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IndyCar Notes: Kimball Throwing In With Foyt

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 23 2020
A.J. Foyt will put veteran Charlie Kimball behind the wheel for the entire 2020 IndyCar season. (File photo courtesy INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Veteran INDYCAR driver Charlie Kimball has joined AJ Foyt Racing as fulltime driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet, the latest hit of the reset button for the team fronted by “Super Tex.”

Kimball will run the entire 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule in 2020 with backing from longtime sponsor/global healthcare company Novo Nordisk.  Kimball , who drove in only seven races last year for team-owner Trevor Carlin, will mark his 10th consecutive INDYCAR season in 2020 and 12th with Novo Nordisk. Kimball was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2007.

The No. 4 Chevrolet will carry Novo Nordisk branded livery in the following races: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, GMR Grand Prix (Indianapolis), Texas Indy 600 (Fort Worth), Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway (Madison, Ill.) and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Calif. Novo Nordisk will be an associate marketing partner in the remaining 11 races.

“I come into this year really excited, really appreciative of the opportunity to work with the Foyt name,” Kimball said during a teleconference Wednesday with Team President Larry Foyt. “A.J. Foyt is a racer at heart, and I see that culture that A.J. and Larry have built all the way through the team, and I think together we’re going to work really hard to get back to where they as a team want to be and me as a driver want to be at every race.”

Charlie Kimball is a proven winner.

Kimball replaces Brazilian Matheus Leist, a three-time Indy Lights race-winner who finished 19th in the final INDYCAR point standings in his second season with Foyt’s organization. 

“We are in a bit of a reset coming off a tough year,” said Larry Foyt, A.J.’s youngest son, who has served as team president since 2015. “So I really like the fact when we started talking to Charlie and he was available, here’s a guy with a lot of experience. I think Charlie’s a technical driver. He showed he can win. He showed he can finish in the top-10 in the championship. And those are just all the things that we want to build on.

“So that’s just a really good fit for us because we have some new engineers on board. I think a guy coming in with Charlie’s mindset and with what Charlie can do behind the wheel is exactly what we needed.”

Kimball is an IndyCar Series race-winner at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (2013) and a pole-winner at Texas Motor Speedway (2017). A 39-year-old native of Camarillo, Calif., Kimball scored his best point finishes of ninth in 2013 and 2016 during a seven-year tenure with Chip Ganassi Racing. Overall, Kimball has posted six podium (top-three) finishes, and an additional eight top-fives. He has finished in the top-10 (sixth through 10th) 41 times and has led 163 laps in 141 races.

Foyt said Kimball will work with engineer Mike Pawlowski in 2020.

Leist, 21, partnered last season with 2004 series champion and fellow-Brazilian Tony Kanaan, whose status in the No. 14 Chevrolet remains unresolved for 2020 due to lack of sponsorship. ABC Supply ended its fulltime, 15-year association with the team after the 2019 season but will return for the 104th running of the Indy 500 in May, tentatively with Kanaan at the wheel.

“That’s a work in progress, and hopefully we’ll have some news coming out in the next few weeks on that,” Foyt said. Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion, finished 15th in the standings during his second season with the team based in Waller, Texas. Kanaan, 45, is working on a streak of 317 consecutive series starts dating to June 2001 in Portland, Ore.

Kimball joked that neither he nor his marriage could have survived another partial season. “It was really tough on me last year watching in races when I wasn’t in the car,” Kimball said. “I think the consistency of being in the car every weekend allows me to stay in the rhythm. I noticed last year, when I was out of the car for a couple of races and I got back in, it took a moment or two to knock some of that rust off. My competitors, the other drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series, weekend-in, weekend-out, are in the car, and they’re in that rhythm and that mode. The level of competition in INDYCAR is so high that any drawback, any moment it takes to get back up to speed puts you a long ways behind.”

Kimball noted Foyt’s team has not visited Victory Lane since Takuma Sato won on the Streets of Long Beach in 2013, the organization’s 44th INDYCAR win dating to December 1965.

“My goal is to do everything I can, work with the team, and take AJ Foyt Racing back to Victory Lane,” Kimball said. “My last INDYCAR victory was Mid-Ohio in 2013, and our goal is to get back running up front weekend-in, weekend-out, and figure out how we get more consistent with being up-front.

“I think it’s nice to have flash results and one good result here and there, but it’s even more important that you run consistently in the top-10. So then you’re running consistently in the top-five. Once you’re consistently in the top-five, you’re on the podium and fighting for race wins. In my case, that’s my goal. We’re not there to finish second. I’m not there to finish second at any weekend, at any session, any lap.”

Foyt said the switch to Kimball ideally will change the team’s trajectory on the grid. “I want all the effort we’re putting in to start showing some results,” Foyt said. “Last year was such a tough year for us because the effort just wasn’t equaling anything on the track that we were putting in, and that was very frustrating for everybody. So this is just a great opportunity to say, ‘Hey, let’s kind of hit the reset button.’^”

Foyt said the team’s revised engineering lineup will feature Pawlowski and Mike Colliver. “Both guys that are coming from places that they’ve seen a lot, they know a lot,” Foyt said. “So I don’t think we’re going to come out and set the world on fire. That’s not what we’re…that would be great. We have a strategic plan of getting back to point zero and let’s start building again from there.

“So that’s the plan, and it’s not that we think we’re going to struggle like we did last year, for sure. I’d be very disappointed if that’s the case. I think the engineers are very reasonable guys that have a good plan, and we’re going to go forward.”

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Dale Coyne, Jimmy Vasser, and James “Sulli” Sullivan announced today that Indianapolis 500 “Rookie of the Year,” Santino Ferrucci, will drive the No.18 Team SealMaster car, co-entered by Dale Coyne Racing and Vasser-Sullivan Racing for the 2020 season.  

In his first full IndyCar season, Ferrucci, 21, a native of Woodbury, Connecticut, made up 16 positions to finish seventh in the 2019 Indianapolis 500 earning him “Rookie of the Year” honors, completed the third most laps of any driver in the series and finished fourth among all drivers on ovals.

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Several IndyCar Series drivers are set to compete in this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, the country’s premier sports car endurance race, at Daytona International Speedway.

Less than a week after three INDYCAR drivers competed in the 34th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., the series will be represented by six former champions and five Indianapolis 500 winners in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s season-opening race.

Scott Dixon, a five-time series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner, headlines the INDYCAR contingent at the Rolex 24. Dixon, who competes in INDYCAR for Chip Ganassi Racing, said he appreciates drivers trying different disciplines, as Conor Daly, Santino Ferrucci and James Davison did in last week’s Chili Bowl, the “Super Bowl of Midget Car Racing” on dirt.

“It shows their versatility and it shows some drivers have opened the eyes of others to switch across categories,” Dixon said. “But it’s tough because the level of competition these days is through the roof no matter what category you are going to.”

Dixon will drive this weekend for Wayne Taylor Racing, the Rolex 24’s reigning overall champion. Dixon and Ryan Briscoe are part of the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. in the event’s top class (DPi). Dixon is a two-time event champion, but will be wheeling a faster prototype for the first time in four years.

“It’s nice to look forward and not look in the mirrors the whole time like I did with the GT cars,” said Dixon, who drove a Ford GT for Chip Ganassi Racing at Daytona last winter.

Among the other series regulars competing on Daytona’s 3.56-mile “Roval” layout are Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske and Colton Herta with Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport, as well as Team Penske, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian, Vasser Sullivan and DragonSpeed.

Full television coverage of the 58th annual Rolex event begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (EST) on NBC. The NBC Sports Network will air the race from 2:30-6 p.m. and from 11 p.m.-3 a.m., returning at 6 a.m. Sunday. The final 90 minutes will air on NBC Sunday beginning at noon. In addition, the race can be heard on Sirius 138 and XM 202 radio.

Hunter-Reay, the IndyCar Series champion in 2012 and Indy 500 winner in 2014, has joined the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest entry that won last year’s pole. This team, along with Acura Team Penske, are among top candidates to be the overall champion.

The top two finishers in last year’s Indianapolis 500 _ Pagenaud and Rossi _ are part of the Acura Team Penske entries. Rossi, who won the 500 in 2016, will drive with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and sports car veteran Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi. Pagenaud, the reigning 500 winner and 2016 series champion, will team with two-time 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron, a three-time IMSA champion, in the team’s No. 6.

“All the drivers in the world want to be here,” Pagenaud said. “We have a fantastic team here at Team Penske, and I certainly want to add this to the trophy list. That would be fantastic.” Team Penske last was crowned overall champion of Daytona’s 24-hour race in 1969.

“Obviously, for Simon and I this isn’t our fulltime job,” Rossi said. “But at the same time there’s a lot of preparation and commitment that goes into these (endurance) rounds and we have an obligation to the team and the manufacturer to represent them and get results. We have a big target this year to go out and finally get a Rolex 24 win.”

Four-time INDYCAR champion Sebastien Bourdais has joined Mustang Sampling Racing/JDC-Miller MotorSports and will co-drive the No. 5 Cadillac DPi. Matheus Leist, who drove for AJ Foyt Racing last season, will be in the team’s No. 85 Cadillac, which includes former IndyCar Series driver Tristan Vautier.

The Rolex 24 has 38 entries across four classes. Ben Hanley, who is confirmed to drive for DragonSpeed in the IndyCar Series season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 15, will co-drive the team’s LMP2 No. 81 Oreca 07.

Herta, a two-time INDYCAR race-winner as a rookie and a Rolex 24 class champion last year, is a co-driver of the BMW Team RLL No. 25 entry, a BMW M8 GTE co-owned by Bobby Rahal, in the GT Le Mans class (GTLM).

The GT Daytona class (GTD) has the largest field with 18 cars. Townsend Bell, a broadcaster of IndyCar Series races on NBC, will co-drive the No. 12 Lexus RC-F GT3 entered by AIM Vasser Sullivan, which is owned by 1996 INDYCAR champion Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan. Two-time/reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch will make his Rolex 24 debut driving the team’s No. 14 car.

Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian is competing in the Rolex 24 for the 17th year. The event’s overall winner in 2012 with AJ Allmendinger and Justin Wilson driving has won three poles and scored four podiums overall. This year, MSR is fielding the Nos. 57 and 86 Acura NSX GT3s in the GTD class.

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Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon was impressed by the willingness of INDYCAR’s Conor Daly, Santino Ferrucci and James Davison to test their dirt-track racing skills during last week’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals on a quarter-mile bull ring in Tulsa, Okla.

Gordon was an accomplished Midwest dirt-track racer before launching his NASCAR career in the early 1990s. Daly raced a 4-cylinder Midget Car in his second Chili Bowl last week; Ferrucci and Davison never had raced on dirt. “While I don’t recommend this approach to anyone, I have a lot of respect for those that attempt it,” Gordon tweeted. “(The Chili Bowl) is no joke!”

Daly was the highest-finishing INDYCAR driver in Saturday’s “Alphabet Soup” finals, placing ninth in his H-Main feature. Ferrucci finished seventh in his K-Main feature; Davison was ninth in his M-Main.

The IndyCar Series will stage its first open test of the year Feb. 11-12 at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. Round 4 of the schedule will be contested on COTA’s FIA-approved 3.41-mile/20-turn layout on March 26.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 23 2020
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