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.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.