Kimball impresses with podium finish at Indy 500

Charlie Kimball was the first of the Chip Ganassi Racing team drivers to cross the finish line in Sunday's Indianapolis 500 in third place.

Ernie Masche

INDIANAPOLIS – Charlie Kimball’s third-place finish in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 was impressive because his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet seemed to get faster near the end of the race. The driver from Camarillo, California finished third behind the Team Penske duo of Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power.

“It was a blast,” said Kimball, a Type I Diabetic who has not let his ailment keep from racing competitively. “The guys worked really hard on the car all month. To be so close to winning the pit stop competition on Friday, then to come close today, I think it makes us all hungrier.

“It’s the Indianapolis 500. You get to the front; you give it everything you’ve got. Every opportunity you have, you make the most of it.”

Kimball finished the highest of any Chip Ganassi Racing driver and that’s quite a surprise considering teammate Scott Dixon started on the pole and led 11 times for 84 laps – the most of any driver in the Indy 500. Dixon had a car that didn’t want to turn at the end of the race and finished fourth.

The rest of Kimball’s teammates also struck bad luck:

Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner and 2004 IndyCar Series champion, started fourth and led four times for 30 laps before he crashed into the Turn 4 wall.

Sebastian Saavedra was part of the scariest crash of the race when three cars piled into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 176 scattering debris all over the fourth turn. Saavedra suffered a foot injury and his racing shoe had to be cut off his foot in order for him to get out of the car.

And 20-year-old Sage Karam, who had been fast all month in practice leading up to the Indianapolis 500, never got to complete a single lap because he was put into the wall when Takuma Sato of Tokyo tried to go three-wide into Turn 1 at the start of the race. The other car in that trio was Ryan Briscoe, but his team was able to make repairs to the Honda and he would finish 12th.

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It was also team owner Chip Ganassi’s birthday, but he didn’t get the gift he really wanted – a trip to Victory Lane.

“All the guys at Chip Ganassi Racing wanted to give Chip a win for his birthday today, but especially the Novo Nordisk team,” Kimball said. “We learned a lot from Dario Franchitti this month. Over 500 miles, the car changes all the time. The first couple stints, I couldn’t do anything wrong. I could you have put that thing down through the grass and she’d have stuck. In the middle stint, felt like I couldn’t do anything right. I kept telling my guys what the car was doing, asking for what I needed to be there at the end. They kept giving it to me.

“The last two stints we kept making progress.”

And he progressed all the way into the top five, putting himself in the thick of an intense battle between Montoya, Dixon and Power.

“I saw Scott racing pretty hard with the Penske boys,” Kimball said. “I thought that I could be in the catbird seat here if they go three-wide into one and I go in the warm-up lane and come out the other side. Having said that, it was great racing. Scott had to lift for traffic; I wasn’t going to lift.

“I didn’t have anything for the Penske boys the last couple laps. A lot of credit to them. They ran strong all day.”

Kimball’s third-place finish is his best in the Indianapolis 500. He’s most happy that he was able to be in the fight at the end of a thrilling race.

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“You have to ask yourself what we’re here for,” Kimball said. “We put on a heck of a show today. It was one heck of a motor race out there, in beautiful conditions. I think that showcases what the Verizon IndyCar Series is really about.

“Here I was waiting for the top two to take themselves out. At that point I knew I wasn’t quite close enough to make a move. I kind of hoped Will would make a move on Juan that maybe wasn’t quite going to work. You got to be heads up for 500 miles. It’s not just about the last lap around here, it’s about how you set yourself up for that, how good you’ve made your car over the course of the day.”

Kimball’s competitiveness as an IndyCar driver is important to show others that suffer from diabetes they can still lead an active and competitive life. He drove to his only IndyCar Series win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2013 and continues to serve as an inspiration to others with diabetes.

“I think that’s really cool,” Kimball said. “All of my racing career has been about breaking down barriers, if you’ll excuse the pun, but paving new roads, for drivers with diabetes, for anybody overcoming a challenge. When I meet somebody who has just been diagnosed, I always try to put as big a smile on my face, maybe not as big as what I had when I got out of the car today, but a big smile that says, Welcome to the cool kids club. You have diabetes, but now you’re part of this community. To be able to give them that message and hopefully change their perspective.

“I’m fortunate to be part of this diabetes community and represent them at what I think is the best job in the world, driving racecars, to be able to do it at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500, and be successful as well. That’s a big part of it.”

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