Photos courtesy Townsend Bell

Coastal motorcycle ride, 2017 season recap with NBCSN’s Townsend Bell

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Editor’s note: Our NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell headed back from San Francisco, outside the season finale in Sonoma, to his home in Los Angeles on a BMW motorcycle and answered your Twitter questions sent to @IndyCaronNBCSN along the way. Here’s a similar recap from last year.

Check out the blog below from Bell to see your questions answered and his reflections on the season (Bell’s 2017 season preview on linked here, along with an archive of past posts).

Another trip down the coast, and through an IndyCar season

By Townsend Bell

Thanks for all your questions. I enjoyed another epic ride Monday and Tuesday with a few friends. Zig-zagging our way between the California coast and Central Valley by way of some of the greatest twisty back roads on the planet.

Here was our route starting out in San Francisco:

  • Monday- Highway 35 to Highway 9 to Santa Cruz. Lunch in Pebble Beach. Carmel Valley Road to King City. G14 to Lake Nacimiento to Paso Robles. Highway 41 West to Morro Bay. Highway 1 to San Luis Obispo.
  • Tuesday- Highway 58 East to Taft. Highway 33 West to Ojai for lunch. Highway 1 South through Malibu.

Over 550 miles of two wheeled ecstasy and a nice reminder why we pay through the nose on taxes in this great state of recreational opportunities.

Big thanks to BMW Moto USA for loaning me their new K 1600 Bagger. Visually it took some getting used to. If Paul Tracy and Heidi Klum got together, this would be their love child. But the features don’t lie: 160 HP, heated grips and seat, traction control, ABS, adjustable fairing, cruise control, and highly engineered to still be nimble enough to go for it on the twisties despite being over 700 lbs. It was a blast to ride.

And now to your questions:

@coy_john: Do you prefer seasons to end on an oval? Did you find the Sonoma race interesting or as Will Power said, boring?

Townsend Bell: Good question. I agree that the Sonoma race lacked for some excitement this year. But there are a number of factors to consider. Team Penske locked out the top four slots in qualifying and, as such, dictated the race from there. A right they had earned based on a dominant qualifying performance. It was clear that Helio and Will Power were playing supporting roles all race which meant there really wasn’t a battle for the championship between four Penske drivers like we hoped. Josef and his team just had to execute flawlessly and they did.

Sometimes we have really exciting ovals, like Indy or Pocono, but St. Louis for example could be similar to Sonoma if the Penske situation noted above played out there for the Championship.

I’ll remain optimistic that next year’s spec- aero kit will remedy some of the racing limitations (on all road courses and short ovals) that come with ultra high downforce. Keep in mind the lap times will be slower at places like Sonoma.

That is, until we add more horsepower. I hear a slow chant starting now….. 1 Thousand….1 Thousand!

BROOKLYN, MI – AUGUST 1: Helio Castroneves driving the #3 Marlboro Penske Racing Toyota Dallara leads Scott Dixon in the #1 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Toyota GForce and Townsend Bell in the #2 Menards Panther Racing Chevrolet Dallara during the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series Michigan Indy 400 on August 1, 2004 at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

@CarMcFast1: Why won’t Helio be able to stay? What are some of your favorite Helio memories?

TB: It’s just time and I think Roger Penske made this plan some time ago with agreement (if not a tad reluctantly) from Helio. I’m guessing Helio and Montoya were a big sell to Acura to get the sportscar program in place too.

I will remember the way he doubled down after Will Power arrived at the team to step up his pace and meet the challenge. That’s hard to do late in a career. I’ll also remember the number of times he raised his hand in a driver’s meeting to ask for clarification on something Brian Barnhart had just said. The look on Barnhart’s face is always priceless!

@KeithSchmitz: Would you like to see these cars get more power or do you like how they’ve run with their current power levels?

TB: It’s the biggest thing we need to change to boost the appeal of the product. I advocate for 1000 HP any chance I get. Increase displacement, add an intercooler, switch back to methanol, increase revs, and watch the people push down the gates to come see just one car blow their minds. Let alone 33 lined up together!!!

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 27: Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan of Brazil pose on the finish line with the Borg-Warner trophy during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

@BalchJamesBalch: How will Tony Kanaan do at Foyt next year? Can he win a race?

TB: It will be tough. Tony had a challenging year in 2017. He will bring some of the Ganassi personnel with him to Foyt but the team will need to ramp up the resources that good people need to perform. It would be really exciting to see A.J. Foyt Racing and Tony Kanaan challenge for the win at Indy next year. Long shot but I’d love to see it.

@ITSAKIRBY97: Who do you think was best rookie/young driver this season?

TB: Ed Jones. Hands down.

@NickHames1 / @KenAgain: Great job in the booth with the team – how fun is the dynamic between you and PT as ‘professors of the sport?’

TB: Paul is like having another teenager to look after. And I already have two teenage boys to manage. But behind the incessant napping, kit-katting, and missed conference calls is a guy who knows more about what it takes to win than anyone who has ever sat in the booth. We have fun, sometimes a wee bit too much, but I think the fans like to roll with our style because we are passionate about the sport and focus on getting the little things right.

@AdrianlmpMata: How impressive was Josef Newgarden being able to drive like a veteran rather than team rookie in year one at Penske?

TB: He has four years of experience previously so I expected big things and a calm head. I would say his apprenticeship lasted about two-three races. After that….he was on his way.

@RennPhoto: Big kudos for onboard shots at Sonoma… great to ride along. How cool were some of the new shots such as the visor cam?

TB: Uber cool. That’s exactly what it looks like as a driver in an Indycar.

@BDingess2010: Do you see IndyCar add more races to the schedule and/or returning to ovals such as Milwaukee/Kentucky?

TB: I think Portland will be the next up, maybe in 2019. Which is awesome because it’s a great market and fun race track close to the city. Hope they can make it happen. Milwaukee was a dud the last several years. Mark Miles and his team have done a terrific job of hammering out schedule consistency and overall league stability. It’s not a highly visible thing (stability) but I feel better about the health of Indycar than I have in the last 10 years. The Indycar management should be applauded.

A couple questions I added (-TDZ)

TDZ: Where did the inspiration for some of the nicknames – i.e. Joey New Jive and Slick Willy P – come from?

TB: PT listens to too much disco on his down time. Which is nearly all the time.

TDZ: You said at the beginning of the season that this would be one of the most competitive years in memory. Fair to say it lived up to that?

TB: I would say so.  Next year will be just the same, maybe better.

TDZ: Between Josef’s two title-defining moves at Mid-Ohio on Will and Gateway on Simon, which is more impressive and why?

TB: Gateway because it was much higher risk.  And they touched at 180 + which made the drama even higher.

GAINSCO partners with JDC-Miller for Simpson, Goikhberg

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The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.

The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.

GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.

The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.

Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.

Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.

A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.

“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.

Church and Stallings. Photo courtesy of GAINSCO Racing

Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.

“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”

“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are.  This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”

Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.

“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery.  There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.

“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to.  They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant.  I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”

JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.

Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.

The JDC-Miller Oreca 07. Photo courtesy of IMSA