Ten with Townsend: Long Beach and Brazil debrief


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!

Merhi relishing F1 return in Abu Dhabi, but will it be his last?

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26:  Roberto Merhi of Spain and Manor Marussia looks on at a press confernce during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Roberto Merhi is relishing his return to Formula 1 this weekend as he steps into the seat vacated by Alexander Rossi at Manor for the last race of the season.

Rossi joined Manor on a five-race deal in Singapore that would allow him to balance an F1 drive with commitments in GP2, where he looks set to finish the year as vice-champion.

Merhi was benched to allow Rossi to take the seat, but will return this weekend after missing the last three races due to the clash with GP2.

“I’m so excited to be back in the car this weekend for the season finale,” Merhi said. “As any reserve driver will tell you, I really missed the racing; it will be a long time yet before I’m ready to hang up my racing gloves for a full-time career in TV commentary!

“I’ve kept a close eye on everything the team has been doing over the past five races, so I don’t think it will be too difficult to get back up to speed on Friday and see how I stand versus Will [Stevens]. I’ve missed the competitive spirit between us.

“The most important thing is to do the best job possible for the team on Sunday, and ensure we have a result to celebrate.

“It has been a long, hard season, so I want to say thank you for this opportunity and I hope I can deliver another strong performance to reward the faith the team has shown in me.”

However, this looks set to be Merhi’s final F1 appearance for the time being at least. Just two seats remain on the grid for 2016 – both at Manor – but the Spaniard faces stiff competition from Rossi, Stevens and Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein for a role with the team.

Rossi and Stevens are both known to be better-funded than Merhi, while Wehrlein has been tipped for a seat thanks to Manor’s new technical partnership with Mercedes that comes into force for 2016.

Rosberg arriving in Abu Dhabi on “a massive high”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP walks in the paddock during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg has set his sights on rounding out the 2015 Formula 1 season with a third consecutive victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Despite failing to put up much of a challenge to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton for this year’s world championship, Rosberg has been the man to beat in recent races, claiming the last five pole positions and winning in Mexico and Brazil.

Rosberg saw his hopes of winning a maiden world championship end in Abu Dhabi last year after a mechanical failure on his car, but the German is hoping to make up for this by continuing his good form and taking a third straight win.

“I’ve had two really great weekends now in Mexico and Brazil, so I’m heading into the final race on a massive high,” Rosberg said.

“Abu Dhabi hasn’t always been an easy one for me. Of course, last year was probably my biggest disappointment – losing the title at the last moment with a mechanical problem.

“But I showed my speed there with pole position and I have good momentum behind me right now, so I’m aiming to end the season on a big positive this time around.”

This weekend’s race will mark the final outing for the Mercedes W06 Hybrid, which has claimed 15 wins and 17 pole positions so far this season.

Rosberg is keen to make the most of his final run with the car, but remains wary of the threat from Ferrari behind after the Italian marque ran Mercedes close in Brazil two weeks ago.

“Of course, it’s also the last race for this incredible Silver Arrow – and it deserves a spectacular send off,” Rosberg said. “Everyone at the factories has done such a fantastic job one again this year.

“A car like this is something every driver dreams of having in their hands, so I’ll be pushing hard to make the most of it for one last time as a tribute to all their hard work.

“Of course, it will be close as always with Lewis and we saw a big push from Ferrari in São Paulo, so it won’t be straightforward. But I’m up for a battle and hopefully we can put on a great show for the fans to end the year.”

What we’re thankful for in F1, IndyCar and more, 2015

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Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at MotorSportsTalk. Here’s some of the things we’re thankful for from the racing season, 2015. See more things we’re thankful across the board from at the #WhyImThankful hashtag.

Formula 1

  • The opportunity to crown a champion on U.S. soil. It hasn’t happened since 1982, and on October 25, 2015 it happened once again – the U.S. played host to the title-deciding round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas. Fittingly, Lewis Hamilton clinched his third title on his adopted “second home.”
  • Sebastian Vettel starring at Ferrari. The German made his move at the right time to get out of Red Bull and into Ferrari. From a personal perspective, I don’t think I appreciated him at Red Bull as much as I do now at Ferrari. He poked the bear that was the Mercedes AMG Petronas pairing of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as much as possible in press conferences, and helped bring Ferrari back to the top of the podium after a challenging 2014 for the team.
  • An American driver makes his debut. It was only five races, but getting to see Alexander Rossi finally make his debut after years of trying, and a few failed opportunities in 2014, was long overdue. Rossi completed a near perfect run of events, beating Manor teammate Will Stevens in four of five starts, and posting a near-points run to 12th at COTA. He also posted a series of guest blogs here on MST throughout the fall.
  • Haas F1 Team confirms a solid first-year lineup. While neither Romain Grosjean nor Esteban Gutierrez was a surprise announcement once confirmed, both will be solid fits for Gene Haas and Guenther Steiner’s Haas F1 Team in 2016. Grosjean gives the team a proven podium finisher who’s made genuine strides over his career, and Gutierrez is an underrated driver with Ferrari ties, solid Mexican support, and more pace than you realize.
  • #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBeIn a year when nearly nothing has gone right for McLaren Honda, this did. Thank you, Internet, for once.


  • A dramatic title finale. Blame double points all you want for perhaps altering the outcome, but you can’t deny the intensity and excitement was there as Scott Dixon toppled Juan Pablo Montoya in the season finale at Sonoma. There was little between the two throughout the year; either would have been a worthy champion but Dixon is a good one.
  • A fantastic finish at Indy. Montoya lost the season-long war, but won the battle in a thrilling three-way bout with Dixon and Will Power at this year’s Indianapolis 500.
  • Newgarden finally wins. It was a question of when, not if, rising American star Josef Newgarden would win his first race (or races) in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Courtesy of a dominant performance at Barber Motorsports Park, he finally did. A second win, at Toronto, joined for good measure.
  • The racing family’s support for the Wilson family. In the most tragic moment of the IndyCar season, following the loss of Justin Wilson at Pocono Raceway, the community rallied together in the auction to raise more than $600,000 for the Wilson Children’s Fund.

Red Bull GRC

  • A great comeback from Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross. Down but not out, Scott Speed, Tanner Foust and the entire Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team rallied from a nightmare start to the campaign to emerge as championship contenders, and ultimately champions, by year’s end.
  • Increased IndyCar team presence. Veteran squads like Olsbergs MSE, Hoonigan Racing Division and Subaru WRT were joined by an onslaught of IndyCar squads in 2015. Andretti, Chip Ganassi Racing, SH Rallycross and Bryan Herta Rallysport brought seven cars to the Supercar grid in 2015, to make up more than half the lineup.

Around the rest of the non-NASCAR motorsports world

  • Mazda Road to Indy: As usual, some young rising drivers stood out in 2015, even beyond champions Spencer Pigot, Santiago Urrutia and Nico Jamin.
  • IMSA: Better racing, less kvetching, BoP not being as much of a storyline (it still was at times, but not all the time), improved processes and an increase in quality personnel – as well as new title sponsor WeatherTech for 2016 and beyond – contributed to a vastly improved 2015 second season of the-then TUDOR United SportsCar Championship compared to a rocky first season in 2014.
  • Pirelli World Challenge: The influx of quality GT3 cars and teams made what was already a strong top GT class even better; a management shakeup at year’s end also seems to have pleased most of the paddock as PWC prepares for 2016.
  • FIA World Endurance Championship: Great racing at most events, the emergence of Porsche’s newest factory aces Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber as overall winners at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Patrick Dempsey winning a race, Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler scoring a podium on Le Mans debut, and other bits and pieces throughout the year made the WEC campaign an enjoyable one.
  • NHRA: Antron Brown and Erica Enders-Stevens proving how badass they are en route to Top Fuel and Pro Stock titles. Also, thanks to Gary Gerould for his incredible 37-year-run on the mic – my colleague Daniel McFadin’s interview with the retiring Gerould is linked here.

Zach Veach confirmed with Belardi to start 2016 Indy Lights season

Photo: Belardi Auto Racing
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Two-year Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series veteran Zach Veach will return to the series in 2016 following a year’s hiatus. At the moment, it’s for the start of the season only but with the intended plan of making it a full-season effort.

The young American joins the Belardi Auto Racing team, which he narrowly lost out to in his last full-time campaign in 2014 when he finished third in the points.

Veach, who turns 21 next month, is Brian Belardi’s first confirmed driver for the 2016 season. Perhaps one of the single most experienced drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy, Veach has been on all three rungs (Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000) since 2010 and spent 2015 as a color commentator for the IndyCar Radio Network.

He tested for the team last month at Sebring, and will have several other tests before the St. Petersburg season opening weekend March 11-13.

“I’m very thankful for this opportunity that Brian Belardi has given me,” Veach said. “After racing against his team for so many years, I’ve always had a ton of respect for him, his crew, and of course, his cars. Belardi Auto Racing competes to win championships and I would love to give them their second Indy Lights title.

“Right now, we only have a partial program in place, but with a great amount of effort on both sides. We will be doing everything possible to try to get funding together for an entire season, so we can put a championship fight in place. I look towards winter testing, and 2016, with a lot of hope and excitement.”

“We’re really happy to have Zach confirmed with us for next year, and we’ll work closely with him to make sure that we can get the funding we need to run him all season,” Belardi added.

“He’s a supreme talent both in and out of the car, and his initial test outings in the car were just as we expected.  Zach was on-pace very early in Sebring after familiarizing himself with the new Indy Lights car, and I know that we’ll challenge for race wins and the championship next year.”