Indy 500 Insights: Townsend Bell analyzes his week of practice, qualifying before Carb Day

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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 four of this daily series through this week (see parts three, two, one here), Townsend discusses the week that was in terms of practice and qualifying.

After nearly a year out of an IndyCar – since his last Indianapolis 500 appearance here last year – the days of May 11-19 saw Townsend Bell get back to up to speed to prepare for his eighth ‘500 start.

The elements and ingredients are there for success. Bell joins a stacked four-car KV Racing Technology lineup, the defending race-winning team, with teammates Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastian Saavedra and rookie James Davison.

Factor in a crew that includes former Wayne Taylor Racing team manager Simon Hodgson, ace engineer Gerald Tyler and crew chief Didier Francesia, among others, and Bell has as good a shot as any of the one-off ‘500 entries.

Admittedly, practice has been a challenge. Bell ran a total of 374 laps over the week but missed running on both Wednesday, May 14, due to the rain and on Fast Friday, May 16. While the balance has been good, and the car strong in race traffic, it hasn’t quite had the outright, top-end performance to mix it up in the top nine.

And it showed. Although Bell was good in race trim – crucially – he won’t be starting from that great a position, with 25thh the spot where he’ll roll off in the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet for KVRT.

“We just were slow, but with a great balance,” Bell told MotorSportsTalk in an interview earlier this week. “We were totally consistent, but just slow. I’m not sure why. It was weird.”

The plight shared by the KVRT team mirrored that of fellow Chevrolet-powered Chip Ganassi Racing, which you’d expect to be frontrunners but, no matter how small the margin, is just that fractional bit off this month.

“Let’s say I’m just 1.5 mph off of the Fast Nine,” Bell said. “It’s not that much, really. But you’d never see the gap from first to last be that short in the past.”

“We had Bourdais almost at 230, I was low 229, Saavedra was 228,” he added. “Ganassi was similar. Almost 231 for (Scott) Dixon, 230 TK (Tony Kanaan), 229 (Charlie) Kimball, and 228 (Ryan) Briscoe. Others matched up better in consistency over the course of the run; we didn’t.”

If there is a silver lining for Bell, it’s that he came from a similar back-third starting position to his career-best finish in the ‘500, from 24th to fourth driving for KV in 2009.

His other starts? He was 15th as a rookie in 2006, 12th in 2008, then 24th, 10th, fourth, 20th and 22nd. He has three top-10 finishes (fourth in 2009, ninth in 2012 and 10th in 2008).

“I’ve done it before to come from the back, but man, it’s not exactly easy to lay it down and make up 23 positions. But we’ll put our heads down,” Bell said.

Today, Bell pulls double duty between the cockpit for final practice and the NBCSN broadcast booth, covering today’s Pit Stop Competition and Carb Day action (11 a.m. ET, NBCSN).

“The ‘Carb Day’ name is a misnomer because it used to be carburetors way back … but now it’s our final one-hour practice,” Bell said. “It’s gonna be fast and furious as everyone tries to refine. This one hour is really important for you to show how you do in traffic. With the freight train of 20 cars, there’s a vicious turbulent air.

“It’s a critical session with pit stop practice and plugging in. I’m looking forward to doing the practice then head to the booth to cover the pit stop competition.”

NASCAR Truck drivers feel the earth move sitting in NHRA powerhouses

Photos courtesy Kalitta Motorsports
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Several NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers got to see how the other half lives – namely, their counterparts in the NHRA – on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway and across the street at zMax Dragway.

To say it was an eye-opening experience is putting it mildly.

Top Fuel drag racers Shawn Langdon and Troy Coughlin Jr., as well as Funny Car driver J.R. Todd – all from one of the top teams in the NHRA, Kalitta Motorsports – are in Charlotte for this weekend’s 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.

NASCAR Trucks driver Noah Gragson gets to feel the 10,000 horsepower of a Top Fuel dragster.

Thursday, they invited NASCAR drivers Ryan Truex, Christopher Bell, Grant Enfinger and Noah Gragson to show how it’s done NHRA-style.

Todd, Langdon and Coughlin started the day taking Toyota Camry pace cars around the 1.5-mile CMS oval.

Then everyone moved across the street to see some real horsepower, namely, 10,000 horses worth – which is roughly about 13 times the power they have under the hood of their race trucks.

Truex and Bell got a chance to “warm up” Todd’s Funny Car, while Enfinger and Gragson did the same with Langdon’s Top Fueler.

 

Meanwhile, Todd and Langdon both did smoky burnouts that, if the Truck guys thought they could do burnouts, they learned a lot to the contrary.

“It was a cool to do a big smoky burnout,” Todd said. “It was cool to see the guys reactions. We had a great time today and I think we created several new fans.”

Added Langdon, “Days like today is what makes me love our sport even more. Bringing these guys over here and letting them hit the throttle and sit in the car when it warms up gives them a look at what we do. To see the smiles on their faces after a badass burnout and how excited they are, just gets me pumped.”

Here’s what the NASCAR guys thought about the experience.

Bell: “J.R. Todd let me sit in his Toyota Camry Funny Car and they even cracked the throttle open for me when we were warming up the motor. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is a feeling like none other.”

Enfinger: “Just a crazy experience, something I have never done. Been able to do a lot of cool things with Toyota, but it is not every day that you get to make your dad jealous.”

Gragson: “This was awesome. It was the experience of a lifetime. It was great to hang out with J.R. Todd, Shawn and Troy Jr. Definitely a cool experience; one that I will remember forever.”

Truex: “This has probably been the craziest experience that I have ever been a part of. I got to sit in a Funny Car; they hit the throttle, which really scared me. When I was outside the car, I jumped about three feet in the air. It was cool to get inside and experience that. The nitro was all in my face, and I think they gained a new fan with me today.”

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F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”

NHRA: Chad Head to substitute for Alexis DeJoria in Charlotte

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Alexis DeJoria will miss this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, with her Kalitta Motorsports team confirming DeJoria will need to tend to a family matter.

Chad Head, Kalitta Motorsports Director of Safety, will step into the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry this weekend. No timetable was given for DeJoria’s return; after Charlotte this weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues for its third consecutive race weekend next week in Atlanta.

This isn’t the first race DeJoria has had to miss recently, as she also was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the 2016 NHRA season finale in Pomona.