Q&A: NBCSN’s Townsend Bell on what Fernando Alonso can expect at Indy

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Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. was as far away from the Formula 1 world Fernando Alonso is used to, but it marked the avenue where he could have his first introduction to his new, brief world he’ll be in this May with Andretti Autosport, McLaren and Honda at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Our NBCSN IndyCar analyst and ten-time Indianapolis 500 starter, Townsend Bell, had a chance to speak to Alonso on the grid at Barber (top video, above) and then offer insight as well from the booth with colleagues Leigh Diffey and Paul Tracy there, on what Alonso can expect. Bell also intricately knows the Andretti Autosport team from his driving there last year, and offered this amount of insight.

We caught up with Bell for a quick Q&A for what Alonso has to look forward to in Indianapolis, starting with his first test tomorrow:

MST: How refreshing is it to see someone of Alonso’s caliber come over willingly to do Indy and give up Monaco as a result?

Townsend Bell: “Shocking and refreshing in one swoop. After talking to him in Barber last week I have no doubt this is something he’s very serious about with a clear expectation for success. He has a ‘Senna-like’ quality to his personality that I think is magnetic. Count me among the many that wish him well in the quest.”

MST: From your time in F1 paddocks, how much have you gotten to know Alonso? 

TB: “I used to see him in the Renault F1 hospitality when he was the ‘Reserve Driver.’ He looked positively miserable at having to watch and wait his turn. The sign of a future champion!”

MST: The challenge of Indy is unlike anything else. Are the 230-plus mph speeds going to be something for him to adjust to, or will his bigger challenge be adjusting to dirty air/turbulence?

TB: “Driving in clean air will come naturally. The challenges include, but not limited to: Traffic, momentum, passing, car setup, in cockpit tools, pitstops, restarts, spotters, windy days, temperature change, fan access, Casino night, and Robin Miller. Other than that he should be fine.”

MST: You know the Andretti Autosport atmosphere… how much of a benefit will having all that data sharing among the five other teammates be to him? How much of a surprise will that be that it is so open compared to F1 where it’s beat your teammate?

TB: “It will feel very open and friendly – bizarrely so – until the green flag drops. Then it will feel like he dropped into a World War II dogfight. It gets primal…really fast.”

MST: How much of a culture shock will Indy 500 be to him? Besides the on-track stuff, how do you think he’ll adjust to the constant hounding in the paddock, extracurricular activities, media responsibilities, etc.?

TB: “I might fly out just to watch him enjoy the dairy farmer’s rookie brunch and casino night. Also hope ‘Rocket’ (Kevin Blanch, from INDYCAR’s technical team) makes him run ROP after a full day private test. “We need to see 10 laps at 205 mph or less” Priceless.”

MST: You can’t ever fully prepare for the magnitude of race morning at Indy. Is there anything he can do to simulate that or is it just key for him to soak it all up and savor the moment?

TB: “He’ll love it. 300,000 passionate race fans cheering on the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Nothing better.”

Here was Alonso after Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, when yet another Honda power unit issue resigned him to a failure to start:


Sebastien Bourdais released from IU Methodist hospital; begins rehab

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais only posted just yesterday that he was “unable to go for a run” – his spirit and humor clearly not affected despite sustaining multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in his crash during qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the No. 18 GEICO Honda on Saturday.

On Thursday, his post revealed even better news: he’s been released from IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and will be set to fly home soon to Florida for his rehabilitation.

Bourdais’ place in the race at Dale Coyne Racing will be taken by James Davison, but judging by this first round of leaving, the Frenchman is keen to begin the recovery process as quick as humanly possible.

Bottas remains confident he can close gap in F1 title race

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MONACO (AP) Valtteri Bottas has put his recent bad luck behind him and remains confident he can close the gap in the Formula One title race at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver’s fledgling Mercedes career has been a topsy-turvy one since he joined from Williams as a replacement for F1 champion Nico Rosberg.

He drove brilliantly to win his first career race at the Russian Grand Prix after securing his first ever pole position in Sochi last month. But two weeks ago he was undone by engine problems in practice for the Spanish GP and then failed to finish because of a turbo issue late in the race.

“It’s one to forget for sure. It’s been a bit up and down for me this year,” Bottas said Wednesday at the Monaco GP. “Bad result, good result.”

His other results so far are two third places and one sixth place, putting him 41 points behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and 35 behind three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes teammate.

“The gap to Sebastian, to Lewis, is bigger than I was hoping for this year. But things can change quickly,” Bottas said. “What gives me confidence is that there is still 75 percent of the season left. I feel my best races are ahead this year. I feel I’ve done a good job in some races, but I feel there is more to come to be at a consistently good level.”

Although Bottas has impressed with this speed, he has yet to show the hallmarks of a genuine title contender.

His magnanimous approach goes somewhat against that.

Bottas showed his team ethic by allowing Hamilton past him in Bahrain so that the British driver could chase after Vettel.

He did so again in Barcelona, holding up Vettel for a crucial few laps. That allowed Hamilton to gain some precious seconds on Vettel’s chasing Ferrari. Hamilton won a thrilling race, Vettel was second and Bottas got nothing – except praise for his efforts.

It is a difficult situation for Bottas, who is on a one-year contract and has the added pressure of the demanding Hamilton as a teammate. With 55 race wins to his name, Hamilton is clearly the No. 1 driver, even though the team has not officially said so.

Over the past three years, Hamilton was on an equal footing with Rosberg as they fought each other for the title. This led to tensions and fall outs.

The 27-year-old Bottas is not relishing the prospect of finding himself in a similar position. But it might become inevitable if he does manage to close the gap on Hamilton and turn the title race into a genuine three-way battle.

“I can’t even imagine how it can be after a few years with a teammate battling for the title always. There is respect both ways (with Hamilton), which is good,” Bottas said. “(We are) just enjoying working together and hopefully that will help us in this close fight with Ferrari. It is a team sport anyway, so we need to push forward together.”

It’s hardly the talk of a driver desperate to win the title.

F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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From the streets of Monte Carlo, Monaco, comes the crown jewel of the Formula 1 season (all times for the weekend via NBC or NBCSN here) this weekend, the Monaco Grand Prix.

And here with the pre-race updates from the paddock are NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales, along with the race crew from the F1 on NBC team who are on site in Monaco.

This is an interesting weekend for Monaco, given the Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battle for race wins and the championship so far in 2017. There’s also the question of whether someone can spring a surprise in Monaco, as has been done on several occasions over the years.

Here’s the show, below:

Brown wants to see F1 back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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McLaren executive director Zak Brown would like to see Formula 1 return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the future, saying it would “make sense” for the sport.

The United States Grand Prix was held on the old IMS road course between 2000 and 2007 before dropping off the calendar, with a low point being hit in 2005 when just six cars started the race over tire safety concerns.

IMS re-designed its road course in order to host MotoGP and, from 2014, an IndyCar road course race as a prelude to the Indianapolis 500.

F1 is known to be looking to expand its footprint in the United States following Liberty Media’s takeover of the series, with additional races to the current USGP at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas being sought after.

Southern California has also been a talking point; Long Beach’s future has been discussed in the press more so than has Indianapolis, as a consulting firm has been brought in to examine what would be the best case scenario for the city.

Brown has spent a significant amount time this last month in Indianapolis as part of two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 entry, and feels the sport would be wise to push for a return to the Brickyard in the near future.

“I am of the opinion that Formula 1 at IMS works. I think they’ve changed the configuration of the track a little bit,” Brown said during a teleconference on Wednesday.

“I think it makes sense for Formula 1 to be at the world’s greatest racetrack. I think the city of Indianapolis is well catered to take care of Formula 1, just like it did in the past, and the Super Bowl.

“I think the drivers like it. I think Indianapolis is easy to get to geographically. I realize it may not have the glamour of some of the other markets that are being spoken about, but it’s here, it’s ready to go.

“I think economically, given that Liberty is taking a different view on some of their future partnerships, I think there is an opportunity there. Personally I’d like to see it happen.”

J. Douglas Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President, told a group of reporters on site that no talks had been held with Liberty as of yet, and while the circuit would be open to negotiations, it would have to be financially viable.

“I have not had any talks directly with the folks with Liberty or with Formula 1. We’d certainly entertain a conversation,” Boles said.

“We’d have to figure out the economics. That’s why it wasn’t here after 2007; in order for it to come back here, the economics would have to make sense.

“At some level that conversation, Mark Miles [CEO of Hulman & Co., INDYCAR/IMS parent company] and Zak have a really good relationship, I think we’d ultimately lead it through Mark.

“When we redid the road course between 2013 and 2014, one of the things that was important to us was to make sure our road course remained FIA Grade 1, so if that there ever was a point in time where we had the opportunity to host an F1 race, we wouldn’t have to go through a complete renovation of our road course again.

“There’s two tracks in the U.S. that are that. COTA’s one, and we’re the other. So theoretically they could run here.”