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

1 Comment

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.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne