Bell: “Long week of practice pays dividends before qualifying the Robert Graham Special”


NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell will be writing a series of blogs for this month. Here’s his second entry, filed after the first full week of practice in the No. 24 Robert Graham Special Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing. His first blog of the month is linked here

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

Hi again from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this is Townsend Bell. And I’ll be honest with you, I’m both tired and excited for Saturday and Sunday’s qualification runs for the 99th Indianapolis 500. It’s been a long week of practice. And now it’s time for the toughest four-laps in racing, qualifying for the Indy 500.

In my last writing, it was only after my first day in the Robert Graham Special. I was just getting back up to speed in an IndyCar and it is like getting in an F-16 fighter jet after driving a Lear Jet regularly. Jumping from my Ferrari in the TUDOR United Sports Car Series to the 700-horsepower IndyCar does take an adjustment.

But by Tuesday this week, things seemed back to normal. The first day you can go fast, but you hold your breath a lot and grip the steering wheel a little too tight. Now, on Tuesday, we had another good day for our Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing team. I felt like we were in a window where we had a feel for what we might want on race day. And it was nice to get in some pit stop practice too. The Robert Graham Special felt very good and we were moving through our engineering checklist. But we were still learning. Those were still early days in practice and we were trying to understand all of the aero data. We have a great group of guys who know how to get through that data. We did a good job of that on Wednesday and produced a 228.969 mile per hour lap.

source: AP
Ready to roll. Photo: AP

I really don’t see a big difference from last year’s chassis handling to this year’s with the new body kits. For the Chevy, the new body kit is very streamlined and I felt that the car was easier to drive on Wednesday when the wind was up. Chevy has done an incredible job in being prepared coming to Indy this year. Chevy is giving us plenty of data to work with so far and it is never easy at this place. But the car has been predictable and that is a big plus.

Thursday was the first day that we tried some different Chevy aero bits with the Robert Graham Special. We were gathering as much information as we can on Thursday since we gained additional engine boost on Friday. It’s about 40 more horsepower. We wanted to be a little ahead of the game for Fast Friday. It’s nice to get a head start on Thursday as you always seem to run out of time closer to qualifying. With the added boost, it seems to be a little more electric in the car due to additional speed. It definitely increases the buzz factor for a driver.

As a one-car team going against the “super” teams like Penske, Ganassi and Andretti as well as the very good multi-car squads like CFH Racing, Foyt, Schmidt, KV Racing and others, you would think that our team would be behind since we only run once a year. But at the Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing team, it starts with the people and the team has a strong reputation for having a solid operation. Dennis (Reinbold) sets up a competitive but family-type vibe that goes through his entire business model. He takes great care of his people as you can see in his other businesses. He has a strong core group who he employs full-time despite just running the Indy 500. Team manager Chase Selman has this team so well-prepared that they don’t miss a beat when we get to the Speedway.

We have had a good week of practice in gathering information for race day as well as running in traffic. And parallel with that, we have worked on our pit stops every day. Now, it’s Friday and time to worry about getting the car ready for qualifying. We have been gaining more data for the fastest four laps we can put together. Qualifying on Saturday really depends on track temperatures and conditions.

You have to remember that the qualifying speed is the average of four laps and that is the challenge everyone is facing right now. Are you a little soft on lap one and pick up speed for the rest of the run or do you have a fastest one first and then fall off for the final three laps? The driver will have to be very important this year in qualifying. It’s a tap dance to get your tires just right throughout the four laps. This Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom team is a great group and they have put together a solid and strong program this week. Now, it’s up to me to execute on Saturday.

My prediction for the pole….. at first, I thought 233. But after Friday’s hot, humid and windy conditions, I’m not so sure of that number. Ed Carpenter won the pole at 231 last year, so you would think two or three miles per hour faster in 2015. As I said previously, it’s all about the weather conditions. And I think we can be in the thick of things on Saturday.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).