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Lessons Learned at 230 MPH

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Notes from the track: IndyCar racer Charlie Kimball reflects on his 8th season.

CK: The IndyCar Series wrapped up its 2018 season in Sonoma which means I’m swapping my firesuit at the track for a business suit at sponsor meetings, and trading my racing helmet for a Rudy Project Racemaster on weekends. It’s also a good time to look back and take stock of the ups and downs of our 2,261 laps throughout the year.

 

Patience is a virtue

While it was my eighth season competing in the IndyCar Series, it was my first season with rookie team Carlin. Though Carlin has had a ton of success racing in the European formula series, taking on IndyCar was a true fresh start. The team received the chassis with less than two months to prepare before the first official test session. The majority of the crew members were brand new to the series, having never done pit stops during a race.

I had to adjust to a new aerokit and work through my driving style to suit the new design. Our engineers had little to zero track data at the start of each race weekend. We knew we had a lot working against us going into the season-opener, but we also had high expectations of our performance and ourselves. Did success happen overnight? Definitely not. But bit-by-bit and with some patience, things started to come together.

The perseverance of this team is unmatched by any other I’ve worked with, and I truly think that was the key to our first season together.

 

Teamwork makes the dream work

IndyCar is truly a team sport. I need an engineer on hand just to start the car. Pit crew members change four tires and add fuel in eight seconds several times throughout each race. A spotter is my ‘eye in the sky,’ giving me a heads-up on the radio when another car is nearby but out of my limited sightline. But it really goes deeper than that. It’s the relationships built while laughing together in the engineering office, or joking with my crew chief on pit lane about the World Cup. Sharing a drivers’ lounge with fellow Carlin driver Max Chilton meant I had a teammate who’d understand the frustrations of a certain turn, and maybe together, we’d come up with a solution. This season has proven to me that while every IndyCar team receives the same tires and fuel, it’s definitely the individuals that make the car run.

 

Pressure is a privilege

This lesson, borrowed from the legendary Billie Jean King, always comes to mind while walking through Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the first practice session each month of May. One of the highlights of our 2018 season was qualifying both Carlin cars for the Indianapolis 500, on a year when two entries were bumped from the competitive field. Indy 500 qualifying weekend is, hands-down, the most stressful two days of my year, every year. The pressure of those eight laps is what keeps me up at night in the middle of the winter and what keeps me motivated at the gym. But being one of only 32 other people on the planet on the starting grid of the Indy 500? That’s when I truly appreciate the privilege of working the countless hours, minutes and seconds of preparation to get to the green flag.

 

Live in the moment

Race morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is always magical. Despite it being my eighth attempt at the Indianapolis 500, the pomp and circumstance never fails to give me goose bumps. It’s also a nonstop morning full of engineering meetings, meet-and-greets, fan photo opps, and track obligations.

But this year I was reminded to slow down and enjoy the present, walking to the pre-race grid with team owner Trevor Carlin. His first-ever Indy 500, a driving force behind his team’s entry into IndyCar and a longtime dream moments away from being realized. Seeing his eyes light up (and yes, tear up a bit too) reminded me just how lucky we are to participate in this extraordinary event and sport.

 

And now? While it’s called the ‘off-season,’ it’s anything but downtime for us. Sponsor meetings, public appearances, training, and come November, baby Kimball, will take up the majority of my free time before the 2019 season kicks off next March.

Stay in touch and follow along -- Facebook.com/CharlieKimball, and @CharlieKimball on Twitter and Instagram.

All photos courtesy of Chris Bucher.

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