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.

Rebellion confirms LMP1 return, all-star line-up for WEC super season

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Rebellion Racing has confirmed it will return to the LMP1 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship for the 2018/19 ‘super season’ with an all-star line-up featuring Le Mans winners Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer.

Rebellion raced in LMP1 as a privateer between 2009 and 2016 before stepping down to LMP2 for the most recent season, capturing the class titles at the first attempt.

Following a push from the WEC and Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) to make LMP1 more appealing to privateer teams, Rebellion announced on Wednesday it would return to the premier class for the 2018/19 season with a two-car effort.

WEC LMP2 champion Bruno Senna will return with Rebellion next year, as will Mathias Beche, with the pair set to be joined by four new faces.

The most notable arrivals are Porsche factory drivers Lotterer and Jani, both of whom were left without an LMP1 drive following the closure of the German manufacturer’s program at the end of the season.

American racer Gustavo Menezes will also join Rebellion, stepping up after two years in LMP2, while outstanding 2017 rookie Thomas Laurent completes the Swiss team’s line-up.

“I am looking forward to coming back where my endurance career started nine years ago,” said Jani.

“Rebellion Racing played a huge role in my career and also helped me become a factory driver for Porsche. When Porsche stopped in LMP1, it was clear for me that I wanted to race again for Rebellion.

“With the new regulations, I hope we can reach the overall podium at Le Mans and with a bit of luck, maybe we can even grab some wins during the super season of WEC.”

“I am very happy to join the champion Rebellion team,” added three-time Le Mans winner Lotterer.

“The LMP1 project is very exciting and to be able to go on with the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the FIA WEC challenge is something I did not want to miss.

“I am motivated and looking forward to have a great time with great people there.”