Ten with Townsend: Mid-Ohio debrief

Leave a comment

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.

Vandoorne re-upped with McLaren for 2018

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Heading into his first home Grand Prix, Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne will continue with McLaren Honda into 2018. Perhaps more notable was the continued inclusion of Honda as well within the confirmation.

Vandoorne made his Grand Prix debut at Bahrain 2016 and scored a point filling in for Fernando Alonso. He now scored his first 2017 point last race in Hungary, ending 10th as he did in Bahrain.

The Belgian was always expected to continue and it’s been confirmed the team won’t waffle on that.

“I’m delighted that the team has now formally announced that I will continue to race for them next year, because I’ll be able to approach the second half of my rookie season with total focus on the job in hand: namely getting the very most I can out of my car, my engineers, and everything and everyone around me,” Vandoorne said.

“I’ve already learned such a huge amount in the first half of my first season in Formula 1 – from my engineers, from my mechanics, from Eric [Boullier], from Zak [Brown] and from Jonathan [Neale], and also from Fernando [Alonso], who is a brilliant driver and also an excellent team-mate.

“Last but not least, I want to say thank you to McLaren’s partners and fans for their loyalty and enthusiasm – they are the best in the business – and also to McLaren’s Executive Committee Principals, [Shaikh] Mohammed and Mansour [Ojjeh], who continue to put their faith in me.”

Boullier added, “When we announced at the end of 2016 that Stoffel would be a McLaren Honda race driver for 2017, we indicated that our plan was that he’d race for us for a number of years.

“That plan hasn’t changed, and I’m very happy therefore to be able to confirm that he’ll continue to race for us next season.

“Like all rookies, he’s had to learn a lot in the first half of his first Formula 1 season, but we have great confidence in him, and he’s getting better and better all the time. His team-mate is a tough opponent – that’s an understatement in fact, because he’s arguably the best driver in the sport today – but Stoffel’s robust talent and fierce ambition make us sure that he’ll achieve great successes with us in the future.”

Brown confirmed the multi-year number without putting a specific number down on it.

“Echoing Eric’s words, I’d like to add only that I regard Stoffel as a super talent – a future Formula 1 world champion in fact – and that’s why I’ve always been adamant that he should race for us on a multi-year basis,” he said.

“Before anyone asks me any questions about duration, we don’t want to go into that kind of confidential contractual detail, but let me put it this way: when we signed Stoffel, we intended that he would race for us for a significant number of years, and that remains our firm intention.

“We all know Stoffel’s potential, and when we have a package fast enough to win grands prix again – and we will – Stoffel will be in the right place to score his first Formula 1 victory.”

Alonso’s future, of course, remains a hot button topic set to be decided in September at the earliest.

Toro Rosso extends contract for technical director James Key

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Scuderia Toro Rosso technical director James Key will continue with the team for the foreseeable future, following a contract extension announced on Tuesday.

Key joined the team in 2012 and has seen the Faenza-based squad solidify its role in the upper midfield, with occasional surprise finishes that have pushed the team near the top three or four teams on the grid.

“I am delighted to continue with Toro Rosso and remain part of the Red Bull family,” he said. “This is a team which I have great respect for and have thoroughly enjoyed working with for the past 5 years; now I look forwards to continuing our project into the future.

“STR is unique, facing the challenges of being spread over two countries and fulfilling the roles of both a team in its own right and an important part of the Red Bull driver program: they are challenges that the team takes in its stride and, whilst doing so, continues to grow and improve year on year.

“Most importantly, the people I have had the pleasure to work with at STR are second to none: professional, ambitious and focussed, they have all worked incredibly hard to improve the team’s performance and will continue that hard work with the same dedication and optimism in the coming years too. I would like to thank Franz Tost and Red Bull for their continued support and confidence. We have more work to do, and I look forwards to taking the next steps with Toro Rosso towards our goals.”

Team principal Franz Tost added, Formula 1 is a team sport, but one in which an individual can still make a difference. So far, in his time with us, James has proved that he can indeed make that difference, leading the technical side of the operation.

“Not only has he been adept at producing chassis-aero packages that are well regarded throughout the paddock, he has also shown the management skills necessary to get the most out of all the various departments that work together both here in Faenza and in Bicester. I am therefore delighted that James will be with us for the foreseeable future to continue this fruitful process.”

Teams load up on supersoft tires for Italian GP

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s almost no variety in team Pirelli tire selections for the Italian Grand Prix, with nearly all teams going with two sets of softs and 10 sets of supersofts for next week’s race. All teams have selected just one set of mediums.

The only variance comes with Mercedes, Force India and Haas going with three sets of softs and nine supersofts. The rest are all the same choice, two softs and 10 supersofts.

Monza comes a week after Spa this week.

Pirelli’s tire breakdown is below.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee to serve as Gateway grand marshal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Gateway Motorsports Park for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline will feature quite an excellent grand marshal, in the form of three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The full release from the track is below.

An Olympic champion has been selected to give the command to start engines for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline comes to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois on August 26. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, will serve as the grand marshal for the Verizon IndyCar Series event.

“I am humble,” said Joyner-Kersee, who is a native of East St. Louis, Illinois. “I do not take this honor for granted to be the INDYCAR race’s grand marshal at Gateway Motorsports Park. Very few people are asked to give the command and I am grateful to be one of the few. Thank you!”

Track-and-field star Joyner-Kersee has won three Olympic gold medals, as well as one silver and two bronze. She was the first American to win gold for the long jump and the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the seven-event heptathlon, making her the most decorated female athlete in Olympic track and field history.

As a teen, she won the National Junior Pentathlon championships for consecutive years and received widespread honors in high school in various sports, including track, basketball and volleyball. During her junior year, she set the Illinois high school long jump record for women, with a 6.68-meter jump. Joyner-Kersee attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a full scholarship and continued to gain fame on both the court and field. In 1981, at the age of 19, she began to focus on training for the Olympics, specifically for the heptathlon — an Olympic track-and-field competition comprised of seven separate events, including the 200-meter run, 800-meter run and 100-meter hurdles. She graduated from UCLA in 1985.

Joyner-Kersee won a silver medal in the heptathlon at the 1984 Summer Olympics, as well as gold and bronze medals in the long jump in 1988 and 1992, respectively, and is currently the heptathlon world record-holder.
Following her retirement from competition, she founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to instill youth in the a Greater East St. Louis area with the dream, drive and determination necessary to succeed in academics, athletics and leadership. “Winners In Life.”

Chuck Wallis, Vice President of the Bommarito Automotive Group, will serve as honorary starter and will wave the opening green flag.