Kimball Poised for Breakout Season in 2017

Photo Credit: Charlie Kimball

Coming off of a career-high 8th place tie in this past season’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, 31-year-old Charlie Kimball looks poised to have a breakout season in 2017 for Chip Ganassi Racing in what will already be his seventh season in the series and driving for the Chip Ganassi Racing team.

Kimball’s 2016 season was far from spectacular, but it was one the most consistent seasons that the series has seen out of any driver of all time. Kimball finished no higher than 5th place all season in any race, which he did at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500, and he finished no lower than 16th place all season in any race, which he did at the second Dual in Detroit race. He finished outside of the top 12 positions just twice in 16 races. He only failed to finish one race all season, and he led all drivers in laps completed with 2,066. Even in the race he failed to finish, which was the season opener around the streets St. Petersburg, Florida, Kimball still managed a 10th place result after crashing on the final lap and being unable to finish the race.

Kimball set career highs of a 93.75% race completion rate, 11 top 10 finishes, and 433 championship points along with a tie for 8th place finish in the championship standings this past season. He is also currently on a streak of 15 consecutive races that he has finished, which is tied for his career high. Kimball also became the only driver to finish in the top 5 positions in the 2015 and 2016 Indianapolis 500 mile races with a 5th place finish this season following a 3rd place finish last season. He also became the only driver to have placed in the top 9 in four of the past five Indianapolis 500 mile races, a statistic that flew totally under the radar. Kimball’s 2016 season was an extremely fantastic model of consistency.

Despite the consistency and strength Kimball has mounted over the past few seasons in the IndyCar Series, he has not won a race since he won the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio in 2013. His drought of 55 consecutive races without a victory is the 3rd longest drought among active drivers. He trails only Marco Andretti (92 races) and Takuma Sato (66 races) in that unfortunate category.

However, given the progress that Kimball has made over the past couple of seasons with bringing the car home in one piece and earning solid results, he looks like he is ready to take that next step and put his car into victory lane one if not multiple times in 2017. Also, the fact that Chip Ganassi Racing is switching back to Honda engines next season for the first time since 2013 may play to Kimball’s advantage, since he really started picking up steam in 2013 with a Honda engine in his car en route to his maiden series victory and his at-the-time career-high 9th place finish in the championship standings.

Kimball is a driver for one of the strongest and successful teams in the history of IndyCar racing in Chip Ganassi Racing, and he has many great resources at his disposal because of it, including series veteran drivers Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon. Chip Ganassi Racing is the only team to have won the IndyCar championship using Honda engines in their cars since Dario Franchitti won it with a Honda-powered car driving for Andretti Green Racing in 2007, and they have done so five times since then in the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013 seasons. They are the only team that has won the IndyCar championship using Honda engines in this generation’s IndyCar chassis, the DW12, named after the late Dan Wheldon, and they did that in the 2013 season with Scott Dixon.

Despite the fact that drivers of the Honda-powered cars have fared worse than drivers of the Chevrolet-powered cars since Chevrolet made its reentry into the series as an engine manufacturer in 2012, winning only 27 races compared to the 57 won by drivers of Chevrolet-powered cars, Chip Ganassi Racing is by far the team that has had the most success using Honda engines in their cars. That should not be any different this season, and that alone may give Kimball what he needs to get back to victory lane and maybe even contend for his first IndyCar championship. He is a lot more developed as a driver right now than he was when Chip Ganassi Racing last used Honda engines four seasons ago, so the 2017 may have big things in store for him.

-Asher Fair

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