Kimball Is The Big Star In Texas IndyCar Qualifying

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 9 2017

Charlie Kimball streaked to the IndyCar Series pole at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Charlie Kimball checked another box off his Verizon IndyCar Series to-do list Friday afternoon when he qualified on-pole for the race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kimball secured his first series pole by touring TMS’ repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile oval with a record two-lap average of 222.556 mph, knocking Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon off P1. Dixon, the race-winner here in 2008 and 2015, had posted a two-lap average of 222.516 mph.

The previous two-lap track qualifying record was set by Will Power of Team Penske at 219.182 mph in 2013. Kimball, whose best lap of two was clocked at 222.747 mph, fell just shy of the track’s one-lap qualifying record of 222.864 mph set by Gil de Ferran of Team Penske in 2003.

“I’m really excited to be on-pole. The guys totally deserve it,” Kimball said. “The No. 83 Tresiba Honda was really good right out of the box and Todd (Malloy, engineer) made a few adjustments that made it better during the course of practice. During qualifying, we just took a swing at it and went out and got the job done.”

Kimball will make his 109th start Saturday in the 248-lapper (8 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

Kimball’s previous best start was second in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course in May 2016.

Kimball, a 32-year-old native of Camarillo, Calif., living in Indianapolis, is the first winning Series driver with Type 1 diabetes, diagnosed in 2007. Kimball races with a continuous glucose monitor that wirelessly transmits data so that if his glucose level falls during an event, he can drink sugar water. His lone series victory was scored at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2013 _ 64 starts ago.

All four Ganassi drivers qualified in the top six. Dixon, the current point-leader, missed the pole by less than one-hundredth of a second. The four-time Series champion will start on the front row for the fourth time this season in search of his first 2017 victory.

“It really doesn’t matter where you qualify here, but I think we’ve got a decent setup to go after it (in the race) in the Honda,” Dixon said. “Congrats to Charlie and the No. 83 team for their first pole. Great team effort today and looking forward to tomorrow.”

Dixon, who qualified on-pole for the 101st Indianapolis 500 last month, is competing with a left ankle injured in a grinding crash during the race on May 28.

Also for Chip Ganassi Racing, Tony Kanaan was fourth in the No. 10 Honda at 222.007 mph while Max Chilton was sixth in the No. 8 Honda at 221.654 mph. Alexander Rossi (No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda) and Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda) broke up the Ganassi stranglehold by qualifying third and fifth, respectively.

Vautier’s effort was impressive, as it was his first time driving an Indy car since the 2015 season-finale.

“I got back in it pretty quick and the team made it easy because the car was so good from the start, to be honest,” said Vautier, filling in for the injured Sebastien Bourdais this weekend. “It’s really good to work with these guys, (engineers) Craig (Hampson) and Olivier (Boisson) and obviously the rest of the team. The car felt really nice from the start, so it’s really helped me out.”

Saturday’s race is the ninth of 17 on the 2017 schedule and the 29th at Texas Motor Speedway since the facility opened in 1997. Through the first eight races of 2017, seven different drivers have been winners. The top seven qualifiers today have yet to visit Victory Lane this season.

Dixon, a two-time winner at TMS, will take an eight-point lead into Saturday’s event over Helio Castroneves, a four-time winner in Cowtown. Castroneves will start 10th in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet.

Earlier in the session, reigning Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato provisionally moved to the top of the chart at 221.458 mph, pushing defending event winner Graham Rahal to P2. The third driver out, Rahal posted an average of 220.954 mph in his No. 15 Honda to knock Marco Andretti (220.318 mph) off the provisional pole. Sato, also of Andretti Autosport and the first Japanese driver to win in the series, will start eighth in the No. 26 Honda.

“The car went high on the first lap in qualifying on the exit of Turn 2, so not as fast as should have been,” Sato said. “But the No. 26 car again showed great speed and we carry great momentum, so I’m very happy with that.”

Rahal won last year’s rain-delayed race here on Aug. 27 by 0.0080-seconds over James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Rahal will start 11th after sweeping last weekend’s Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing on the Belle Isle street course.

“The car was OK, maybe we could have trimmed a little more,” Rahal said. “It didn’t quite pull all of the six gears.  The track grip felt really low.  It seemed to take a couple of laps just to get the tires to come in and start working but it was a solid run.  There are guys that I knew would go quicker than that but it was an OK run.  I was just hoping to stay in the top-10. We just wanted a good, solid starting spot for the race.

“On the last lap of practice we got pretty neutral with the setup and probably got too conservative going into qualifying.  We started 13th last year and won, so we’re hoping for the same result from 11th.”

Honda-powered cars continued the oval-track domination they demonstrated around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month by taking the top-eight starting spots in the 22-car field. Power led the Chevrolet camp in ninth after lapping at 221.277 mph in the No. 12 Team Penske entry. Power was followed by Castroneves at 221.200 mph.

Carlos Munoz of Colombia qualified on-pole last June at 217.137 mph while driving for Andretti Autosport. Friday, 19 of 22 drivers eclipsed that pole-winning speed thanks to the smooth, repaved surface, which includes a re-profiling of Turns 1 and 2. The banking in those corners has been reduced from 24 to 20 degrees, and the corners widened from 60 to 80-feet to encourage more passing. Turns 3 and 4 have retained their traditional 24-degree banking.

Munoz was disqualified Friday for a rules infraction and will start last, ironically, for the team owned by Houston native and Indy car legend A.J. Foyt Jr.


Qualifying results for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit/engine, and speed:    
1. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 222.556    
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 222.516    
3. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 222.442    
4. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 222.007     
5. (18) Tristan Vautier, Honda, 221.801    
6. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 221.654    
7. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 221.489    
8. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 221.458    
9. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 221.277    
10. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 221.200    
11. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 220.954    
12. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 220.845    
13. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 220.707    
14. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 220.487    
15. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 220.318     
16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 220.004    
17. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 219.947    
18. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 218.960    
19. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 217.315    
20. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 215.562    
21. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 215.521    
22. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, no speed


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 9 2017
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