Ten with Townsend: Long Beach and Brazil debrief

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It’s been a busy few weeks for NBC Sports Network IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell. Not only has he called the first four races of the season, but he’s also raced twice in the American Le Mans Series with the West/Alex Job Racing/Boardwalk Ferrari team and done TV work for NBC’s Stadium Super Trucks coverage.

Oh, and he got his Indianapolis 500 deal done too. Bell will race the No. 60 Sunoco and “Turbo” movie entry for Panther Racing.

With all that out of the way, Bell still had time to provide some insights from the last two IndyCar races at Long Beach and Brazil. It’s the latest installment of MotorSportsTalk’s “Ten with Townsend” series (see St. Petersburg and Barber debriefs linked here).

-Before we get to Brazil, how excited are you to have your Panther deal done for the 500, and what will it mean to you to get to work with JR Hildebrand and Oriol Servia?

I’m super pumped. I’m really looking forward to working with both of them. They both get around Indy very well and I expect we’ll have great cars.  It helps having driven for Panther (2004 and 2005) and DRR (2008 and 2011) in the past.

-Brazil: Where does it rank among races you’ve seen? What was it like for you to call those final laps?

It’s the best IndyCar street race I can recall! It was a lot of fun in the booth, and I had a hard time not letting a few holy expletives slip out!

-You said on the broadcast, basically, that now the gloves are off in terms of defending vs. blocking. Do you see that as a positive for the series where officialdom doesn’t interfere?

I expect the drivers will be quite vocal about consistency. How are we supposed to know where the line is if it’s always moving?

-What does it say about Hinch in that he knew how to read Sato’s moves and then be able to pull off a move as he did?

I think it shows his maturity to patiently take care of his tires while the tow in front went at it.  Sato did a great job to try and hang on but he was out of grip by that last lap.

-On Sato (pictured): Regardless of whether he was or wasn’t blocking, with a win and second place, how impressive has he and team been in the last two races?

They have been terrific, but you could see their improvement coming last year.  The fact that they are putting it all together over a race weekend is impressive. The pieces were all there but sometimes they just need to be strung together.  Conor Daly should be excited.

-Through four races, do you feel that the other teams have caught up to Penske and Ganassi, do you think they’ve regressed, or just had poor luck?

It’s a little of both. With a spec car it’s more difficult to find those advantages these days. The benefits of that are debatable.

-Most improved at Brazil? Biggest disappointment?

(Josef) Newgarden was great.  It was nice to see him get a solid top-five and charging for a win.

(Tony) Kanaan.  He worked so hard despite the pain and came up short thru no fault of his own. He is the ultimate warrior, and he’ll be strong at Indy, I’m sure.

-Now as we head into the month of May, do you anticipate the same teams will be strong or does moving to ovals shift it back to the power teams?

Man, it seems like the whole field is strong… seriously.

-At Long Beach, how did you balance the commitments of TV and also racing in ALMS? What did you learn about the track from racing that you could translate to the broadcast?

That plus frantically trying to get my Indy 500 deal lined up?  I’m lucky to have some patient employers who share my passion for racing.

The nuances of the race track help me anticipate what might happen during the race.  My broadcast instincts are sharpened.

-And lastly, how the hell did you survive the GoPro course preview with Wally’s shenanigans?

When he blinded me with silly string during an opposite lock drift…..I was convinced NBC was going to be the proud owner a highly modified Corvette!

Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato welcomes ‘Baby Borg’ to the family

Photos: Michael L. Leavitt
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Takuma Sato cast a big shadow on the world of IndyCar racing last May when he became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.

But there was another shadow of sorts cast along with Sato’s Indy 500 win: he and the prestigious Borg-Warner Trophy, given to each year’s winner of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, are virtually identical in size.

The Trophy is the same height as Sato, 5 feet, 5 ¾ inches tall. And the respective weight of both the Trophy and Sato are the same: approximately 113 pounds.

Try putting that on a mantle in your house.

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

That’s why Sato was so happy to receive the Baby Borg Trophy — a miniature version of the Borg-Warner Trophy — Wednesday night in Detroit. It’s much more manageable for the mantle in his house: 18 inches tall and five pounds.

“It’s such an honor to win the Baby Borg finally, eight months after the race, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Sato told NBC Sports. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to win the 500 and it has just gone on and on. It’s just a significant moment in my life. It’s been fantastic.

“Right now, I haven’t really decided yet (where he’ll put the coveted Baby Borg). It’s going to my home in Indiana right now. But of course, everybody wants to see it. After that, I haven’t decided, but I’m sure it’ll get a special place.”

Even though the Baby Borg is a pint-sized version of the real trophy that was presented to Sato in victory lane in Indianapolis last May, it also has the same meaning as the big trophy and served to get Sato’s excitement pumping to where he’s already counting down the days to the 2018 Indy 500.

And even more important, it will be the first time he returns to Indianapolis as the defending champion.

“(Winning the 500) has changed my life,” Sato told NBC Sports. “But what I do is exactly the same, to try and be as fast as possible when racing.

“But all the environment, the people, all the cheering and being called an Indy 500 champion, I never imagined how deep and how far it goes, just the power and energy that the Indy 500 had.

“I just never realized how much the tradition and the prestigiousness of it. It’s been fantastic and I’m sure when I go back there to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in four months as the defending champion, it’ll be a whole other dimension. I’m sure it’s going to be a whole lot of pressure, but I’m sure to enjoy the moment.”

Sato, who turns 41 on January 28, will return to the 500 this year, but with a new team. He left Andretti Autosport after last season and returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for whom he previously raced for in 2012.

Now that he’s won one Indy 500, Sato wants to make it two in a row.

“It’s a huge, another task and a new dream,” he said. “I’m excited for the new season and to go for another 500 (win), it’s another completely new dimension. Like Michael (Andretti, who he drove for last season) said, obviously, we’ll be competing against each other in the new season, but tonight we celebrated together. I think it’s going to be a real good season for me. I’d love to get another win there, of course.”

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
Michael Andretti celebrates his 5 Indy 500 wins as a team owner, and Takuma Sato celebrates his first Indy 500 win
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

But not if Andretti has anything to say about it.

“He’s not allowed to win again,” Andretti laughed while also speaking to NBC Sports.

Sato enjoyed a victory lap of another sort last month when he accompanied the Borg-Warner Trophy to his native Japan for a two-plus week tour of the nation.

It marked the first time in the Trophy’s 82-year existence that it has ever been outside the U.S.

Everywhere Sato and the Trophy went drew large crowds, from Honda Racing “Thanks Day” at the Twin Rings track at Motegi to a visit to Mount Fuji, a meeting with 850 members of Sato’s fan club, and also included a two-day run in the atrium of Honda’s World Headquarters in Tokyo that had fans lined up for hours to see the Trophy and take photos of it and Sato.

“The reaction was just massive,” Sato said. “For myself, it was a dream come true, but at the same time, for a country with that history, it was an unbelievable moment, particularly the first time when Hiro Matsushita did it (drove in the Indy 500 in the 1990s) so many years ago.

“So many Japanese drivers have tried to win such a historic race, I was just so proud to be part of it. The people were really excited. The passion, I’m really particularly happy to bring it to Japan.

“To go to Japan was a massive commitment by from Borg Warner and Honda. So many Japanese fans were able to see it physically and now they’re really looking forward to this year’s Indy 500 again. It was a great moment to us.”