INDYCAR fans tuning into GRAND-AM’s Rolex 24 this past weekend certainly had no shortage of drivers to pull for. There was Sèbastien Bourdais in the Starworks #2, and IZOD IndyCar Series champ Ryan Hunter-Reay in the Wayne Taylor Racing #10. Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, and Bruno Junqueira were just a few of the other INDYCAR drivers taking part in this marathon race.
Yet at the end of the 24 hours, only one IndyCar driver could claim victory, even as Hunter-Reay and Wilson claimed their place on the podium. In his first ever Rolex 24, Charlie Kimball was part of Chip Ganassi Racing’s #01 driver line-up that truly outshone the competition almost start to finish. If you’re keeping track at home, that means Kimball is now 1-for-1 when it comes to sports car racing.
Most folks around INDYCAR will tell you it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. The 27 year-old American has slowly built himself up from a relative unknown in his rookie season to one of the drivers most featured on TV, due in large part to his active Novo Nordisk sponsorship. He’s remained friendly, accessible, focused, and dedicated to learning his craft. The difference in 2012 was noticeable; Kimball tripled his Top 10 finishes from his rookie campaign (including a P8 at Indy), while grabbing his first Series podium at Toronto. It was a less tentative, more confident Kimball we saw on-track last season. Winning against the sterling competition at Rolex should add to that confidence.
For Kimball’s part, he was characteristically humble when it came to his team’s accomplishment. He stated “having these guys as teammates takes a heck of a lot off my shoulders because I knew that I could settle in, and as long as I was smart and didn't make too many big mistakes and kept us in the race they'd put us in a position to win at the end”.
While having the likes of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas on your team doesn’t hurt, Kimball’s 53 laps weren’t anything to sneeze at, either. In his rookie Rolex outing, he ran lap times generally consistent with those of his veteran teammates. Taking over in the wee hours of Sunday morning, he did his part to spell the other drivers, in an understated and efficient manner that shouldn’t surprise any Kimball fan.
With the first herald of the 2013 racing season over, INDYCAR fans look to the fast-approaching IZOD IndyCar season. With Kimball returning to Ganassi’s stable this year, there are certainly expectations he will continue to improve. He’s got more experience, a top-tier team behind him, and now a victory in one of the more prestigious events in auto racing. As Dan Wheldon used to say, winning a big event just makes you hungrier to win more.
We’ll have to see if this victory is a hint of even more on-track success for the 3rd-year IICS driver, but one thing’s for sure: if you see Charlie Kimball around the paddock this season, make sure to ask him what time it is.
He should have a pretty fancy Rolex he can refer to for the answer.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate, or drop him a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com.