Bell and Will Power. Photo: INDYCAR

Indy 500 Insights: Townsend Bell’s take on latest IMS practice week format

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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 three of this daily series through this week (see parts two, one here), we get Townsend’s take on Indianapolis’ latest new practice and qualifying week format.

Change is constant. Change has been rapid over the course of the last 20 or so years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and certainly since 1996, when American open-wheel racing was fractured into a state that it’s been attempting to crawl out of ever since.

With past IMS elements such as “traditional qualifying,” or single-weekend qualifying, or “25/8,” or other tried-and-discarded formats utilized in the past, IMS has shook it up once again for 2014.

This year, there’s the new Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the week of practice before turning up the boost from 130 kPa to 140 kPa for Fast Friday (increases horsepower), and a new extra day of practice added Monday back to race boost to allow for more race running

For Townsend Bell, in his usual one-off appearance in the Indianapolis 500, the latest schedule adjustment is a welcome change of pace.

“The format is such that it’s difficult right now for the big teams to develop a technical advantage,” he explained in an interview with MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “There are lots of little things that can be done. But you see the ‘science projects’ pay off a bit more in qualifying.”

It’s not easy to find even a single mph – to go from 224 to 225 mph laps in race trim or from 229 to 230 in qualifying, for instance – but this format has allowed that to do so.

Still, the field is ridiculously tight. The 2014 field is both the closest in time (only 2.5399 seconds separate 1-33) and fastest (229.382 mph field average, beating the 2002 field of 228.648).

And for the race, after the week of practice, Bell noted the year-on-year improvement from Firestone in terms of grip level and more consistency over the course of a run.

“Firestone has made a dramatic improvement in the tire, without a loss of grip,” he said. “So we should see more green flag racing, by virtue of the balance not going away as much over the course of a stint.

“I’m hoping for hot conditions – as hot as we can get – so that some of the cars don’t have as great a balance,” he added, noting his car seems to run better in warmer conditions. “But if last year’s any indication, by halfway, it was still a pack of 20-24 cars in a freight train.”

Bell, driver of the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet for KV Racing Technology, ran his first 230-plus mph lap in practice at Indianapolis this year with the extra boost. His best 230-plus lap of 230.830 ranked him 14th in the field of 33.

Over the course of the week, in race boost, Bell had a best lap of 225.484 mph and an average, spread over his fastest lap from the six practice days, of 222.499. Both times were in the middle of the pack.

But Bell’s pleased with his car’s handling in traffic, and was the busiest driver in the 33-car field on Monday, that ultimate last real day of practice. He ran 148 laps, one of only six who ran more than 100.

We’ll see how his work during the new format translates to the traditional Friday Carb Day practice, and then ultimately for race day, Sunday, for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.

NHRA at Reading: Brown still unbeaten; Beckman, McGaha, Hines also win

NHRA winners at Reading (from left): Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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One of Top Fuel driver Antron Brown’s nicknames is “A.B.”

Thus far in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship, Brown has picked up another nickname: “U.B.”

As in unbeatable.

Brown roared to his third consecutive win in as many races in the Countdown in Sunday’s finals of the Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.

Brown remains undefeated in the Countdown, and has increased his playoff round record to a perfect 12-0, the best start of any driver in any class in Countdown history.

Brown (3.717 seconds at 328.46 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate and defending Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher to capture his 54th career win (38th in Top Fuel).

Brown now leads Schumacher by 94 points as the NHRA moves on to the second half of the six-race Countdown.

What’s more, the 2012 Top Fuel champ has now won a career-high seven races this season – he has previously won six races in a season four different times – as well as earning his first-ever win at Maple Grove Raceway.

“You don’t go into the Countdown believing you’re going to win the first three races,” Brown said in a news release. “That’s what you hope to do. Charlotte (two races ago) was tough, but this race was also tough because you go into eliminations without any runs down the racetrack (due to rain on both Friday and Saturday).

“When we came out today, it was pretty much the first session of qualifying for us. Getting a good, clean run down the track helped us a lot and the track got about eight times better by the second lap.”

In Funny Car, Jack Beckman returned to Victory Lane for his career-best seventh win of the season and the 22nd of his career.

Beckman (3.910 seconds at 326.79 mph) got the jump at the starting line and that was the difference over runner-up Chad Head (3.903 at 326.16).

In addition to the win, Beckman reset the national elapsed time record for the third time this season while winning Sunday’s semifinal round battle over Ron Capps in 3.897 seconds.

Beckman leaves Reading just 16 points behind Del Worsham, who won the first two races of the Countdown.

“For us, it couldn’t have ended up any better,” Beckman said. “We went from six rounds out to less than one round. We’re not leading, but we’ve got a car that’s clearly able to win races and I think that the (points) lead is within sight again.”

Of note, Worsham, defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan and 16-time champ John Force all lost in the first round – a rarity.

In Pro Stock, Chris McGaha (6.492 seconds at 213.64 mph) earned his third win of the season and also of his career, defeating four-time world champ Greg Anderson.

McGaha won with a new crew chief: Tommy Utt replaced Brian Self, who left the team to join Elite Motorsports earlier in the week.

“This week has been really something,” McGaha said. “Having a crew chief shuffle and what-have-you, it’s a pretty big feat to overcome.

“You leave the house hoping you can win and knowing you can win, but actually doing it is another deal.”

Points leader Erica Enders remains atop the standings with a 72-point edge over Anderson, while McGaha moves into third place with his win.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending series champ and four-time world champ Andrew Hines earned his second win of the Countdown and third of the season.

Hines (6.794 seconds at 197.25 mph) defeated Chip Ellis in Sunday’s final round to earn his 41st career win, tying him with Angelle Sampey for second on the PSM all-time wins list.

“That win light came on for the final and I was over the moon,” Hines said. “I know how fast Chip had been all weekend and all year. Luckily, we were able to dip into the 6.7’s with him and put up a nice, tight final round for the fans.”

Hines remains atop the PSM points, leading teammate Eddie Krawiec by 89 points.

The Countdown resumes in two weeks with the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Oct. 15-18, at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas.



TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  Tony Schumacher; 3.  Larry Dixon; 4.  Brittany Force; 5.  Richie Crampton; 6. Dom Lagana; 7.  Shawn Langdon; 8.  J.R. Todd; 9.  Leah Pritchett; 10.  Dave Connolly; 11.  Smax Smith; 12.  Clay Millican; 13.  Doug Kalitta; 14.  Steve Torrence.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Jack Beckman; 2.  Chad Head; 3.  Ron Capps; 4.  John Bojec; 5.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6.  Cruz Pedregon; 7.  Tim Wilkerson; 8.  John Hale; 9.  Tony Pedregon; 10.  Del Worsham; 11.  Paul Lee; 12. Matt Hagan; 13.  Alexis DeJoria; 14.  John Force; 15.  Courtney Force; 16.  Robert Hight.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Chris McGaha; 2.  Greg Anderson; 3.  Bo Butner; 4.  Larry Morgan; 5.  Erica Enders; 6.  V. Gaines; 7.  Jason Line; 8.  Jonathan Gray; 9.  Allen Johnson; 10.  Alan Prusiensky; 11.  John Gaydosh Jr; 12.  Val Smeland; 13.  Shane Gray; 14.  Kenny Delco; 15.  Vincent Nobile; 16.  Drew Skillman.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Chip Ellis; 3.  Eddie Krawiec; 4.  Matt Smith; 5.  Jerry Savoie; 6.  Karen Stoffer; 7.  Hector Arana Jr; 8.  Steve Johnson; 9.  Hector Arana; 10.  Angie Smith; 11.  Brian Pretzel; 12.  Jim Underdahl; 13.  Chaz Kennedy; 14.  Scotty Pollacheck.


TOP FUEL: Antron Brown, 3.717 seconds, 328.46 mph  def. Tony Schumacher, no time.

FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.910, 326.79  def. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 3.903, 326.16.

PRO STOCK: Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.64  def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.484, 214.59.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.794, 197.25  def. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.818, 196.39.



ROUND ONE — Larry Dixon, 3.882, 323.58 def. Steve Torrence, 9.538, 83.23; Antron Brown, 3.742, 321.50 def. Clay Millican, 8.482, 79.51; Dom Lagana, 5.150, 218.09 def. Doug Kalitta, 8.584, 112.37; Shawn Langdon, 4.248, 317.19 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.442, 277.94; Brittany Force, 3.707, 328.46 def. Dave Connolly, 4.443, 194.38; Tony Schumacher, 3.741, 320.51 def. J.R. Todd, 3.776, 324.20; Richie Crampton, 4.454, 268.12 def. Smax Smith, 6.426, 102.91;

QUARTERFINALS — Dixon, 3.712, 330.80 def. Langdon, 5.693, 118.41; Brown, 3.734, 323.27 def. Lagana, 3.785, 321.04; Force, 3.846, 253.47 was unopposed; Schumacher, 3.732, 325.85 def. Crampton, 3.771, 289.20;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.714, 325.45 def. Dixon, 3.719, 329.75; Schumacher, 3.730, 328.22 def. Force, 9.913, 71.10;

FINAL — Brown, 3.717, 328.46 def. Schumacher, no time.


ROUND ONE — Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 5.426, 135.50 def. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, DQ; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.941, 324.44 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.799, 208.39; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.985, 319.45 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.601, 213.50; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.125, 321.04 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 5.636, 143.20; John Hale, Charger, 7.417, 89.98 def. Robert Hight, Camaro, DQ; Jack Beckman, Charger, 6.625, 254.90 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 7.468, 122.56; John Bojec, Toyota Solara, 5.095, 230.61 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 5.891, 273.22; Chad Head, Camry, 5.328, 220.26 def. John Force, Camaro, 7.689, 85.11;

QUARTERFINALS — Bojec, 4.348, 262.95 def. Wilkerson, DQ; Beckman, 3.925, 326.16 def. Johnson Jr., 4.110, 323.50; Capps, 3.969, 324.90 def. C. Pedregon, 7.267, 100.08; Head, 3.964, 321.42 def. Hale, broke;

SEMIFINALS — Head, 3.968, 316.30 def. Bojec, broke; Beckman, 3.897, 326.87 def. Capps, 4.123, 299.66;

FINAL — Beckman, 3.910, 326.79 def. Head, 3.903, 326.16.


ROUND ONE — Larry Morgan, Chevy Camaro, 6.480, 213.84 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 7.102, 142.18; Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.512, 212.73 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.524, 212.86; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.670, 199.46 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 9.493, 98.05; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.477, 213.91 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 10.320, 79.95; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.479, 214.31 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.800, 205.69; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.498, 213.84 def. Val Smeland, Chevy Cobalt, 6.868, 182.23; V. Gaines, Dart, 6.527, 212.23 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 11.143, 79.58; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.478, 213.77 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Avenger, 6.679, 207.40;

QUARTERFINALS — McGaha, 6.951, 160.38 def. J. Gray, foul; Morgan, 6.500, 213.64 def. Gaines, 6.900, 157.10; Butner, 6.503, 212.53 def. Enders, 6.582, 202.42; Anderson, 6.488, 213.98 def. Line, 6.967, 156.48;

SEMIFINALS — McGaha, 6.503, 213.70 def. Butner, 6.484, 213.74; Anderson, 6.475, 214.38 def.

Morgan, 6.502, 214.21;

FINAL — McGaha, 6.492, 213.64 def. Anderson, 6.484, 214.59.


ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.875, 194.24 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.954, 179.21; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.924, 194.74 def. Angie Smith, 6.984, 187.81; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.787, 195.59 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.854, 194.77; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.821, 192.77 def. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 9.068, 94.57; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.822, 196.90 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 16.865, 38.00; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.827, 194.66 def. Brian Pretzel, Buell, 7.215, 184.32; Matt Smith, 6.836, 193.82 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.940, 120.42;

QUARTERFINALS — M. Smith, 6.858, 192.88 def. Savoie, 6.889, 195.11; Krawiec, 6.808, 195.34 was unopposed; Ellis, 7.932, 129.12 def. Arana Jr, foul; Hines, 6.809, 195.70 def. Stoffer, 7.047, 163.73;

SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.830, 194.91 def. M. Smith, foul; Ellis, 6.775, 196.47 def. Krawiec, foul;

FINAL — Hines, 6.794, 197.25 def. Ellis, 6.818, 196.39.


TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,432; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 2,338; 3.  Brittany Force, 2,238; 4.  Larry Dixon, 2,234; 5.  Richie Crampton, 2,187; 6.  J.R. Todd, 2,181; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 2,177; 8.  Doug Kalitta, 2,173; 9.  Steve Torrence, 2,160; 10.  Dave Connolly, 2,158.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Del Worsham, 2,361; 2.  Jack Beckman, 2,345; 3.  Matt Hagan, 2,271; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,263; 5.  Ron Capps, 2,256; 6.  John Force, 2,211; 7.  Cruz Pedregon, 2,169; 8.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,162; 9.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,154; 10.  Robert Hight, 2,140.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders, 2,385; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,313; 3.  Chris McGaha, 2,281; 4.  Larry Morgan, 2,240; 5.  Allen Johnson, 2,227; 6.  Drew Skillman, 2,212; 7.  Vincent Nobile, 2,187; 8.  Jason Line, 2,179; 9.  Shane Gray, 2,149; 10.  Jonathan Gray, 2,119.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,378; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,289; 3.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,277; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 2,259; 5.  Matt Smith, 2,244; 6.  Chip Ellis, 2,223; 7.  Karen Stoffer, 2,199; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,167; 9.  Jim Underdahl, 2,126; 10.  Scotty Pollacheck, 2,076.

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Lorenzo looking to Honda, Ducati for help in MotoGP title race

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Jorge Lorenzo of Spain and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP celebrates the victory on the podium at the end of the MotoGP race during the MotoGP of Spain - Race at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 27, 2015 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Jorge Lorenzo hopes that he can get some help from the Honda and Ducati riders in his championship battle with Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi in the final four races of the 2015 MotoGP season.

Lorenzo currently trails Rossi by 14 points at the top of the riders’ championship, and with just four races to go, barring an unlikely run of results, the title will go to a Yamaha rider for the first time since 2012.

The formbook offers little in the way of clues for the Lorenzo/Rossi battle, for although Lorenzo has won more races, Rossi has been more consistent, finishing off the podium just once this season.

Lorenzo had hoped to reel Rossi in last time out at Motorland Aragon, but the Italian rider managed to finish third, minimizing the damage of his teammate’s victory.

Nevertheless, Lorenzo was pleased to bounce back after two disappointing races at Silverstone and Misano, having lost ground on Rossi in the title race.

“I am very happy with this victory because it came after two races that were a bit disappointing and I expected to take more points, but due to a few factors and especially the weather, I failed to achieve the desired result,” Lorenzo said. “The victory in Motorland [Aragon] was crucial.”

Rossi was beaten to second place by Honda’s Dani Pedrosa after a titanic battle in the closing stages of the last race, and Lorenzo hopes that the Spaniard, among others, could aid his cause inadvertently again in the remaining four races.

“[Pedrosa] was very strong and it was useful to recover the points lost earlier and it has given me more chances to recover with four races left until the end,” Lorenzo said.

“But [Marc] Marquez or maybe the two Ducati riders could also stand in front of Valentino and take away some points. It is a real possibility, but very dangerous for us both.”

The next round of the MotoGP season takes place at Motegi, Japan next weekend.