Indy 500 Insights: Shifting to race day, beast mode for Townsend Bell

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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 6 of this daily series through this week (see parts 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 here), Townsend discusses the build-up on race morning.

It’s race day for the 98th Indianapolis 500.

For the first time in one year, Townsend Bell will wake up not as an NBCSN analyst, but as one of the 33 drivers with a shot at eternal glory if he was to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The pre-race preparation is over. But Bell already has close to one 500-mile test in the books, as on Monday’s last day of extended practice (six hours of running), he led the field with 148 laps completed.

“To do 148 laps, I was pretty exhausted,” Bell told MotorSportsTalk in an interview last week. “You don’t realize it at the time, but you’re 50 short of a full ‘500.

“You’re usually worn out after the race anyway, not just from the setup but also from your physical and mental conditioning standpoint. Hopefully, this makes this race this much easier.”

Bell starts 25th in the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet for KV Racing Technology, but he’s been very steady and consistent in practice. He ended third on Carb Day, the best day to get a read on cars in race conditions.

As for whether he’s in the zone? The answer is an obvious and distinct, yes.

“I’m already in that mode,” he said. “It’s not something you consciously do – it just sort of happens. Whether you’re ready or not, the biggest, most demanding, most mentally taxing race is upon you. I’m not aware of any driver that has trouble focusing – it’s automatic.”

For what it takes to compete in this race? Bell sums it up nicely.

“It’s that killer, animal-like instinct, and you have to get it on. You don’t have any other option.”

Game on, then, for T-Bell and the No. 6 animal he’ll be wheeling from the inside of Row 9.

Bourdais cleared to drive; return date still TBA

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Sebastien Bourdais was in Indianapolis on Tuesday and for good reason – not even three months after his devastating accident in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, he received medical clearance that he is cleared to return to racing action.

Bourdais posted late Tuesday night he’d had his final appointment with his doctor and has been cleared to return to action. He’d targeted mid-August as the date to get this clearance, and this lives up to that target. He sustained pelvic and hip fractures in the accident in qualifying.

The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT team welcomed Bourdais back to the Indianapolis shop on Woodland Drive on Tuesday, in anticipation for what would be Bourdais’ return to sports car competition at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale, Motul Petit Le Mans, Oct. 5-7.

As for his day job, back in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, the team is yet to reveal when Bourdais will be back racing. Bourdais has set Watkins Glen as a target on Labor Day weekend, following the next two races on ovals at Pocono Raceway (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Gateway Motorsports Park.

Provided the Coyne team can get through these two oval races cleanly with the rookie pair of Esteban Gutierrez and Ed Jones, that would increase the likelihood of a Bourdais return at Watkins Glen.

Bourdais tested at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the Monday after that race, which was a huge step towards his formal comeback. He spoke to NBCSN contributor Robin Miller during the Honda Indy 200 race telecast.

Montoya refreshed for full year with Penske, Acura after ‘weird’ 2017

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If the worst kept secret in racing the last several months was that Team Penske was running a sports car program with Acura, the second worst kept secret was that Juan Pablo Montoya would be one of its drivers.

With today’s announcement however, the 41-year-old Colombian can now officially talk about his new full-time ride.

Montoya’s been renowned for his career versatility and winning in IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula 1. And now, how he’ll be back in action after an abnormal 2017 season where he’s tested two generations of IndyCars, will have tested two entirely different types of sports cars, raced an IndyCar twice for Team Penske in May at Indianapolis, won the Race of Champions in January, and spent some quality time karting in Europe with son Sebastian, who is beginning to blossom on that front.

It all adds up to a wild year of Juan Pablo that has been part slow, part flat out depending on the month.

“It’s been weird because at the beginning of the year, it was actually really calm until Indy,” Montoya said. “We had a little testing here or there, but it wasn’t much.

“Then two months with Indy and then kart racing in Europe. Since then it’s been non‑stop. I think the next three, four months are going to be non‑stop.

“But I don’t mind that. I really don’t mind. Doing the testing for the IndyCar has been a lot of fun for the ’18 IndyCar.  There’s no pressure. Just go there, you know, drive the wheels out of it with no compromise. That makes it fun.”

Montoya’s three days of testing in that car at Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio and Iowa have been an excellent case study in “JPM unleashed.”

Without the restrictions, as noted, his trademark unreal car control has been on display as he’s been able to push the car – in only its base setup – through all the items the INDYCAR officials want to see. Being able to drive at least seven or eight mph faster on a straight at Mid-Ohio already speaks to a good development path.

It’s a cool place for Montoya to be in, leaving a legacy as one of two test drivers for the new car. And he’ll get that same opportunity within the Penske Acura program, because he’ll have a chance to work alongside one of racing’s most experienced 28-year-olds, in Dane Cameron.

Cameron’s already raced in all four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes and has won titles in two of them (Prototype, GT Daytona), while having driven a variety of cars ranging from this year’s Cadillac DPi-V.R to the previous generation Corvette DP, the BMW Z4 GT3 he won the GTD title with in 2014, a Risi Ferrari F458 Italia (the same team Montoya tested with this spring at Sebring) and more.

That makes Cameron a natural teammate with Montoya in more ways than one; he’s excelled across a variety of cars and series at a young age. Montoya was a CART and Indianapolis 500 champion at 24, an F1 race winner by 26 and a NASCAR Cup race winner by 32.

“I think it’s very exciting for me because Dane is a young guy, is a guy that has run the series, understands the series. I think he has a lot of knowledge,” Montoya explained.

“I’ve been driving all kinds of cars. As you know, I’ve driven everything. I’ve been successful in everything.  I’m excited to bring something to the table, and at the same time as a driver, find something new, learn new things.

“I think we can work together really well and hopefully bring a ton of victories.”

Montoya will handle the bulk of the Acura ARX-05’s initial testing as Cameron won’t be available until after his current contract with Action Express Racing in its No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac ends mid-October, following Petit Le Mans.

Penske Racing president Tim Cindric is optimistic the Penske Acura program, which he expects will see a combination of he, Kyle Moyer and Jeff Swartwout overseeing portions if not all of it, will be on track by the end of the month following the ARX-05’s formal reveal at The Quail in Monterey later this week.

While Montoya would still be a natural to run an extra Team Penske IndyCar at the Indianapolis 500 next year provided the opportunity is there – he said “I would say yes in a heartbeat” to that – he said the sports car focus will be top of mind as he returns to full-time action in what will be a deep championship.

“I think it would be a fun car. From what everybody says, it has a ton of grip,” he said. “I always enjoyed driving the (old) Daytona Prototypes because you could throw them around a lot.  These cars seem to have a lot more downforce and a lot more power, so I’m excited. I just don’t know what to expect.

“I think it’s going to be a lot better and a lot quicker than what I’m thinking.”

John Andretti begins new round of chemotherapy treatment

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John Andretti has started another round of chemotherapy.

The former NASCAR and IndyCar driver used Twitter on Monday to provide an update on his fight against colon cancer: “Same cocktail with an added twist. Only 3 months to go.”

The 54-year-old Andretti made his diagnosis public in early May and has relied on social media to keep fans abreast of his condition.

In late June, he Tweeted that doctors found that his spleen and gall bladder were cancer free. Andretti continues to encourage others to get preventative screenings.

Andretti started 49 consecutive IndyCar races from 1990-92 before moving to NASCAR, where he made 29 or more starts every year from 1994-2003. He was the first driver to attempt the Memorial Day double.

More AP auto racing: http://www.racing.ap.org

Montoya, Cameron confirmed in first Penske Acura DPi

Montoya (Photo: IndyCar) and Cameron (Photo courtesy of IMSA)
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Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron will share one of the two Team Penske and Acura Motorsports Acura ARX-05 entries, combining one of this generation’s greatest drivers and one of this generation’s rising talents, in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

Montoya has long been expected as a shoe-in and Cameron’s name has been top of mind for months to fill one of the Team Penske seats.

“We worked together with our partners at Acura Motorsports and Honda Performance Development (HPD) to bring together drivers that we believe will help develop our program and compete for race wins right out of the gate while also serving as great ambassadors for their brands,” said Roger Penske. “Having Juan and Dane join our program brings together two drivers that have extensive sports car racing experience in the prototype class and have already won at the top levels of the sport. This represents a great beginning to our program for 2018.”

Cameron will shift from Action Express Racing, where he won last year’s IMSA Prototype championship co-driving with Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Corvette DP. Success has been harder to come by in their title defense year aboard the new No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

“Getting a chance to race for Team Penske is like a dream come true for a driver,” said Cameron. “To see all of the effort and resources that Acura Motorsports is putting into this new program to develop and win with the ARX-05, it’s really impressive. I’m so excited for the opportunity to become part of the team and work with a guy who has done all the things Juan has done. It’s going to be an awesome experience to add my name to the list of drivers that have driven for Team Penske. I’m looking forward to a busy off season and coming out of the gates strong at Daytona.”

For Montoya, meanwhile, this marks a return to full-time competition after a year racing in the month of May with Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then testing the 2018 Dallara universal aero kit IndyCar.

“I have really enjoyed working with Roger and Team Penske over the last four years,” said Montoya. “When Roger asked if I’d like to be part of starting this new sports car operation with Acura, it was an easy decision. I’ve always loved racing sports cars. It’s definitely a challenge and it’s going to be a lot of fun to develop a new car with Acura. I’m excited to start the testing of the ARX-05 next week. Team Penske started its winning tradition in sports cars and it’s going to be cool to be a part of a new chapter with the team.”