As the IZOD IndyCar Series returned to the NBC Sports Network for this past weekend’s Milwaukee IndyFest, so too did we check in with our resident NBCSN driver analyst Townsend Bell for his take on the 250-lapper at the historic Milwaukee Mile.
Since Bell’s last “Ten with Townsend” after Brazil, he’s finished fourth in the GT class at the American Le Mans Series’ race in Monterey in a Ferrari F458 Italia, completed his annual appearance in the Indianapolis 500 in the Sunoco/“Turbo” Chevrolet, and made Robert Graham’s line of hats pretty noticeable (right).
-Since we last checked in, you had a little 500-mile race to attend to in May. Although the result was tough, how was this month of May for you as a whole?
Overall it was a great month of May. I sure wish I would’ve had a better result. But we had some issues on race day and at the Indy 500, you can’t have any mistakes. As usual, the countdown begins to next year’s race. I hope to get a chance to go back and continue to apply everything I learn each year.
-What did you make of the Detroit doubleheader weekend and Texas races?
Detroit was incredible racing, especially Mike Conway. What he pulled off there was nothing short of spectacular. I still think that IndyCar racing should be about one main event during the weekend. I’m a traditionalist (agreeing with Mario Andretti here). So from that standpoint, I don’t prefer doubleheaders.
They’re just more confident. Ryan was already a strong driver, but winning the championship confirmed to him and everybody else what he believed for so long. Now it’s not about believing, it’s about knowing. And you see that every time he drives – he’s a little less anxious and a little more confident. I think he’s the strongest overall driver in the field right now, with a very strong team that is humming on all cylinders.
-Championship contenders at the halfway point (eight of 16 weekends down): Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, Marco, Sato, Dixon, anyone else? Or probably between those five?
I think you can’t discount Will Power either, especially after a solid Milwaukee weekend. We can’t forget that he has the natural ability and every chance to go on a freakish run of street and road course victories if he can put it together. He’s certainly capable and certainly has proved that over and over in the past.
-Did you feel traffic was more of a factor than normal this year or just typical Milwaukee?
It was just typical Milwaukee.
-The way E.J. Viso is driving right now, would you expect him to join the ranks of first-time winners soon?
Maybe. But I still think E.J. has a ways to go before he has that “quarterback-style leadership” within his team. If he continues to study the way Ryan and James (Hinchcliffe) have behaved in the face of adversity, then I think he’ll have a good chance. He certainly has the ability to lay down the lap times, but piecing together an entire race weekend is still the goal for him in the future.
-Biggest surprise and disappointment at Milwaukee.
The biggest surprise to me was probably how strong Will Power was both in qualifying and the race. I think that was a huge step for him to show so well on an oval. I’m afraid the biggest disappointment continues to be Graham Rahal.
-Is this stretch of six races in five weekends too much? Too hard on the crews? Really doing its job of proving the haves and have-nots in the field?
To me, absolutely not! In a perfect world, we would race every weekend with INDYCAR straight through the summer.
-How did you enjoy the booth experience getting to work with David Hobbs? Had you two had the chance to work together previously for F1 broadcasts?
I had substituted for David Hobbs with Formula One on SPEED previously, but I had never had the chance to work with him during the broadcast. It was fantastic. His voice is iconic and he is so clever with humor and analysis.
-Lastly, what did you make of the ride in the Miller roadster for the GoPro course preview?
The Miller roadster drive will go down as one of the surprising favorite memories of my career. I thought it was gonna be like driving a tractor. But nothing could be further from the truth. It was absolutely fantastic and tempted me to push it harder and harder with each corner. But David was wishing otherwise!