Ten with Townsend: Mid-Ohio debrief

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Here’s the latest added insight from our NBC Sports Network IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, the Mid-Ohio edition of “Ten with Townsend.”

Busy as always, Bell will be in action in this weekend in the American Le Mans Series’ race at Road America in the No. 23 Team AJR/West/Boardwalk Ferrari F458 Italia in the GT class. Before he races though, some great nuggets to digest from the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy 200.

Previous editions are linked here.

– General race overview: Did you think three stops and flat out was going to work with the 5 added laps or did you think two could work? 2013 better or worse than a typical Mid-Ohio race?

We really expected everyone to have to 3 stop but we were way off on our fuel mileage projections.  But obviously when RHR made his first stop on lap 30 we knew it was on.

– Your biggest surprise and disappointment from Mid-Ohio weekend.

My biggest surprise was that we went caution free again!   Unreal.

The biggest disappointment was that I was not driving the NSX in the GoPro Course Preview!  I’ve had a soft spot for that car since I was 17.

– Charlie Kimball’s growth and maturation, we’ve seen it over a three-year period and particularly on the road courses. What are some elements that he’s improved that have allowed him and the team to raise their game.

I think he has taken a very surgical approach towards improving every facet of his game.  I’m most impressed that he never took off more than he could chew like most of us did when we started out as rookies.  Frankly, I don’t see any reason why he can’t finish top-five in the championship at his point.   Thats why I will now refer to him as “Super Chuck.”

– Rank the likelihood of the actual first-time winners going into this year, Hinchcliffe, Sato, Pagenaud and now Kimball. Who was most likely and least likely to you out of that group?

Tough question.  I would say Pagenaud most likely.  I was actually most surprised by Hinch. (least likely)

– More surprising: those four plus Conway winning races in 2013, or Will and Dario not winning?

Definitely Will not winning.  Statistically you would say that was just about impossible based on prior years form.

– What did you make of Helio’s race minimizing damage and actually increasing points lead? 

I think it shows how prepared and committed he is to winning his first championship.  Taking maximum points from what’s available and not trying to force more. I’m very happy to see him closing in on that dream. He has analyzed himself and his approach a lot over the last few years and has made improvements to what was already a very strong approach.

– Do you think Marco Andretti’s team should make a strategist change? It seems every race, despite Marco’s definite improvement and pace this year, the strategy just seems off (started on blacks here).

I think I would just copy what RHR does at this point with setup, strategy, etc.   On balance, that seems to be easily the best path.  Sometimes you just have to bolt on what’s clearly working and go out-drive your teammate.

– Do you have any idea what is going on with Graham Rahal? Engineering change needs more time, just out to lunch on setup?

I have no idea.  I can only imagine how frustrating it is for Graham, especially at his home track of Mid-Ohio.   You can see how “Super Chuck” has thrived within the Ganassi system, where Graham last raced, aided by so much setup experience and data to draw from the Target program.

When I watched practice at Mid Ohio in Turns 4,5,6, it was clear to me that Graham was trying to force the car to do what he wanted. In a way, I wonder if the process that Marco employed to improve this last off season would serve Graham well? It’s easy for me to critique from the outside, without knowing all the details, but something has to improve soon.  There is too much pride and money on the line to accept anything less.  Bobby Rahal will continue to turn over every stone to get it right.  You can point to the excellence of his ALMS BMW program to see they know how to win.

– Your brief thoughts on the two series debutantes, Luca Filippi and James Davison.

Amazing job from both of them.  They each are the embodiment of desire, really working their tails off, for years, to secure that one chance. I wish James would have defended a little more on his final out lap, he could have finished even higher. He was too nice, but you can’t blame him in his first start.

Luca’s qualifying mistake was so costly, but he showed great pace and the Herta team gave him high marks on every level.  I hope we’ll see both of them again soon in IndyCar.

 – Lastly, you’ve raced against him, so how did Ryan Briscoe fare in the booth and for your GoPro Course Preview?

Ryan was excellent. You would think he ‘pillow talks’ for practice every night with a veteran broadcaster. Oh wait…

It was a little embarrassing trying to impress/scare him in the pace car but he was a good sport, as always.  Will be interesting to see where he lands for next year.  It’s amazing he is still only 30 years old after so much experience in F1, IRL, sports cars and IndyCar.

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Saturday times and notebook

New Tatuus PM-18. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a rundown of times and notes from Saturday at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, as all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder had their first day of testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A link to Friday’s notebook is here.

Times are below, followed by notes.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session); Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.8246 (Session 4)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.9875 (Session 4)
4. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.2067 (Session 4)
5. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
6. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.2563 (Session 4)
7. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
8. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
9. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:17.1030 (Session 4)
10. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.5179 (Session 4)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8920 (Session 2)
2. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
3. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
4. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.2252 (Session 2)
5. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:20.2456 (Session 4)
6. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.7373 (Session 4)
8. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
9. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:21.1250 (Session 2)
10. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:21.4425 (Session 4)
11. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:23.0447 (Session 4)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Gutierrez. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photgraphy

1. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
2. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
3. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.6882 (Session 3)
4. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
5. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:26.0760 (Session 2)
6. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:26.1432 (Session 3)
7. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
8. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2751 (Session 2)
9. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:26.3193 (Session 4)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.4349 (Session 4)
11. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
12. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5739 (Session 4)
13. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
14. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.8219 (Session 3)
15. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:27.0620 (Session 4)
16. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:27.2107 (Session 4)
17. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
18. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.6730 (Session 2)
19. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, No Time
20. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Kohl and McElrea joined Gutierrez in Pabst’s pace. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Drivers and teams alike have raved about the pace, and the rather loud sound, of the new Tatuus PM-18 Mazda. Reports from private testing had the new car rather close to Indy Lights pace at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and rather quicker than the old car at Road America. The first tangible evidence of that occurred today as all 10 of the Pro Mazda drivers who got representative laps (second BN Racing car of Leonard Hoogenboom ran only a few laps in session four after engine issues all day) supplanted the Pro Mazda lap record at IMS – 1:22.8800 by Pato O’Ward in 2016 – easily. Oliver Askew’s best time of 1:19.8920 in the second session was nearly a full three seconds quicker on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
  • Of the 11 Pro Mazda drivers that ran today, only Carlos Cunha, Robert Megennis, Nikita Lastochkin, Kris Wright and Sting Ray Robb ran in the 2017 season. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any or all five of them running full-time in 2018 for what would be each of their second seasons in the championship, as returning sophomores along with what should be a glut of strong rookies. Wright, who also races sports cars, looks poised to add a second program of some other series to a planned Pro Mazda full season.
  • Megennis is planning to test with other teams in the weeks to come, as he tests for Juncos this week after racing in USF2000 with Pelfrey the last two years. Both he and Robb missed portions of sessions today with new car issues.
  • Several Indy Lights spins and off-course excursions occurred but none produced any serious issues. Rinus Veekay and Anthony Martin were among those to test the course limits but kept on going unharmed. Veekay had a spin in session three on new tires, then promptly laid down the fastest lap of the session for Belardi later on.
  • His teammate this weekend, Nico Jamin, wound up with the fastest lap of the day in Indy Lights – although he wasn’t quickest in the cool evening session, the fourth of the day, when most of the field ran some sticker tire runs on their Cooper tires.
  • Pro Mazda title combatants Victor Franzoni (Juncos) and Anthony Martin (Andretti) made their Indy Lights test debuts. The perpetually happy Franzoni wrote on Instagram, “Awesome day!! We finished the day in P3!! The most import we learned a lot!! Tomorrow will be even better!!” Martin, meanwhile, said this: “It’s obviously a new car – bigger, faster and a lot more downforce, so I’m adapting to it and growing up to it nice and slowly. You don’t want to push yourself too early, so we’re working up to a few things. You have to do things a lot quicker and you have to use a lot more brake pressure.”
  • In USF2000, it was an excellent day at the office for Pabst Racing with Andres Gutierrez – who impressed in a pair of weekends with DE Force Racing this year – leading three of four sessions, while teammates Hunter McElrea and Lucas Kohl were also in the top-five. Pabst has been busy running cars in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda this weekend.
  • Beyond Pabst, Newman Wachs Racing also had an excellent day, mainly with sophomore Darren Keane and Californian rookie Jake Craig. Keane, who’s coached by Ozz Negri, led the fourth and final session of the day, and stands as a driver who could make a big leap forward in performance if he secures a full season in 2018.
  • Another team of note today was BN Racing, with Callan O’Keefe – Keane’s teammate when both drove for Team BENIK at this race weekend last May – second best on the day. The South African is poised to be that team’s lead driver next season. Teammates Elliott Finlayson and Zoey Edenholm are working towards seasons of their own; Finlayson having coming off a recent Super Sweep in SCCA Runoffs competition at IMS last month and Edenholm having only just graduated from karts into cars just this month.
  • While the USF2000 field was primarily rookie-dominated, two-year series veteran Aaron Telitz made a cameo return today with RJB Motorsports, and brought the ex-ArmsUp chassis its best pace yet in RJB’s hands as the Wisconsinite ran with Mirl Swan and Alex Barron’s crew support. Past RJB driver and two-time Team USA Scholarship, Michai Stephens, was also on site today.
  • Speaking of ArmsUp, its top rookie from 2017, Devin Wojcik was on hand today making the rounds as well, although wasn’t in a car. He looks to return to USF2000 for a second season in 2018.
  • USF2000 boasted some good diversity with Pabst, BN, Newman Wachs, Exclusive, Pelfrey, BENIK and RJB teams in the top 10 today, but there’s one notable omission: Cape Motorsports. The seven-time defending champions in the series are not testing in USF2000 this weekend, and has just a single Pro Mazda car on site for Oliver Askew. Granted, the team is also at Circuit of The Americas this weekend for F4 U.S. Championship action, where Kyle Kirkwood has taken that series’ championship. DE Force, which also ran in USF2000 this year, is also not here this weekend as it’s at COTA. ArmsUp isn’t here this weekend either.