Indy 500 Insights: Townsend Bell recaps one of his best ever drives

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Every year, Townsend Bell puts together a one-off Indianapolis 500 program. The 2014 edition was Bell’s eighth ‘500 appearance, after making his debut in 2006 and running every year consecutively since 2008. This year, he returned 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. After a weeklong daily build-up series (See links Part 1-6 here), Townsend recapped what was an amazing drive that came up just short of ‘500 glory.

It’s not an official line, but there’s a definite school of thought in the Indianapolis 500 that you’d rather finish in the 20s going for the win than end in the top-10 after a ho-hum day.

Better to be remembered than be anonymous.

And it’s going to be easy to remember how good a drive Townsend Bell put in at this year’s ‘500. Yeah, he ended 25th when all was said and done after a late-race accident, but I’m going to guess this run turned in Sunday will stand out more in the minds of fans compared to his career-best run of fourth in 2009.

“It was similar to 2011 where we were competitive all day, and we qualified up front there,” Bell said. “This race we started at back; it was my worst ever qualifying but possibly my best ever race car in terms of getting through traffic.”

Indeed it was the first stint, where Bell progressively moved from P25 on the grid up to P19, then into the top-15 and then just to the fringes of the top-10, where it was apparent how much the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet was hooked up.

It was a nice carryover from Carb Day, where Bell ended third. The car ran better in hotter track temperatures.

“We knew we’d be strong and the first stint was fantastic,” Bell explained. “But then I had some trouble getting past Kanaan; had contact with the left rear. We were a little wounded on balance. But we still got up there thanks to great pit stops from guys.”

Bell endured despite the toe link contact and kept within the top five. He restarted second on Lap 176, just before the moment that he and Ed Carpenter were side-by-side in Turn 1. Once James Hinchcliffe made a three-wide passing attempt, that led to contact and took the top two starters out of the race.

Bell pressed on but lost ground on the final restart before the rear let go with just under 10 laps remaining in Turn 2.

“Being up to second with 20 to go, we plodded to come back on, but the left rear toe link let go, and absolutely released itself in a cruel way. It was a big hit,” he said.

The message of the race Bell relayed during Monday night’s Victory Awards Celebration was one of “We got this,” which he did, until the moment in Turn 2 when he said “For a second I thought, ‘I don’t got this.’”

What Bell did have throughout the Month of May was a crew, assembled just for the race, who rocked it and kept him in contention on pit road all day.

“My engineer Gerald Tyler made great decisions on downforce. And I was really proud of all my guys, from my crew chief, Didier, and the rest of the crew,” he said. “They were all recruited to come in for a one-off program. When it really counted, they gained me positions against the best teams in the series.”

This weekend Bell races in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in his No. 555 AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 with co-driver Bill Sweedler, where the pair lead the GT Daytona points standings entering the weekend.

After that, it’s onto Texas on June 7, where Bell will resume his commentary duties.

Craig Breedlove wins 2017 Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award

Craig Breedlove (left) and Richard Noble look on during the world land speed record attempt by the Thrust SCC at Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Photo: David Taylor/Allsport
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Land-speed record icon Craig Breedlove has been awarded the 2017 Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award, one of the top honors awarded on the West Coast, and in the world of motorsports. Breedlove is the award’s 18th recipient.

The award was presented prior to today’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

The full release is below:

Craig Breedlove has been selected as the 2017 recipient of the 18th Annual Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award. For the 18th year, the Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award recognizes motorsports personalities who have made distinguished contributions to motorsports in California.

Breedlove was selected by a judging panel, which includes national and California motorsports media, to receive the prestigious 2017 Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award. Ed Justice, Jr. President & CEO of Justice Brothers, Inc. presented the award during the pre-race ceremonies at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 race at Auto Club Speedway.

Craig Breedlove is the first person in history to reach 500 mph and 600 mph, Craig Breedlove, is a land speed legend. Using several turbojet-powered vehicles, all named Spirit of America; he drove to five world land speed records. The Beach Boys’ song Spirit of America was inspired by Breedlove’s land speed record set in 1963. Breedlove was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of America in 1993 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2000.

Giovinazzi impresses as Sauber sub, finishes 12th on F1 debut

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Antonio Giovinazzi continued his impressive last-minute showing in the Australian Grand Prix weekend by finishing 12th for Sauber on his Formula 1 debut.

Ferrari junior and 2015 GP2 runner-up Giovinazzi was drafted in by Sauber on Saturday to replace Pascal Wehrlein, who withdrew from the race weekend due to an ongoing back injury.

Giovinazzi qualified 16th on Saturday, narrowly missing out on a place in Q2, and then enjoyed a trouble-free race en route to 12th at the checkered flag, two laps down on race winner Sebastian Vettel.

“It was a good race, and I am happy with my performance today,” Giovinazzi said.

“My objective was to gain more experience and collect mileage in the car. I will sit together with my engineers to analyze areas where I can improve.

“I want to thank the Sauber F1 Team and Scuderia Ferrari again for this opportunity. It was an amazing race weekend for me.”

Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn was full of praise for Giovinazzi: “A very impressive performance from Antonio during his first Formula 1 race. He showed his potential as well as what the car is capable of.”

Giovinazzi is now set to return to his reserve driver duties at Ferrari, with Wehrlein expected to be back at full-fitness for the Chinese Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

Maverick Vinales wins MotoGP opener in Qatar after rain delays start

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Maverick Viñales made a flying start to life with Yamaha in MotoGP by winning on his debut with the factory team in Qatar on Sunday night.

Rain throughout the weekend had already forced qualifying to be cancelled on Saturday, with Viñales claiming pole by virtue of setting the fastest time in practice.

Officials decided early on Sunday that they would not be amending its schedule for races, with the Moto2 and Moto3 events going ahead as planned.

Just minutes before the MotoGP race was set to get underway at 11pm local time, rain started to fall once again over the Losail International Circuit, prompting the stewards to delay the race start after a number of riders went off during an installation lap.

A 45-minute delay followed as a number of officials from both MotoGP and the teams remonstrated on the grid before being asked to take their discussions inside, away from the cameras and the watching world.

With the rain easing to a light drizzle, the stewards confirmed the race would start as planned, albeit reduced to 20 laps.

On a moist track, Viñales made a tentative start from pole, dropping to fifth as Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone made the best getaway to lead into the first corner.

Iannone was quickly passed by Tech3’s Johann Zarco, who completed his first lap in MotoGP as the race leader, and soon began to forge a lead over the chasing pack.

Zarco’s hopes of a debut win were dashed when he slid off the track in the tricky conditions, allowing Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso to assume the lead ahead of Iannone.

When Iannone fell and third-placed Marc Marquez began to drop off the pace as his tires faded, Viñales and Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi began to close on Dovizioso, setting up a grandstand finish.

Viñales found a way past Dovizioso, only to lose the lead a couple of laps later, before then taking it back with two laps to go, curbing the Ducati’s straight-line speed advantage as they headed into Turn 1 for the final time.

From there, Viñales was able to keep his cool and cross the line half a second clear of Dovizioso to record his second MotoGP victory, his first coming with Suzuki last year at Silverstone.

Rossi crossed the line a close third, much to his surprise after a torrid pre-season, while Marquez was left to settle for fourth place to begin his riders’ title defence.

Dani Pedrosa finished one place behind his Honda teammate in fifth, while Aleix Espargaro was one of the unsung heroes of the race, crossing the line sixth for Aprilia.

Scott Redding wound up seventh ahead of Jack Miller and Alex Rins, while Tech3 debutant Jonas Folger rounded out the top 10.

Three-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo had a forgettable debut with Ducati, finishing a lowly 11th after an off-track excursion on the opening lap.

The MotoGP season continues with round two of the season in Argentina on April 9.

Ocon picks up maiden F1 point in Australia, finishes as top rookie

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Esteban Ocon picked up his first point in Formula 1 during his maiden outing for Force India in Australia on Sunday, finishing the race 10th and as the top rookie.

Ocon made his F1 debut in Belgium last year with the backmarker Manor team, completing the final nine rounds of the season before moving into a seat with Force India for 2017.

Embarking on his first full season of F1 (and therefore still a rookie) in 2017, Ocon qualified 14th in Australia on Saturday before spending much of the race battling with Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg, the trio going three-wide down the main straight at one point.

Ocon was able to come out on top, clinching the final point on offer in Melbourne by finishing P10 to complete a double-points finish for Force India after Sergio Perez ended up seventh.

“Very happy with today. It’s been a tough weekend but a great reward at the end,” Ocon told NBCSN after the race.

“Fighting with Alonso made things difficult. It was side by side. Then I had the better pace with him. It’s so much harder to overtake, but I made the pass and got the point.

“I’m learning all the time. It’s good what we’ve done here. This is good for the team. We hope we can score many more for the championship.”

Ocon emerged as the top rookie in Melbourne, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 12th and 13th respectively. Williams’ Lance Stroll – making his first start in F1 – retired due to a brake disc issue.