The son of respected Formula 1 engineer Gordon Kimball, Charlie grew up with motorsport coursing through his veins.
He started out racing go-karts at the age of nine, and successfully managed to juggle promising junior-level racing results with his education, performing well enough to earn a place at Stanford University.
He elected to defer his studies in pursuit of his motorsport dream, and spent several years forging a successful career in the feeder series and racing competitively against many drivers who would go on to make it into Formula 1.
But a devastating blow came in 2007, when Charlie was diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes. To many outsiders, this would potentially derail the career of a young racing driver, but instead Charlie has proven to be an inspiration to young and old.
His tireless work with sponsor diabetes support provider Novo Nordisk has helped ensure a greater awareness of the disease, while also proving that it doesn’t have to slow its sufferers down.
Proof of this came with his first race behind the wheel in 2008, when he finished on the podium, and three years later he became the first ever racing driver with diabetes to compete in the IndyCar Series. This year, he claimed his greatest motorsport accolade to-date, co-driving the winning car in the gruelling 24 Hours of Daytona.
In his first interview with RichardsF1.com’s IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon, Charlie talks openly about the influence of his father and the impact that his diagnosis had on his career, as well as the big goals he’s hoping to kick as he enters his third year in the America’s top-level open-wheel-racing series. We offer our sincerest thanks to Charlie and his management team for making this interview possible.
|Full Name:||Charlie Kimball|
|Born:||20 February 1985, Chertsey (GBR)|
|Wins:||0||Best Finish:||2nd||Pole Positions:||0|
|2002||American formula Dodge National Championship, 1st overall|
|SCCA Formula Ford Championship, 3 wins|
|2003||USA Formula Ford Championship, 2 wins, 7 podiums, 2nd overall|
|British Formula Ford Winter Series, 1 win, 3rd overall|
|2004||British Formula Ford Championship, Team JLR, 2 wins, 11 podiums, 4th overall|
|2005||British Formula 3 Championship, Carlin Motorsport, 5 wins, 2nd overall|
|2006||Formula 3 EuroSeries, Signature-Plus, 1 win, 3 podiums, 11th overall|
|2007||Formula Renault 3.5 Series, Victory Engineering, 24th overall|
|2008-9||A1GP Series, Team USA, 2 races|
|2009||Indy Lights Championship, Team PBIR, 10th overall|
|2010||Indy Lights Championship, AFS/Andretti, 5 podiums, 4th overall|
|2011||IndyCar Series, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, 17 races, 233 points, 19th overall|
|2012||IndyCar Series, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, 14 races, 1 podium, 260 points, 19th overall|
|2013||Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Chip Ganassi Racing Riley BMW, 1st overall|
|IndyCar Series, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda|
* Denotes season in progress. Career statistics correct to end of 2012 calendar year.
Despite growing up around motorsport thanks to your design and engineering guru father, was some sort of involvement in motor racing seemingly inevitable, or was there another path you could have ventured down?
I have always been exposed to motorsports, but could easily have taken another path into it. I love math and science and thought that an engineering education was always in my future.
Your dad worked at the top level in Formula 1 for a number of years. What have been some of your favourite stories that he has recounted to you?
A lot of the stories he has shared with me over the years have been a very private look into what is a very personal relationship — that of driver and engineer. However, throughout my whole career, from go-karts to the Indy 500, he has given me advice on what he liked about certain drivers, what he wanted more of from them as well as things that didn’t help with the ultimate goal: winning.
From all accounts I have read in my research for this interview, they all paint you as an ambitious young racer, and your father’s experience working with figures such as Ayrton Senna and Ron Dennis must have helped in him instilling an ambitious nature in you. What lessons did your dad learn from men such as those that he has passed on to you?
I think that the biggest lessons my father has passed onto me come from life outside of racing. The challenges of raising a family while working 60-80 hours per week in a foreign country, farming avocados in California where you have no control of the weather and natural disasters, focusing on the goals associated with competition and balancing that with goals and needs at home.
You experienced a considerable level of success in your junior formulae days in the US and UK in Formula Ford. What differences did you notice between the junior categories across both continents?
Racing in Europe was an incredible experience. Driving the cars was the easy part when it came to competing over there. The change in culture, the abundance of talent in one place, and the amount of miles I did all gave me a great perspective when I moved back to racing in the US. I love being back home though because of the support I have as an American. Also, the mentality in the paddock is very different. The competition on track is just as fierce as anywhere in the world, but when the helmets come off, we all pull together for the good of the sport we all love.
The 2007 season was understandably difficult as you were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a condition of which it has been well documented in your determination not to let it control or damage your career. Having said that, do you feel too much focus is put on your condition when it comes to your racing, or is this merely a by-product you’re willing to accept if it helps to raise awareness for diabetes research in the US?
Having diabetes is as much a part of me now as being a California native. As my results on track continue to reflect my increasing experience level, having diabetes will just be an additional facet to me as a competitor. Having said that, I am very fortunate to have a strong support team around me and to be able to do what I love and race cars professionally, and at the same time hopefully make a positive impact on the diabetes community.
What sort of results or impact in terms of research, fundraising or success has your sponsor Novo Nordisk seen as a result of its association with yourself?
The positive effect of the Race With Insulin program has been significant and widespread. I personally have seen and heard countless anecdotes from patients affected by diabetes, families with loved ones and, most impactful to me, parents of children with diabetes.
I know that there is very strong support for this program at Novo Nordisk and it is widespread throughout the organization, from the sales force through upper management. Together, we have been able to use our motorsports program as a vehicle to prove that diabetes doesn’t have to slow you down!
What spurred your decision to pursue your career in the US with a goal of reaching the IndyCar Series, as opposed to remaining in the UK or Europe and aiming for Formula 1?
When I was diagnosed, I had to re-evaluate the role racing would have in my life. Given the opportunity to use my nationality as an additional point of focus, I felt that racing in the US gave me a better chance to make a bigger impact in the diabetes community. Living with diabetes has allowed me to make my racing career about more than just my results, and that has been very fulfilling.
Do you feel the Indy Lights series adequately prepares drivers for the step up to IndyCar?
The Mazda Road to Indy is the best way to progress into IndyCars. There is no where else you can run at close to the same speeds in an open wheeled car at most IndyCar tracks—and most importantly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Even though you cut your teeth in road racing in Europe for the most part, which is evident in most of your better results coming at such facilities, how do you rate your own ability on ovals?
I love the challenge that ovals present. I still need to gain some experience but I think those results are coming. Having champion and 500-winning teammates [Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon] helps me tremendously when it comes to that learning curve. The Indianapolis 500 is one of my favorite events on the calendar. Each year, we have set goals for Indianapolis and I have accomplished them each time. Now it’s time to set the bar higher.
In your opinion, how did the series handle the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy in terms of better preparing for oval racing? From the perspective of the long-time fan, the seemingly hasty abandonment of ovals such as Kentucky, Chicago, Homestead, Kansas and Loudon has driven many long-time fans away. Would you like to see more ovals on the schedule in coming seasons?
The adjustments that IndyCar made to the downforce levels when we went racing at Texas and Fontana were great for the racing. I think the schedule changes had more to do with business reasons than with anything that happened in October of 2011. If we could fill the stands at more ovals, I would love to have more on the schedule.
How has your development as a driver been under the tutelage of Chip Ganassi, Mike Hull, Barry Wanser, as well as the experience of Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon?
Having the experience of everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing to draw on is invaluable to me. Everyone from Chip to Mike Hull, my teammates to my engineer Brad, Mitch Davis, my team manager and race strategist, has been integral into teaching me about IndyCar racing as well as the winning culture of Chip Ganassi Racing. There is a depth of knowledge at CGRT and I still feel like I have only scratched the surface.
With two full seasons of Indycar racing under your belt now, how much more confident and comfortable are you in your team and your car in challenging at the front more often in 2013 and beyond?
Our expectation for 2013 is to carry to progress seen in both 2011 and 2012 onwards. We as a team believe we can be in a position to contend, week in and week out. Toronto last year proved we can do it, now we need to do it more consistently.
You have said once before that you do have a goal of reaching Formula 1. Guys such as Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya, Alex Zanardi and Sébastien Bourdais are some who have made the jump from the US with varying levels of success. Is this still something you would like to achieve in your career?
Racing in Formula 1 would be a great achievement, but I would only be interested if it was the right opportunity. I still have a lot to accomplish in IndyCar racing and I would not consider it until I felt I had accomplished all those goals.
Also, there is the element of being able to continue to make a difference in the diabetes community. I would only race in Formula 1 if I could continue to make that impact.
Images via Charlie Kimball, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Motorsport.com