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.

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

Hamilton’s second home set to provide best chance to defend title

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates qualifying in pole position with actor Rosa Salazer in parc ferme during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – From his first pole position at Circuit of The Americas, and in his adopted second home, Lewis Hamilton has perhaps his best – and last – chance to ignite his bid for a third consecutive FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

A win today in Austin would close the gap to his Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate, Nico Rosberg, by at least seven points (from 33 to 26) even if Rosberg were to finish second.

A win too, if it occurs, could also be the needed shot in the arm to save his season on the whole after myriad mechanical woes and mistakes have resigned him to this position in the first place.

It’s funny to consider a year when Hamilton has won six races as a disappointment, but to this point, it is. He’s won 49 career races, with 21 of them (11 in 2014, 10 in 2015) coming in the last two years before this one. And that’s what makes six this year seem fewer by comparison.

All six of them came in an eight-race stretch from Monaco on Memorial Day weekend, through Germany to end the first half of the season prior to the summer break.

Even the six-pack of wins hasn’t all been straightforward. Monaco was perhaps a lucky first triumph of the season after Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull team threw away a near certain victory by not being ready with tires for a pit stop. Then, in Austria, Hamilton clashed with Rosberg and came out ahead only just from their bout.

But on the whole, it’s been frustration rather than glory that has defined the season.

Starts have been a perpetual struggle, most recently and notably last time out in Suzuka, when Hamilton fell to eighth from second on the grid by the first corner. He also lost his edge on the start in Monza, too, from pole. Hamilton has addressed this concern in noting he’d been to the factories in Brackley and Brixworth, and have sought to address the procedure.

Then there have been the mechanical woes. Power unit issues in qualifying have left him starting from the rear of the field, needing a comeback in a couple races (China, Baku and Spa come to mind). Then there was the near-catastrophic in-race failure in Malaysia that cost him an extra 15 points to Rosberg. So Hamilton’s lost out at several opportunities this year through no fault of his own.

But Hamilton comes to Austin knowing this is his turf, given his past history racing in the country and his own affinity for visiting here as frequently as he does on off weekends away from the paddock.

Start first with his strike rate. In five past U.S. Grands Prix, he’s won four of them, and gives him an 80 percent hit rate with a single win at Indianapolis in 2007 – when he was then a 22-year-old rookie with McLaren – to his three at COTA. For good measure, he added last year’s World Championship title at Austin.

He has five wins at both Canada and Hungary, but in both instances, those two races have been on the calendar longer. The U.S. is one of three countries – his home country of Britain and China being the others – where Hamilton has four wins.

Then add how he won here the last three times. You might remember if you’ve seen the movie American Psycho, that before Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman character unleashes fury on an unsuspecting victim, that he extolls the virtues of Huey Lewis and the News, as then their hit “Hip to Be Square” plays in the background.

Bateman offers the pre-murderous soliloquy: “I think their undisputed masterpiece is ‘Hip to Be Square’, a song so catchy, most people don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself.”

And then Bateman proceeds to drop the hammer. That’s what’s Hamilton’s done at Austin in racing terminology here: he’s made the race “Lewis and the Blues” for anyone that isn’t him.

He left Rosberg (2014 and 2015) and Sebastian Vettel (2012) utterly vanquished with great passing maneuvers to win. Rosberg was so deflated last year, it was all he could do afterwards to throw a cap back at Hamilton.

Then there’s the magnitude of his pole lap on Saturday, which at 1:34.999 was simply magical.

And somewhat surprisingly, not even as good as it could have been.

Hamilton told NBCSN’s Will Buxton that after his first sector, he was thrilled, but he couldn’t afford to let up.

“It definitely (felt that good); particularly the first sector. It was like butter,” Hamilton explained. “It wasn’t spectacular after that though! It was hold on to what I already gained. At Turn 11, I started decreasing my advantage. But at Turn 16, it went up, extraordinarily. I saw the time shift up.

“You can often see the time on TV when you cross the line, and it’s horrible after being first and you’re second. To see my name go back up there was a great feeling.”

Hamilton also hailed the crowd at his back, who has largely come to love him in the U.S. – even despite the odd hater or two.

“I feel amazing. It’s my first pole here,” he said in the post-qualifying press conference.

“It’s been many years of trying and a lot of people who’ve helped me get that. For us, I want to say a big thanks to the crowd. I could hear them cheering. The energy on the slow down lap was much appreciated.

“We’ve worked hard the last couple weeks. It’s a great feeling to be back up here. I’ll do the best I can tomorrow.

“I have had some incredible support from friends, family and the crowd. Been practicing the starts all weekend. Now we have to execute.”

Finally, there are the mental mind games at play.

Hamilton, who has three World Championships already and essentially nothing to lose, still could psychologically beat Rosberg to go along with beating him on track.

Rosberg, who continues to downplay the “championship” word at every opportunity, still has to prove he won’t crack as potential champion-in-waiting.

And their approach to the start and Turn 1 tomorrow is fascinating.

“Nevertheless, qualifying isn’t all-important. From P2, we still have a good chance tomorrow,” Rosberg said.

“I’ve shown in the past you don’t need to be first off the line or into the first corner to win this race,” Hamilton countered.

After his tough weekend in Suzuka, Hamilton looks like back to the title-winning Hamilton form-wise this weekend.

He’s riding high in the media with his Ellen appearance, Call of Duty call-up and his banter with reporters the last few days, appearing in a much more spirited mood in the weekend’s press conferences. On-track, he picked the perfect weekend to be back on form.

Hamilton may be the underdog in the points tables heading into today’s race. But couldn’t be in a better grid position or a better venue to turn the tables on Rosberg, if he can win today.

Crutchlow takes second MotoGP win in Australia as Marquez crashes

PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 23:  Cal Crutchlow of Great Britain and LCR Honda celebrates winning the 2016 MotoGP of Australia at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on October 23, 2016 in Phillip Island, Australia.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
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Cal Crutchlow picked up his second MotoGP victory of the season in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island, capitalizing on a crash for world champion Marc Marquez just before half distance.

Crutchlow scored his long-awaited maiden MotoGP win in the Czech Republic earlier this year, and qualified second on the grid at Phillip Island on Saturday.

One week after being crowned MotoGP champion for a third time in Japan, Marquez made a clean getaway from pole to retain his lead and began to open up a gap to the chasing Crutchlow, who had battled back past Pol Espargaro and Aleix Espargaro after a poor start.

Crutchlow was handed the lead of the race on lap 10 when Marquez barrelled into the gravel at Turn 4, ending his race in the process.

The Briton could not rest on his laurels up front, though. Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi had battled back from 15th on the grid – his worst qualifying result since 2011 – to run second at half distance.

Crutchlow kept his cool, and when Rossi made a mistake that saw him fall back, victory was all but confirmed, allowing the LCR Honda rider to round out the final few laps and clinch his second MotoGP win of the year.

Rossi came under pressure in the closing stages from Pol Espargaro, Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Vinales, but held on to second place at the flag. Vinales managed to squeeze through to third place, following his future Yamaha teammate home.

Dovizioso finished fourth ahead of Espargaro, while Jorge Lorenzo rallied from 12th on the grid to cross the line sixth on the second factory Yamaha. Scott Redding and Bradley Smith made it three Brits in the top 10 by finishing seventh and eighth as Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller rounded out the top 10.

The penultimate round of the MotoGP season takes place in Malaysia next weekend.

Saturday United States GP post roundup

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Daniil Kvyat of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Russia during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – Owing to a couple of other off-track commitments – a bit of the Taylor Swift concert and a further walk of the grounds Saturday afternoon following Formula 1 qualifying, with the crowd looking significantly better than it did on Friday – this won’t be a standard “post-day notebook” as you were, like Thursday’s and Friday’s.

Instead, here’s a roundup of today’s posts, features and analysis from Saturday at Circuit of The Americas:




Pop stars and fast cars: Taylor Swift plays Formula One

COLOGNE, GERMANY - JUNE 20:  Taylor Swift performs live on stage during 'The 1989 World Tour' night 2 at Lanxess Arena on June 20, 2015 in Cologne, Germany.  (Photo by Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images for TAS)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) With their red, white and blue tutus and Taylor Swift t-shirts, Rachel Emling and Mikala Crews were everything Formula One wanted at the U.S. Grand Prix: young fans who would travel across the country for a mix of pop stars and fast cars.

Tens of thousands packed into the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday night for Swift’s only concert of the year at Formula One’s only race on American soil.

Formula One’s goal in booking Swift was to hook a new generation of fans to their sport in America, long considered an untapped market for the global racing series. Landing fans like Emling and Crews, NASCAR fans from Jacksonville, Florida, was exactly what they hoped for. They came for the concert and love the cars.

“We’ve been watching a little bit. It’s cool,” said 20-year-old Emling, who said they’ll return for Sunday’s race. “We like racing.”

“It’s different. There are so many people here for the race. It’s a good mix,” Crews said.

The race weekend scheduled her show after Saturday qualifying and before Sunday’s race. One group that will be watching is Liberty Media, the American group that is taking over Formula One’s commercial entity and will be looking for ways to grow the sport. Track president Bobby Epstein had predicted as many as 40,000 would be lured in by Swift.

The weekend is a big opportunity for the singer as well. Race officials hope the entire weekend will draw about 250,000 people with Swift rumored to soon release a new album. And she’s not alone in the music lineup. Usher and The Roots were scheduled to play at the track after the race Sunday night.

But Saturday night belonged to Swift.

“This show is really important because we have people from all over the world,” she told the crowd. “Thank you for that.”

After Saturday’s qualifying ended, young girls with their parents and packs of young women started filing into the stadium. They stood in line at food and drink vendors alongside the die-hard race fans dusty from sitting all day in the grass berms around the track.

Charlene Frollo of Austin brought her daughter in a gaggle of girls, all aged 9 or younger. As a group, they wore pink and white “Swiftie” shirts Frollo had designed herself. They arrived well after the day’s main event on the racetrack but still got to see some of the support races and hear the cars growling around the circuit.

“It was fast. It was like `RRRRRRRR,”‘ said 8-year-old Brie Bauman.

Would they like to see more?

“Yeah, I guess so,” said 7-year-old Avery Frollo.

Charlene Frollo said her husband and sons will be coming back for the Sunday race, but was glad the girls got to experience something new.

“We had a second to show them the cars. Now they know about Formula One cars and they know now this is the only track in the United States, which is kind of big deal so close in our backyard. It’s wonderful for them to come here for the concert and see the bigger world out there,” Charlene Frollo said.

Don Burger, a Formula One fan from San Antonio, brought his 22-year-old daughter who wanted to see Taylor Swift. She’s not a racing fan but he sees a twinkle of interest after getting her out to the track.

“She’s stands it when I put it on TV at home,” Burger said. “I think she’s a little more interested than she was before. She flipped through the program. She told me the other day, ‘I’m actually looking forward to the racing, too’.”

As for the Formula One drivers, some would like to see Swift. Others plan to skip the show the night before they race.

“I’m going to try to. I know Taylor a little bit. She’s amazing. I’m a massive fan of hers,” said Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, the two-time defending Formula One champion.

Not Romain Grosjean. The Haas F1 driver planned to get away from the track.

“I like to have a very quiet dinner and a glass of red wine. I’m French,” Grosjean said.