all teams. Until then, the plan is to get as much seat time in any driving discipline he can gets his hands on.
“I think the biggest thing is to make sure I’m in the gym as much as possible and spending as much time in simulators, spending as much time in go-karts and other cars if possible,” said Kimball, whose lone Verizon IndyCar Series win came in 2013 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“Have helmet, will travel.”
Kimball believes that, no matter where he winds up, he’s a driver to be reckoned with and respected come 2018.
“Somebody said a while ago that I’m not just an easy out anymore, I’ve got a little more backbone,” he said. “I think there were sometimes (in 2017) that caused a little bit of strife with some people and (they) didn’t necessarily like the fact that I wasn’t just getting out of their way anymore. I was pushing hard, driving hard when I needed to and racing hard.
“I really think I was a clean racer throughout the whole season and I think people are starting to understand that. It wasn’t just they expected me to get out of the way anymore.
“My ability to do the right thing during races has grown.”
Where that takes Kimball, the first winning Indy car driver diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, remains to be seen in 2018.