Indy 500 Insights: Townsend Bell recaps one of his best ever drives

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Every year, Townsend Bell puts together a one-off Indianapolis 500 program. The 2014 edition was Bell’s eighth ‘500 appearance, after making his debut in 2006 and running every year consecutively since 2008. This year, he returned 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. After a weeklong daily build-up series (See links Part 1-6 here), Townsend recapped what was an amazing drive that came up just short of ‘500 glory.

It’s not an official line, but there’s a definite school of thought in the Indianapolis 500 that you’d rather finish in the 20s going for the win than end in the top-10 after a ho-hum day.

Better to be remembered than be anonymous.

And it’s going to be easy to remember how good a drive Townsend Bell put in at this year’s ‘500. Yeah, he ended 25th when all was said and done after a late-race accident, but I’m going to guess this run turned in Sunday will stand out more in the minds of fans compared to his career-best run of fourth in 2009.

“It was similar to 2011 where we were competitive all day, and we qualified up front there,” Bell said. “This race we started at back; it was my worst ever qualifying but possibly my best ever race car in terms of getting through traffic.”

Indeed it was the first stint, where Bell progressively moved from P25 on the grid up to P19, then into the top-15 and then just to the fringes of the top-10, where it was apparent how much the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet was hooked up.

It was a nice carryover from Carb Day, where Bell ended third. The car ran better in hotter track temperatures.

“We knew we’d be strong and the first stint was fantastic,” Bell explained. “But then I had some trouble getting past Kanaan; had contact with the left rear. We were a little wounded on balance. But we still got up there thanks to great pit stops from guys.”

Bell endured despite the toe link contact and kept within the top five. He restarted second on Lap 176, just before the moment that he and Ed Carpenter were side-by-side in Turn 1. Once James Hinchcliffe made a three-wide passing attempt, that led to contact and took the top two starters out of the race.

Bell pressed on but lost ground on the final restart before the rear let go with just under 10 laps remaining in Turn 2.

“Being up to second with 20 to go, we plodded to come back on, but the left rear toe link let go, and absolutely released itself in a cruel way. It was a big hit,” he said.

The message of the race Bell relayed during Monday night’s Victory Awards Celebration was one of “We got this,” which he did, until the moment in Turn 2 when he said “For a second I thought, ‘I don’t got this.’”

What Bell did have throughout the Month of May was a crew, assembled just for the race, who rocked it and kept him in contention on pit road all day.

“My engineer Gerald Tyler made great decisions on downforce. And I was really proud of all my guys, from my crew chief, Didier, and the rest of the crew,” he said. “They were all recruited to come in for a one-off program. When it really counted, they gained me positions against the best teams in the series.”

This weekend Bell races in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in his No. 555 AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 with co-driver Bill Sweedler, where the pair lead the GT Daytona points standings entering the weekend.

After that, it’s onto Texas on June 7, where Bell will resume his commentary duties.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.