Indy 500 Insights: How Townsend Bell puts a deal together

Leave a comment

Every year, Townsend Bell puts together a one-off Indianapolis 500 program. The 2014 edition will be Bell’s eighth ‘500 appearance, after making his debut in 2006 and running every year consecutively since 2008. This year, he returns to KV Racing Technology, the team where he posted his career-best ‘500 finish of fourth in 2009, and where he seeks to improve upon it this year. The NBC Sports Group Verizon IndyCar Series analyst is able to provide both a driver’s an analyst’s perspective in the field. For part one of this daily series through this week, we look at how he put his 2014 deal together.

Preparations for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 begin pretty much the day after the current year’s Indianapolis 500 takes the checkered flag.

And for Townsend Bell, erasing what was a frustrating 2013 attempt in the race is the goal.

In a second Panther Racing entry, Bell started 22nd and finished 27th – he did have one moment where he made an excellent save exiting Turn 2, after a lurid slide. But otherwise, Bell’s 2013 ‘500 experience was the story of new partnerships.

It was the first time he’d raced the ‘500 in a Chevrolet, after running with Honda in all six of his prior attempts. It came in the recognizable yellow-and-blue Sunoco colors, matching the livery for DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo, which premiered in theaters later that year.

And it was the first time we got introduced to his yellow with blue polka dot Robert Graham hat.

source: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

It’s a wonder the hat didn’t gain its own Twitter account, but it was one of the most memorable parts of Bell’s 2013 experience. It even made it to the Indianapolis 500 banquet, where Bell had a suit and rocked the hat while giving the speech.

This year, with support from Robert Graham NYC, now the primary partner on the No. 6 KV Racing Technology entry, and additionally from Royal Purple and Beneteau USA, Bell is back for his second stint with the team where he found his greatest Indianapolis 500 success.

As a one-off entry, it’s difficult to succeed, but having the partners behind makes the effort possible.

“I’ve been fortunate to have had some great supporters through the years,” Bell told MotorSportsTalk. “We’re all linked… me, my sponsors, and we’re all linked by a common thread of being driven by the dream to win the biggest race in the world. Great people jump on board to pursue that. Everyone’s been handpicked for the job.”

The team’s not afraid to have fun – witness Bell’s Robert Graham checkered driver cap now adorned by every member of his No. 6 KVRT crew.

The livery itself has gotten people talking, with a zipper down the middle to reveal a burst of speed. The inside of the car, wrapped in the color explosion, is also something to behold.

“In terms of getting partners together, I’m lucky to have a group that believe in me and want to have some fun at the same time,” Bell says. “We’ve had a great time entertaining, hats and things like that. It’s been fun. But we’re here for one main reason.”

That reason is, from a joke on Twitter, “dealing with lactose intolerance” – in reference to hoping to drink the milk Sunday afternoon.

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

Follow@KyleMLavigne