Indy 500 Insights: Townsend Bell analyzes his week of practice, qualifying before Carb Day

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Every year, Townsend Bell puts together a one-off Indianapolis 500 program. The 2014 edition will be Bell’s eighth ‘500 appearance, after making his debut in 2006 and running every year consecutively since 2008. This year, he returns 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. For part four of this daily series through this week (see parts three, two, one here), Townsend discusses the week that was in terms of practice and qualifying.

After nearly a year out of an IndyCar – since his last Indianapolis 500 appearance here last year – the days of May 11-19 saw Townsend Bell get back to up to speed to prepare for his eighth ‘500 start.

The elements and ingredients are there for success. Bell joins a stacked four-car KV Racing Technology lineup, the defending race-winning team, with teammates Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastian Saavedra and rookie James Davison.

Factor in a crew that includes former Wayne Taylor Racing team manager Simon Hodgson, ace engineer Gerald Tyler and crew chief Didier Francesia, among others, and Bell has as good a shot as any of the one-off ‘500 entries.

Admittedly, practice has been a challenge. Bell ran a total of 374 laps over the week but missed running on both Wednesday, May 14, due to the rain and on Fast Friday, May 16. While the balance has been good, and the car strong in race traffic, it hasn’t quite had the outright, top-end performance to mix it up in the top nine.

And it showed. Although Bell was good in race trim – crucially – he won’t be starting from that great a position, with 25thh the spot where he’ll roll off in the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet for KVRT.

“We just were slow, but with a great balance,” Bell told MotorSportsTalk in an interview earlier this week. “We were totally consistent, but just slow. I’m not sure why. It was weird.”

The plight shared by the KVRT team mirrored that of fellow Chevrolet-powered Chip Ganassi Racing, which you’d expect to be frontrunners but, no matter how small the margin, is just that fractional bit off this month.

“Let’s say I’m just 1.5 mph off of the Fast Nine,” Bell said. “It’s not that much, really. But you’d never see the gap from first to last be that short in the past.”

“We had Bourdais almost at 230, I was low 229, Saavedra was 228,” he added. “Ganassi was similar. Almost 231 for (Scott) Dixon, 230 TK (Tony Kanaan), 229 (Charlie) Kimball, and 228 (Ryan) Briscoe. Others matched up better in consistency over the course of the run; we didn’t.”

If there is a silver lining for Bell, it’s that he came from a similar back-third starting position to his career-best finish in the ‘500, from 24th to fourth driving for KV in 2009.

His other starts? He was 15th as a rookie in 2006, 12th in 2008, then 24th, 10th, fourth, 20th and 22nd. He has three top-10 finishes (fourth in 2009, ninth in 2012 and 10th in 2008).

“I’ve done it before to come from the back, but man, it’s not exactly easy to lay it down and make up 23 positions. But we’ll put our heads down,” Bell said.

Today, Bell pulls double duty between the cockpit for final practice and the NBCSN broadcast booth, covering today’s Pit Stop Competition and Carb Day action (11 a.m. ET, NBCSN).

“The ‘Carb Day’ name is a misnomer because it used to be carburetors way back … but now it’s our final one-hour practice,” Bell said. “It’s gonna be fast and furious as everyone tries to refine. This one hour is really important for you to show how you do in traffic. With the freight train of 20 cars, there’s a vicious turbulent air.

“It’s a critical session with pit stop practice and plugging in. I’m looking forward to doing the practice then head to the booth to cover the pit stop competition.”

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.