Yesterday, I took part in the weekly IZOD Indy Car Series Teleconference. Here is the transcript from my portion of that! Thank you to the IRL PR/ Media department for having me on the call.
Charlie, thanks for joining us.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Charlie finished 10th in his rookie season in Firestone Indy Lights last year with Team PBIR, but moves to AFS/Andretti Autosport, the team and car that won last year’s title.
Q. Do you feel much pressure entering the season going into that car and that team?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Well, I think I always put more pressure on myself than I feel externally. Obviously, jumping in the No. 26 car means that I know I’ve got some of the best equipment out there. At the end of the day, it comes down to me to perform. I think that testing has been going really well. I’m really excited. The crew is a lot of fun to work with. I can’t wait to get to the open test next week and the first race at St. Pete.
Q. You mentioned you tested with the team. What have you learned about yourself and the team going into next week’s test at Barber, which is essentially like a race weekend?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: You’re right, going into Barber, we’re sort of treating it like our first competition. There’s no prizes or rewards for results at Barber, but it’s a chance for us to unveil the new paint scheme for the No. 26 Levemir(r) car. We have a line item list of stuff to test. Hopefully we’ll end the day near the top of the charts.
I’ve learned a lot this year just about how a professional team works. Stepping into Andretti, having someone like Michael Andretti with his hand on the tiller, giving me the benefit of his experience has allowed me to learn a lot more quickly than I have in the past.
Q. The test is at Barber Motorsports Park. Have you been there? What are your thought on that facility?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: I actually did a test day at Andretti/AFS Racing last fall down at Barber. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was surprising how much fun it is. It’s very technical and pretty quick in places. It’s got a really good mix. I think it benefits a driver that’s on top of it as well as a good car.
So not only am I looking forward to the test next week, but also to the second race of the season.
Q. You mentioned your sponsor. You’re the first Indy Racing League driver to compete with Type 1 diabetes. Does being diabetic affect the way you go racing?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Having diabetes definitely affects how I prepare to get in the car. From the moment I get up in the morning, before a test day or a race day, I’m preparing. I’m checking by blood glucose levels. I’m injecting Levemir(r) and NovoLog(r), the two insulins I use as needed. Everything is getting ready for the moment I put my helmet on. I check my blood glucose level 15 minutes, 10 minutes, five minutes before I get in the car. It’s the last thing I do before I put my gloves on.
That management routine allows me to go out and compete on a test day or race day equally and not have to worry about the diabetes.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about what your sponsor does using your car as a platform?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: A lot of what Novo Nordisk, the company that makes Levemir and NovoLog, the two insulins on the car do, the at‑the‑track promotion, telling my story as the first driver in the history of the IRL with diabetes to compete. But we also do a lot of at‑event appearances, the ADA, the American Diabetes Association, expos, where people come and are there to educate themselves about diabetes and hear my story, talk to me, interact with me.
I’m there proving that diabetes doesn’t have to slow you down. It doesn’t slow me down on the track or off the track. Together, partnering with them allows me to get that story out there and be proof that you don’t have to have diabetes in the drivers seat; it can be in the passenger seat while you drive your life.
Q. Charlie, how did all of this come about with Andretti Racing?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Well, funnily enough, it started with a phone call at 4 in the morning on a Wednesday before a race weekend in October of 2008. I was here in California at home. I got a call from Andretti about their program in the A1 GP, the Team USA car. They asked if I would come to Zandvoort, in The Netherlands, for a last‑minute drive in the race that weekend. Like five hours later, I was on a plane from LAX headed to Europe. I had a great time. It was a really good opportunity to work with them.
We just sort of kept in contact. After my results last year, developing the team, the results throughout the season, we kept in contact. As my commercial package fell into place, the discussions with Andretti led to a ride.
Q. How is Michael to work for?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: He’s a brilliant guy. His experience all over the world in racecars everywhere allows me to learn a tremendous amount. He is always there with a word of encouragement, a word of advice, and very helpful for a young driver hoping to make it to the Izod IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
Q. Charlie, did you have to convince people when you were starting out in racing that you could do this with diabetes and still manage it? Also, the notes say that you’re able to monitor your blood sugar during the race and adjust it if necessary. How does that work exactly?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Well, I’ll hit your first question first.
I was diagnosed in October of 2007, so in the middle of a race season. I’d already been racing. The road back to recovery, it was about six weeks before I got back in a racecar. In that time, you know, I sought out the best medical care. I work with an endocrinologist here in LA, Dr. Anne Peters, who is Gary Hall, Jr., the swimmer’s, endocrinologists, as well.
So her experience with athletes gave me the confidence to get back in the car and be able to compete.
So I have found a huge amount of support in the racing community. The IRL, the medical staff there at the IRL and IMS medical team, has said to me, Look, you obviously know a lot about diabetes and diabetes management. Pardon the pun, but we’d love for you to be in the vehicle for you to tell your story, being successful with diabetes.
As far as managing my blood glucose and monitoring that through the race, I wear a continuous glucose monitor, which is a sensor injected in my body and has a wireless transmitter on my skin that looks like a pager‑like device that’s Velcro’d to the steering wheel right under my dash. It graphs might blood sugar every five minutes and gives me a reading so I can keep an eye on that while I’m driving. If I’m getting lower than I want to be, I can drink orange juice that runs through a drink tube that runs through my helmet. Orange juice is very glucose rich so it brings my sugar levels back up to a range where I can compete at optimal performance.
Q. What is some of your background? Where have you been racing?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Well, I started karting in Southern California when I was about 10, in ’95. Got into cars at the age of 16. After I graduated high school in 2003, at the end of the 2003 season where I competed in the USS 2000 championship, I delayed entry or deferred admission to Stanford University to move to Europe and race, where I competed in British Formula Ford, British Formula 3. I was the first American in 13 years to win a British Formula 3 race, was Rookie‑of‑the‑Year. 2006 I stepped up to the Formula 3 Euro Series, where I won a race at Zandvoort. In 2007 I was racing in the World Series by Renault when I was diagnosed with diabetes in October of that year. 2008 I did a partial season in the Formula 3 Europe Series. And last year I competed in the Firestone Indy Lights Series with Team PBIR.
I got started in karting because my dad is a mechanical engineer. The car he designed won the Indianapolis 500 in the late ’70s. I was in Europe as a kid because he was race engineering for a Formula One team.
Q. I wanted to know if you have, stepping into big shoes at Andretti, is there a timetable before you make the next step to the Izod IndyCar Series and what would you be looking for in terms of what you would call a successful season this year in Firestone Indy Lights?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Well, I think I have to judge this season by the same yardstick that any good driver does. A good season would be one where I sit on pole for every race, have the fastest lap, win every race and win the championship. Obviously that might not be completely realistic.
But, like you said, I have some big shoes to fill in the No. 26 car. I think I can step up to that. My experience last year, I learned a huge amount about racing on the ovals, learned a lot of the tracks. So coming back to them, it will be my second year seeing them. I’ll be able to leverage that into solid results.
As far as the timetable stepping up to the Izod IndyCar Series, obviously it comes down to partially commercial, partially on track. If I can provide the results this year and sort of prove my worth, Novo Nordisk believes that we can be the first driver on the grid at the Indianapolis 500 with diabetes.
THE MODERATOR: That’s all the time we have today for Charlie. We appreciate you taking the time to join us today, Charlie.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Absolutely. If anyone has any follow‑up questions, have them get in touch with you.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Charlie.