Mar 28 2011
Yesterday was the IndyCar series opener in St. Petersburg, Florida and the first race that Charlie KImball ran in the big league series. I’ve written before about him developing type 1 diabetes while he was racing in Europe and how my wife worked with him to manage his diabetes in the race car well enough to combine with his talent to drive into the premier US open-wheel auto racing series. The race was won by Ganassi teammate Dario Franchitti.
Having safely driven through a crash-fill start today Charlie worked up to 11th place before he had an unplanned connection with the turn three wall after a pit stop. The Indy Light series, where he raced the prior two years doesn’t have pit stops, and the high-speed action of changing tires and refueling was one of the many new challenges in this race. He learned the hard way today how much he can push the car with the mixture of cold tires, a full tank of fuel and racing adrenaline.
The race was run on a mix of city streets and an airport runway at a track familiar to Charlie from his Indy Lights experience. That series served as a great training ground for his move into IndyCars. There is a list of important changes that Charlie needs to master, but the race environment is very familiar.
One constant is the trackside presence of his father Gordon who serves as Charlie’s low-key manager while maintaining an active motorsport engineering and avocado-farming career. Charlie’s mother and girlfriend often join them at the track as well.
This was my first time at the St. Petersburg race, but the street course track felt familiar to the Long Beach race last year. Unlike the transition from minor league baseball to the pros where there are different stadium sizes and crowds, the Indy lights and IndyCars series are run on the same tracks on the same days.
In many ways this felt like Charlie’s third year in the greater IndyCar series instead of being a rookie a new racing world. The encouraging part about the day was how well he performed while on the racetrack. He stayed out of early trouble as other drivers took themselves out through crashes plus he made on-track passes.
The rookie mistakes, like the one he made today will pass and he will progress to finishing races and being a competitive force while being an ambassador for diabetes.