Bell: “Trading in my announcer suit for Robert Graham firesuit this May”


NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell will be writing a series of blogs for this month. Here’s his first entry, filed after the car reveal of the No. 24 Robert Graham Special Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing and his first full day of practice on Monday, May 11.

Bell in Robert Graham hat with No. 24. Photo: INDYCAR

Hi everyone, this is Townsend Bell from the “Greatest Racing Facility in the World,” the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I have exchanged my NBC Sports announcer sports coat for my wild-looking Robert Graham driving uniform this month as I return to the Indianapolis 500 as a competitor.

Now, my regular job is driving a race car in the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship for Scuderia Corsa with my partner Bill Sweedler in a Ferrari in the GT Daytona class. In fact, we finished fourth a week ago at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and currently rank second in the GTD point standings. But I then flew directly to Indianapolis to get ready for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

It’s always a thrill to return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the biggest race in the world. Last year, we were running with second with 20 laps to go and we had a suspension failure late in the race. So I truly believe we can produce another strong run in the Indy 500. Working with the Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing team is exciting because this race is all the team concentrates for the entire year. And Indy is my only Verizon IndyCar Series of the year too.

Bell and Dennis Reinbold unveil the No. 24. Photo: INDYCAR

Dennis Reinbold’s team has been strong in recent years too with a fourth with driver Oriol Servia and a ninth last year with a rookie, Sage Karam. This team’s pit stops are always quick and the team has solid experience on running well at IMS.

Bringing Robert Graham back as a partner is a tremendous plus for the team as well as Royal Purple. I think you can see that the Robert Graham Special has the most unique paint scheme in this year’s Indy 500 field. I know that the fans will enjoy the scheme too. The car looks great and we want it to be fast too. Our goal is put No. 24 Robert Graham Special in victory on May 24.

And speaking of the No. 24, this year, we are saluting a Hoosier favorite and IMS legend, Jeff Gordon. We have had Jeff’s blessing on using his No. 24 script and our car’s cockpit is adorned with a montage of Jeff’s victories at the Brickyard 400. Wouldn’t that be something if Jeff’s No. 24 gets back to the winner’s circle at IMS? That is our plan.

Bell heads out for practice. Photo: INDYCAR

On Monday, I took to the famed 2.5-mile oval for the first time since last May 25 in the 98th Indy 500 as we had the first day of practice runs for the 500.

We really didn’t have any issues today as the crew did a great job preparing the Robert Graham Special for me. I want to thank Davey Hamilton for shaking down the car at the test on May 3 while I was racing at Laguna Seca. The driver (Bell) now has a few kinks to work out here at Indy but it feels so good to come back to the Speedway. Compared to what I race in the sports cars, this feels like a rocket ship.

The car is not much was different despite the new “Body Kits” from Chevrolet. In 2015, the Verizon IndyCar Series added the new body kits from Chevy and Honda and we’ll see how development program works the best as this race is the first for the Speedway kits. The car felt similar to last year’s Dallara chassis except that gusts of wind were coming across the front straightaway from the tunnels of the main grandstand. That did affect my car at times. In fact, I thought the car was broken at one time due to the wind bouncing the car around. It was an interesting experience but I’m glad I felt it today.

Overall, it was a very good first day and I think we can improve on it.

This week, we have two-time Indy 500 champion Al Unser Jr. is serving as my spotter in turn three. It is an honor to have Al helping us this week. Whatever tidbit of information I can take from a legend like Al is a benefit at Indy. It’s great to have him help us this week.

Thanks very much for reading our columns this month from Indy and we’ll have another you soon.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”