Indy 500 Insights: Townsend Bell’s off-track time management

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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 five of this daily series through this week (see parts four, three, two, one here), Townsend discusses the pre-race week, which is primarily comprised of off-track obligations.

The days of May 11-19 at Indianapolis are all about the on-track buildup to the 98th Indianapolis 500.

Meanwhile the days from May 20 through May 24 are all about everything else off-track.

For NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, that means sponsor commitments, TV work, media obligations, dinners, functions and this year, sports car testing.

Bell, though, is a veteran of the process and takes it all in stride.

“I guess I’m used to it,” Bell told MotorSportsTalk in an interview earlier this week. “I’ve learned little things to make my life as streamlined as possible despite the activity, sponsors, media obligations, and everything else. I have a nice support team both at KV Racing and couple additional support.

“Anything I can do to just focus on driving, I take advantage of those opportunities. It’s the biggest race of the year for any of us and especially for me. It takes priority.”

This week, Bell qualified Sunday, practiced Monday, flew to Watkins Glen for a sports car test on Wednesday and was back in Indianapolis Thursday for IMS media day. Then it was back on track Friday morning for practice – Bell ended third and was pleased with his No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet – and into the booth for NBCSN’s coverage of Carb Day.

“You go from one thing to the next, but it’s nice to stay busy,” Bell admitted. “Going to Watkins Glen earlier this week, I had the best time (driving the No. 555 AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3). I hadn’t been there for 15 years (1999). I just had a blast.”

The off-track elements do a good job of reminding Bell of how fun the entire motorsports atmosphere can be.

“This whole week is a little different this year because of the sports car test,” he said. “The buildup is fun. I’ve come to enjoy all of that, the parade, or when the sponsors come to town, the dinners, drivers meeting… the traditional elements.

“I’ve come to enjoy the traditions. The older I get, the more you want to soak it all up, you know you’re not doing this forever.”

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.