Charlie Kimball Returns on a Full-time Basis

On Wednesday we learned that one of the few remaining seats for the upcoming NTT IndyCar Series has been taken. Charlie Kimball will drive the No. 4 car on a full-time basis for AJ Foyt Enterprises. His longtime sponsor, Novo Nordisk, will be the primary sponsor on the car on six races in 2020; St. Petersburg, Long Beach, the GP at Indianapolis, Texas, Gateway and Laguna Seca. The diabetic pharmaceutical giant will be an associate sponsor on the car for the remaining eleven races.

When ABC Supply announced they were leaving Foyt’s team at the end of last season, you’ll recall that they said they would return to sponsor Foyt’s team at this year’s Indianapolis 500. I’m assuming that this is the reason that Novo Nordisk will not be on Kimball’s car for the “500”, although not being a primary sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 seems like that would make it a tougher sale for sponsorship.

In Wednesday’s announcement, Larry Foyt said that the other sponsorship plans for the No. 4 would be announced at a later date. That’s code-speak for they haven’t signed anyone else yet.

The younger Foyt did say that he intends for Tony Kanaan to be part of the team this season, but Kanaan does not have a huge budget to bring to the table. In his Wednesday Mailbag, Robin Miller reported that the famous No. 14 car will most likely have at least three drivers in it throughout the season. He reports that Sébastien Bourdais will probably drive in the first four races of the season before handing the car off to Kanaan for the Indianapolis 500 and the other four ovals. Indy Lights graduate Dalton Kellett from Canada has some money and will probably drive in the remaining non-ovals after the Month of May.

Getting back to the No. 4 car that will be piloted for the entire season by Charlie Kimball, it’s hard to believe that this will be Kimball’s tenth season in IndyCar. It seems like it was just a couple of years ago that he was a rookie back-marker, forcing JR Hildebrand to go wide in the final turn of the 2011 Indianapolis 500. We all know what happened then so we won’t relive that embarrassing moment.

Since then, Charlie Kimball has established himself as a nice guy with an interesting story by being the first “legally” licensed diabetic driver to drive in the Indianapolis 500. Conor Daly can now claim to be the second. Some may ask about Howdy Wilcox II, who finished second in the 1932 race driving with diabetes. Yes, Wilcox drove as a diabetic but he never disclosed it. It was not until after he had qualified for the 1933 race that he was sharing a few adult beverages after hours at the track one day. He suffered a diabetic episode that was at first misdiagnosed as an epileptic seizure. When he was told he could not drive in the race with epilepsy, he assured him he had diabetes and not epilepsy.

Track officials told him he would not be allowed to drive with diabetes either. Imagine if he had told officials that he was also blind in one eye. After a threatened boycott that failed, Wilcox was replaced by a rookie named Mauri Rose, who eventually went on to win the Indianapolis 500 three times.

Charlie Kimball’s nice guy persona, medical condition and interesting story aside, he has not established himself as one of the elite racers of his generation. He will turn thirty-five next month, putting him just a few years older than James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal, and a few years younger than Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Scott Dixon.

Kimball returns to full-time duties this season after running a handful of races for Carlin in 2019. Prior to that, Kimball drove seven full-time seasons for Chip Ganassi and one full-time season for Carlin in 2018. In that time, Kimball amassed a total of one win (2013 at Mid-Ohio) and one pole (2017 at Texas). He was one of those in contention for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 before having to pit late, and finishing fifth.

Was this a good move for either party?

I guess it was since Foyt needs the cash to answer the bell at St. Petersburg. But what about for Kimball? He’s not among the elite drivers, but he’s better than what the second car at Foyt has produced lately. I guess after driving in only seven races last season, he was desperate to get back to any type of full-time situation. But the second car at Foyt has proven fatal to the careers of the last three to drive it – Jack Hawksworth, Conor Daly and Matheus Leist.

We have no idea what kind of driver Matheus Leist would be in a decent car, so all we have to go on are two miserable years in the second Foyt car. Jack Hawksworth hasn’t even sniffed at an IndyCar ride since he and Foyt parted ways at the end of the 2016 season. Conor Daly is now going into his third part-time season after he was unceremoniously dumped by Foyt after one season in 2017. Maybe Charlie Kimball can buck the trend, but recent years have proven that the second car at Foyt is where careers go to die.

Charlie Kimball seemed genuinely happy on Wednesday when this arrangement was announced. Maybe he knows something about that car and team that we don’t. Or maybe he was just so desperate to get back into the series that he was willing to take anything and like it.

It seems like an odd fit to me. Charlie Kimball has strong religious beliefs and AJ Foyt likes to throw four-letter words around like pennies, so that could prove interesting. But the biggest problem I see is that Charlie Kimball has a history of crashing a lot of cars. There’s a reason he has been dubbed “Charlie Pinball”. When you mix a propensity to crash a lot of cars with AJ Foyt, who absolutely hates drivers to crash his cars – you’re going to get some fireworks. This could be fun to watch.

But I’m happy for both sides – Foyt needed the cash as well as an experienced driver, and Kimball seemed ecstatic to be there. Let’s see how this relationship looks around mid-May.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Charlie Kimball Returns on a Full-time Basis”

  1. I used to work with a fellow who has a young son with diabetes. Charlie befriended the entire family following many contacts at various races. Apparently Charlie is a great guy and a role model for kids with diabetes. A great ambassador for his sponsor and INDYCAR. I am sure he is not alone in giving back to the fans.
    Having said that Charlie’s results in INDYCAR have been underwhelming and joining a struggling Foyt effort does not enfuze one with optimism for success. I wish them well. I also give the sponsor credit for sticking with Charlie and IndyCar they must see a return on investment even though on track results have been lacking for both driver and team. If only there were more sponsors with this mindset.

  2. James T Suel Says:

    Foyt and Kimball both have had their struggles. I cant help but believe that the Foyt team can only improve. There is no one that wants to win more than AJFoyt!. They have made some changes in their team that may help sort these cars out.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Seems like a good fit to me. Foyt needs money and Charlie wants to race full time. For all of the Foyt team’s struggles, I certainly don’t see this as a step down from the terribly struggling Carlin squad. Yeah, there are fan favorites on the sidelines that some of us might prefer to Charlie, but he’s a plenty competent racer and has proven to be not at all undeserving of an Indycar seat.

    Charlie is the only race car driver who has ever spoken to me unsolicited, which is not something you forget easily. He was also quite generous with his time when I saw him last year at COTA, spotting for the Carlin cars during Saturday practice (no, I did not interrupt him while he was spotting).

    Another notable Indycar racer with diabetes was 6-time winner Don Branson, who understandably hid his disease from USAC officials. It only became public after he was perished in a late-season sprint car race at Ascot in 1966. Branson was the last driver to win a pavement race in a front-engine car (Phoenix, 1965) and took pole at recently-paved Langhorne in an upright dirt car in… 1966!

  4. Chris Lukens Says:

    I voted for “Other.” I was really torn between “will bring a level of professionalism that this team needs” and “doesn’t matter if you put Scott Dixon in the car.” Which is too bad because I really want to see both Kimbal and Foyt succeed.

  5. I am hoping for the best for Charlie and the team. Last year was the pits. I found how Novo Nordisk, Charlie, and his medical team handled the balance of diabetes and racing fascinating. Charlie is a good role model for younger diabetics.

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