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.”

Ocon crowned GP3 champion after edging Ghiotto in finale

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Sunday 29 November 2015.
Esteban Ocon (FRA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _G7C8630
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Esteban Ocon became the sixth winner of the GP3 Series on Sunday in Abu Dhabi after edging out championship rival Luca Ghiotto in a tantalizing title decider at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Ocon entered the final race of the season leading Ghiotto by six points after taking pole position on Saturday and finishing fifth following a time penalty.

The two championship protagonists started fourth and fifth on the grid, but it was Ocon who made a better start to jump ahead of Ghiotto.

Contact was made between the duo, costing Ghiotto a small part of his front-wing endplate and dropping the Italian down to P7.

Ghiotto fought his way back up to fourth place, knowing that he had to catch and pass Ocon in third if he was to stand any chance of winning the title for Trident.

However, Ocon managed to eke out a small advantage over the laps that followed, dropping Ghiotto into the clutches of Jimmy Eriksson behind.

Although Ghiotto managed to stay fourth, he could not catch Ocon, who kept his cool to cross the line third and claim the series title.

Despite winning just one race all year long, a further 13 podium finishes in 18 races proved crucial as Ocon beat Ghiotto by eight points in the final standings.

“It’s what we wanted to achieve since the beginning of the season, and I’m very happy to finally achieve it,” Ocon said.

“It was a long season, and especially a long weekend, a lot of stress but yes, very happy to end up with the championship win.”

The Frenchman recently joined Mercedes’ driver academy as a full member, and has been tipped for a move into either GP2 or DTM for the 2016 season.

The race in Abu Dhabi was won by Campos Racing’s Alex Palou, marking the young Spaniard’s first victory in GP3. He beat Ferrari youngster Antonio Fuoco by 4.4 seconds as the Italian picked up his second podium finish of the year.

Hamilton nominated for BBC Sports Personality award

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks to the drivers' parade before the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 29, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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2015 Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton has been nominated for the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

Hamilton won the award for the first time in 2014 after clinching his second F1 title, and will defend his crown at a ceremony in Belfast, Northern Ireland on December 20.

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year award celebrates the highlights of the British sporting year, and has previous winners including David Beckham, Steve Redgrave and Lennox Lewis.

From F1, Hamilton is not the only former winner: Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell and Jackie Stewart all winning the trophy in the past in recognition of their on-track feats.

Hamilton features on a shortlist of 12, and is joined by tennis player Andy Murray following Great Britain’s first Davis Cup win in 79 years, boxer Tyson Fury after his defeat of Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday night and Tour de France winner Chris Froome.

You can see the shortlist in full here.

GP2 season finale cancelled due to barrier damage

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Sunday 29 November 2015.
The cars queue up in the pit lane during the red flag.
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBL0365
© GP2 Series
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The final race of the 2015 GP2 Series season in Abu Dhabi was cancelled on Sunday after a multi-car crash on the first lap caused damage to one of the barriers.

The crash was sparked by DAMS driver Pierre Gasly, who spun at turn two before trying to point his car back in the right direction, only to move into the path of the oncoming cars.

Nicholas Latifi, Artem Markelov, Daniel de Jong and Sean Gelael were all caught up in the accident, spearing into the barrier on the left-hand side of the track. Sergey Sirotkin and Arthur Pic also collided in a separate incident.

Race officials acted quickly to throw the red flag so that the cars could be recovered, only to find that the barrier had been severely damaged.

A lengthy wait followed as the marshals tried to repair it, but with the season-ending Formula 1 grand prix’s start time drawing ever nearer, the race eventually had to be called off.

Alex Lynn had been leading, but with less than a single lap completed, no points could be awarded for the race.

Subsequently, the standings following Saturday’s feature race in Abu Dhabi would stand as the final championship result with title winner Stoffel Vandoorne finishing the year 160 points clear of American driver Alexander Rossi in second place.

Sirotkin held onto third place despite not scoring in Abu Dhabi, while Rio Haryanto ended the year in fourth just one point further back. Mitch Evens ranked fifth in the final standings ahead of Lynn, Raffaele Marciello and Gasly who all finished on 110 points.

The GP2 teams will return to the track in Abu Dhabi later this week for the beginning of winter testing.

Despite late start, CGR Rallycross started first Red Bull GRC season strong

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MotorSportsTalk takes a look back at Chip Ganassi Racing Rallycross’ first season in the Red Bull Global Rallycross. First up is a look at how the season started, and how late things came together for the two-car effort, with a further look at the season after the first couple races coming in part two.

At the start of the season, Chip Ganassi said of his latest new racing project, a two-car Ford Fiesta effort in Red Bull Global Rallycross, “I’m the person that likes to come in and under promise and over deliver.”

Mission almost accomplished.

About the only thing the new CGR Rallycross program didn’t achieve in 2015 was a final round victory in its first year.

It sounds bad on the surface, but consider the competition level and the fact Ganassi didn’t win its first IndyCar race until its fifth season in 1994, and you get the sense CGR Rallycross is closer to a breakthrough than its IndyCar program was at the same time in its lifespan.

The fact the team even ran two cars this season was testament to an incredible last-minute effort of preparation, as the cars were received mere weeks before the season-opening round at Fort Lauderdale, May 31.

Team manager Carl Goodman explained how close it came to missing the planned debut.

“We only just got the first one just a couple weeks before,” Goodman told MotorSportsTalk. “We had three days of testing this year; a three-day test in Florida before season started. And the drivers had to share that car… it was only one car!

“We didn’t even know if we’d have a second car in moving from Ft. Lauderdale to Texas (for X Games). So every race weekend has been a test for us.”

The team’s lineup of Steve Arpin and Brian Deegan didn’t actually debut in full until X Games, and Jeff Ward filled in for Deegan at Daytona and Washington D.C. due to conflicts.

Arpin, who was the team’s only entry at Ft. Lauderdale, added more to how tight the timeline was.

“Honestly if stuff got pushed back one week, it would have been trouble,” said Arpin, driver of the team’s No. 00 Loenbro entry. “Once we got the cars, we were lucky because they were good off the boat.

“We just dove in. All these guys, except for Carl, it was their first time seeing and working on a rallycross car. We did some simulation stuff here at the stop. So we got acclimated, quickly.”

Speaking even more to the newness of the program, Goodman, Arpin and Deegan were the only team members who had any sort of past rally experience.

Goodman, an M-Sport veteran, was re-entering the rally world after eight years in NASCAR with Michael Waltrip Racing. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, given the Charlotte CGR team base and MWR’s own dwindling efforts in NASCAR.

“I was with M-Sport for about a month or two short of 10 years. But I left them at the end of 2006, just as they won a rally World Championship, the manufacturer’s championship,” he said.

“I moved to the U.S. and had my time with was MWR until about a year ago. So eight years of Cup years. When this opportunity came up, and with an M-Sport car, it just made it easier. I knew the car, how it’s built, all the parts fell together. It was a big professional team in CGR. All the parts came together at the right time. I’d had quite a break between M-Sport and rallycross.”

Goodman noted there were four full-time crewmembers, three with NASCAR experience, one with road racing and one with a dirt track background, with four others drawn from the workshop for race weekends.

“I think some of the guys were a bit daunted at first, but they’re all professional racers,” Goodman explained. “They all have that solid background of being at a track, so they’re not overwhelmed or awed by being there.

“They expected to know what to do, maybe not on this type of car, but they’re all very well versed in racing. It sounds on the face of it to be a completely different things, these cars blasting and jumping on the dirt, but they’re professionals and they adapted.”

Red Bull GRC courses, by their nature, are very different than any normal type of circuit racing. Some are more dirt-heavy, some more pavement-heavy but all have a dirt component, a jump and the Kobalt Tools Joker Lap.

Preparing the cars for these circuits helped take the crew out of their comfort zone, Goodman said.

“The main tools are there, with the springs, dampers and just your normal suspension tuning… the added tool is the differentials,” he said.

“In general the cars are quite soft. Everything is a compromise about them. Even if you have fast sections, you have tight and dirt sections. That can stop you from going too extreme, either direction.

“Barbados or even Daytona, they’re race tracks. You could turn up with a classic touring car. But with dirt and a jump, you can’t do that. You’re always governed by the fact that they have to get through the dirt. That’s the level of all the tracks.”

Things started well enough. Arpin was seventh at Ft. Lauderdale but a charge to second, a Silver medal, in only the team’s second ever start at the X Games at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas, was one of the season highlights.

“X Games… Steve just raced great and drove through the field. That certainly showed the potential of the car,” Goodman said.

Arpin added, “For the rewards, the X Games was the standout, but the final race in Vegas was the best for us.”

In part two of our look at CGR Rallycross, we’ll look at the remainder of their season after those opening two rounds that laid the groundwork for a successful first campaign in the championship.