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.”
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.