Ten with Townsend: Pocono Debrief

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Following Sunday’s Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco on NBCSN, won by Juan Pablo Montoya, MotorSportsTalk checks in with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for the latest installment of “Ten with Townsend.”

Between commentary, his Indianapolis 500 race experience and his regular commitments in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, it’s been a busy year for Townsend, and we thank him for his time and insights post-Pocono. For an archive of all “Ten with Townsend” posts, click here.

 

-You’d said earlier this year Juan Pablo Montoya was methodically coming back to form but not there yet. Did you think when he did get back on form it would be at this point in the year, or more toward the end of the year?

It seems like a reasonable point based on his experience and world-class talent.  Now the question is when can he perform like that on a street circuit, short oval, or permanent road course.  He was patient, precise and aggressive at all the right times today.  Wins on the other disciplines are probably not far off.

-How does Will Power keep his head in the game given this series of penalties he’s triggered? Does he have anyone but himself to blame?

He’s fun to watch because he’s so committed to winning every lap, every session, but that is also what seems to trip him up so frequently.  At this point he needs a dramatic re-think in his approach so as to minimize his exposure to penalties.  I think Tim Cindric is an important part of coaching Will out of the hole he’s in. It’s an interesting challenge to harness the greatest talent in the series right now.

If I look at others to take the blame…the more I think about it, it’s really all Paul Tracy’s fault.

-Were you surprised he came after you guys in the booth post-race, or do you think that was just heat of the moment frustration knowing he’d lost the points lead and shot at another win?

Weird but a good laugh at the same time!  I’m only 32nd in points but in his dome.  How cool is that!?

-Did you like Tony Kanaan’s strategy this race of going for it every stint rather than opting to fuel save?

Well he started off going for it, then tried to nurse it but that wasn’t working so he had to go for it again but it was too late. Sometimes those strategies just don’t work out.  I’m sure TK wishes he and his engineers could have a re-do. He had the outright pace to beat anyone at Pocono.

-Did Helio Castroneves’ bounce back this race impress you after his Houston accident? 

Not really.  He’s a contender year in and year out, race in and race out.  Total pro.

-Who do you think has the mental edge between Power and Helio at Team Penske? Do you think JPM is getting to either or both of them? 

Helio is super focused (always) under that bubbly exterior and not nearly as rattled as Will when things go wrong.  JPM is simply having fun with none of the pressure the other 2 are dealing with – he could very well be in the mix at Fontana too!  The other question is…with all 3 of his drivers in the top 4 in points right now…can RP finally see a championship delivered this season?

-The rest of the field: Surprises and disappointments at Pocono. 

My surprise was (rookie Mikhail) Aleshin racing superbly on a track he had never seen…after just 2 short practice sessions.

Disappointments:  I was feeling for (Jack) Hawksworth and (Bryan) Herta after a tough hit in practice.

-Having had the chance to race Indianapolis, but then watch/call Pocono, how differently do you think Pocono played out in terms of the race flow? 

It was more ‘strategic’ than Indy with everyone cruising for the first 150 laps to save fuel.  Watching the final restart though with everyone fanning out (Aleshin was almost in the paddock!) was pretty wild.

-You hadn’t been to Pocono previously. What did you make of the facility, crowd, event atmosphere and race itself? 

I thought the track was super unique (this was my first time there).  The crowd and event atmosphere has plenty of room to grow.

– How did you enjoy calling the race with Bob Varsha and Paul Tracy? How has PT developed in just a few races in the booth this season? 

I really enjoyed it with Bob and PT.   Bob is so polished and effortless with his delivery.  My first U.S. broadcasting job (F1 on SPEED) was under his command so it was nice to work with him again.

PT has more winning expertise than anyone to ever sit in that chair so I try to listen and learn as much as I can.  He also makes me laugh in so many ways he doesn’t realize.  I particularly enjoyed watching him squirm as I learned Pocono with the Z28 in a single flying lap after dealing with his mild culinary freak-out when I ventured into the hood Saturday night in search of good food.

source:
Townsend Bell (center) flanked by Bob Varsha and Paul Tracy.

Max Chilton tops frenetic Monday race practice for Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – Two relatively under-the-radar but improving young drivers, Max Chilton and Ed Jones, ended 1-2 in the final long practice session for next Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

The Englishman in the No. 8 Gallagher Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing posted a best speed of 228.592 mph with Jones, the Dubai-based Brit in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, in at 228.116 mph for Dale Coyne Racing.

These speeds were set earlier in the running, a three-and-a-half hour session from 12:30 to 4 p.m. ET, with significant tows. The turbocharger boost has been turned back down to race levels after being brought up for “Fast Friday” practice and qualifying over the last three days.

One-lap speed was not as outright important as consistent running over the length of stints, your car’s ability to carve through traffic, or managing falloff on tires.

Lap count is also something to look for on a day like this, and in the time on track there were a whopping 2,705 laps turned between all 33 drivers in a heavy day of running that clearly simulated a race. Seven yellows for more than 50 minutes prevented that number from surpassing 3,000.

Some of the heaviest runners included:

  • Helio Castroneves (121), Juan Pablo Montoya (55), Will Power (109), Josef Newgarden (99) and Simon Pagenaud (95) combined to give Team Penske 479 laps on the day.
  • Fernando Alonso topped 100 laps in the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry, with 122 laps run.
  • Jack Harvey also went over 100 in the No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda, at 124 laps done, most of all. Harvey led the no-tow speed charts at 224.036 mph.
  • Charlie Kimball posted 119 laps in the No. 83 Tresiba Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, and Chilton did 108.
  • As a whole, Andretti’s six-pack of drivers turned in 523 laps while Ganassi’s four completed 408.

There were a number of hairy moments throughout the day as drivers ran in packs of about 10 or 12 cars or more. Race speeds were anywhere in the 215 to 223 or 224 mph ballpark.

James Davison made his first running in the No. 18 GEICO Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. Davison had a half hour to get up to speed for his first laps in an IndyCar in two years on his own, and made more than 20 laps, before joining the rest of the field from 12:30 p.m. ET. His best speed on the day was after 88 total laps.

Oriol Servia sustained another Honda engine failure when coming out of Turn 4, with a significant plume of smoke emerging from the back of his No. 16 Manitowoc Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. That ended his session early.

Speeds are below.

2006 MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden dies at 35

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2006 MotoGP champion and American World Superbike Championship rider Nicky Hayden has died at the age of 35 from injuries sustained in a road accident last week.

Hayden was struck by a car while out cycling in the Rimini region of Italy, leaving him in a critical condition after suffering trauma to his chest and head, the latter resulting in serious brain damage.

On Monday, the Maurizio Bufalini Hospital in Cesena confirmed through a medical bulletin that Hayden had died as a result of his injuries.

“It is with great sadness that Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team has to announce that Nicky Hayden has succumbed to injuries suffered during an incident while riding his bicycle last Wednesday,” Hayden’s WSBK team said in a subsequent statement.

“Nicky passed away at 19:09 CEST this evening at Maurizio Bufalini Hospital in Cesena, Italy. His fiancée Jackie, mother Rose and brother Tommy were at his side.”

“On behalf of the whole Hayden family and Nicky’s fiancée Jackie I would like to thank everyone for their messages of support – it has been a great comfort to us all knowing that Nicky has touched so many people’s lives in such a positive way,” Tommy Hayden said.

“Although this is obviously a sad time, we would like everyone to remember Nicky at his happiest – riding a motorcycle.

“He dreamed as a kid of being a pro rider and not only achieved that but also managed to reach the pinnacle of his chosen sport in becoming World Champion. We are all so proud of that.

“Apart from these ‘public’ memories, we will also have many great and happy memories of Nicky at home in Kentucky, in the heart of the family. We will all miss him terribly.

“It is also important for us to thank all the hospital staff for their incredible support – they have been very kind. With the further support of the authorities in the coming days we hope to have Nicky home soon.”

Known as the ‘Kentucky Kid’, Hayden made his way up the American motorcycle racing ladder around the turn of the millennium, culminating with victory in the AMA Superbike championship in 2002.

Hayden moved into MotoGP, the world’s premier class of motorcycle racing, for 2003 with Honda, and finished his rookie season fifth in the championship.

Hayden scored his first win in 2005 before taking the championship one year later, picking up two victories on the way as he edged out Valentino Rossi in a final-race showdown.

Remaining with Honda until the end of 2008, Hayden then moved to Ducati where he spent five seasons, recording a best championship finish of seventh in 2010.

Hayden rekindled his partnership with Honda in 2014, racing with the satellite Aspar team for two seasons before then enjoying two one-off run-outs in 2016, a year in which he was focused on commitments in the World Superbike Championship.

Hayden took his first WSBK victory in Malaysia last year, finishing fifth in the final standings, and was 10 races into the 2017 campaign prior to the cycling accident.

Dixon, Franchitti OK after robbing at gunpoint at Indy Taco Bell

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INDIANAPOLIS – According to an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department police report, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were robbed at gunpoint at an Indianapolis Taco Bell on Sunday night.

A team spokesperson confirmed the incident to NBC Sports and that both drivers – Dixon, the leading active driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Franchitti, a four-time series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner – were OK, but would decline comment.

Dixon, who won the pole for next Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, and Franchitti were at a Taco Bell, located at 3502 W. 16th St., around 10 p.m. on Sunday night.

According to FOX 59 in Indianapolis, which reported the story via reporter Russ McQuaid and online, here, Dixon and Franchitti were in the drive-through lane there – being robbed before the suspects allegedly fled, and were arrested as of Monday morning.

“The victims stated 2 (black males) robbed them at gunpoint and fled north on Berwick (Avenue) on foot,” the police report stated.

Dixon, who along with wife Emma and their two daughters, Poppy and Tilly were present in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway press conference earlier Sunday afternoon, live in Indianapolis.

Dixon’s teammate, Tony Kanaan, spoke to Indianapolis TV stations WTHR (Indianapolis NBC affiliate) and WISH-TV on Monday morning from IMS. Video of that is linked below via the Indianapolis Star’s Brody Miller.

Kanaan led off the interview saying, “I was supposed to be with them. I’m from Brazil, so I’m a little bit more accustomed to this stuff (laughter). I’m glad they’re OK, and now I can make fun of them.”

Scott Dixon didn’t post anything on Twitter about his pole run on Sunday until earlier this morning. This report would seem to indicate that he had bigger things on his mind.

Chip Ganassi, meanwhile added in a joke about Taco Bell sponsorship.

Button: Monaco return feels ‘slightly surreal’

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Jenson Button hasn’t yet sat or tested the McLaren Honda he’ll be racing this weekend. But when you’re a past Formula 1 World Champion and Monaco Grand Prix winner (Sunday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBC), as Button is, you should be able to adapt pretty quickly.

Button, who won both titles during the 2009 season, will make his first and thus far only planned start of 2017 this weekend as stand-in for Fernando Alonso, who’s hogged the headlines and embraced the challenge of his maiden run in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

With Monaco offering a good chance to score points for McLaren – it’s not power-dependent – Button is keeping expectations low up front as he prepares for his comeback.

“It feels slightly surreal to be back in the cockpit for the Monaco Grand Prix. When the call came from Eric there was no hesitation – it’s a totally unique situation and a great opportunity. I’m looking forward to stepping back behind the wheel for one of the most crazy, unpredictable and exciting races of the year,” he said in the team’s advance release.

“Monaco is truly unique as a track, and requires a lot of work to fine-tune the car and optimize the set-up for the narrow layout. It’s always a challenge – a huge challenge, for any driver – but a really exciting challenge, and has always been up there in my favorite races of the year.”

Button said he’s focused and prepared for the drive, for what will be his 306th career Grand Prix start – one which would draw him level with Michael Schumacher for second on Formula 1’s all-time start list. Button’s old teammate, Rubens Barrichello, holds that mark with 322 starts in 326 Grand Prix weekends.

“Although I haven’t turned a wheel on track yet in the MCL32, I feel well prepared,” he said.

“I know the track well, of course, and I’ve done quite a bit of work in the McLaren simulator already. I’m still fit, and I’ve been training probably more than ever, because I’ve had the time to focus on my triathlon preparation and competitions.

“I’m looking forward to working with the team again, and, as I’ll be on the other side of the garage this time around, I’ll do my best to look after the car for Fernando!”

McLaren Honda racing director Eric Boullier, who has been in Indianapolis with Alonso this week, said Button is up to the task.

“In the famous Monaco paddock, we welcome the return of Jenson, who we are all looking forward to working with again, and who is already doing a sterling job deputizing for Fernando, having already completed stints in our simulator in preparation,” he said.

Button’s story has, of course, generated some discussion. Mark Webber didn’t rate it a particularly big deal while Romain Grosjean said he does not expect Button to struggle.

Coverage for the Monaco Grand Prix begins on Thursday with free practice one coverage online at 4 a.m. ET, then free practice two live on NBCSN at 8 a.m. ET.