Indy 500 Insights: Shifting to race day, beast mode for Townsend Bell

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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 6 of this daily series through this week (see parts 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 here), Townsend discusses the build-up on race morning.

It’s race day for the 98th Indianapolis 500.

For the first time in one year, Townsend Bell will wake up not as an NBCSN analyst, but as one of the 33 drivers with a shot at eternal glory if he was to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The pre-race preparation is over. But Bell already has close to one 500-mile test in the books, as on Monday’s last day of extended practice (six hours of running), he led the field with 148 laps completed.

“To do 148 laps, I was pretty exhausted,” Bell told MotorSportsTalk in an interview last week. “You don’t realize it at the time, but you’re 50 short of a full ‘500.

“You’re usually worn out after the race anyway, not just from the setup but also from your physical and mental conditioning standpoint. Hopefully, this makes this race this much easier.”

Bell starts 25th in the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet for KV Racing Technology, but he’s been very steady and consistent in practice. He ended third on Carb Day, the best day to get a read on cars in race conditions.

As for whether he’s in the zone? The answer is an obvious and distinct, yes.

“I’m already in that mode,” he said. “It’s not something you consciously do – it just sort of happens. Whether you’re ready or not, the biggest, most demanding, most mentally taxing race is upon you. I’m not aware of any driver that has trouble focusing – it’s automatic.”

For what it takes to compete in this race? Bell sums it up nicely.

“It’s that killer, animal-like instinct, and you have to get it on. You don’t have any other option.”

Game on, then, for T-Bell and the No. 6 animal he’ll be wheeling from the inside of Row 9.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
IMSA
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in the final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a victory over Pipo Derani in the the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

With the rebranding of DPi to GTP for the new LMDh cars, Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”