Photo: Tony DiZinno

Bell’s Andretti Indy 500 opportunity set to fulfill lifelong dream

Leave a comment

Interestingly, NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell’s first full-time season as a driver in North American open-wheel racing was Michael Andretti’s last full-time season, in 2002 in the CART series.

In 2006, Bell made his Indianapolis 500 debut. That same year, Andretti came out of a three-year retirement and lost in a heartbreaker, as Sam Hornish Jr. passed both him and Marco Andretti in the final laps to snatch the win in the 90th running.

Ten years later, Bell and Andretti’s paths have intersected again as Bell will complete Andretti Autosport’s five-car lineup for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the team’s No. 29 Honda. Commercial partners are expected to be announced in Long Beach.

It’s a marriage of convenience – Bell’s confirmation came with only three projected remaining extra spots at Andretti, KVSH and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – but it’s also a marriage of opportunity for both parties.

It gives Bell his best shot to win the Indianapolis 500, provided the Honda aero kit and engine is better than it was last year. It also gives Andretti Autosport another veteran presence alongside Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz, with Alexander Rossi now able to draw on four experienced teammates ahead of his first month of May.

“Running with Andretti, at Indianapolis, for the 100th running… for a kid who’s been in love with the sport as long as I have, it’s a dream come true,” Bell told NBC Sports.

“I know how important the Indy 500 is to Honda, and they’ve been a great support in helping to make this happen with Andretti, and wanted it to happen with Andretti. They’re an organization with a strong winning pedigree. I’m excited to go in and make this as strong as possible.”

Bell returns to Honda for the first time since 2012, when he also last worked with Rob Edwards, then the general manager at Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports and now the director of race engineering and operations at Andretti Autosport.

It’s no surprise the opportunity to work with Edwards again was one of the key selling points.

“I’ve always had a huge amount of respect for him, with his leadership, precision and organization,” Bell explained. “So Rob had reached out to me when he knew I was talking with Michael, and talked in terms of what they could deliver.”

Andretti, too, has hailed Bell’s arrival – and made an interesting comparison.

“I think it’ll bring a lot to the party. A little bit like (the late) Justin (Wilson) last year, it helped a lot having him in the fifth car, and I think it’ll be a similar situation with having Townsend, having someone of similar experience around there,” Andretti told NBC Sports.

“He’s fast around there. He’s always in the top 10. I think it’ll be good.”

Bell also looks forward to the chance to work with Craig Hampson, the veteran engineer.

“That’s pretty special. He has such a great reputation,” Bell said. “Speaking with Paul Tracy, PT is never one to hesitate to give you an opinion. When I told him I was working with Craig, his eyes lit up as he said, ‘Man, that’s gonna be a strong program.’ I’m very fortunate.”

It’s a welcome landing spot for Bell after a frantic few months for his 2016 racing plans. His planned full-season effort to defend his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class championship with O’Gara Motorsport came unglued when O’Gara’s motorsports program dissolved for unexpected business reasons; Bell and longtime co-driver Bill Sweedler struck a deal with Change Racing to run that team’s second Lamborghini Huracán GT3.

And while it’s early April, this is still an earlier announcement of Bell’s ‘500 program than last year with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

“It’s been a weird first quarter of the year. Last December I would have told you I’d never had a more solid stable situation,” Bell said.

“Things got out of our hands a bit quickly. It took a while to get things back on track, but now we have.”

Steve Torrence takes NHRA points lead with Gatornationals victory

NHRA Gainesville Steve Torrence
Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two-time defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence took the points lead Sunday in the AMALIE Motor Oil Gatornationals, beating his father, Billy, in the final round at Gainesville Raceway.

Torrence had a 3.809-second run at 322.11 mph to win for the third time this year and 39th overall. He is now on track for another championship despite missing the season opener.

“We’ve got some good momentum and to be in the points lead, it’s a testament to how hard these guys work,” Steve Torrence said after the NHRA Gainesville victory. “We’ve just got to stay focused and concentrate on what the task at hand is, and that’s trying to win a championship. These guys give me an unbelievable race car and you just try not to screw it up.”

Ron Capps won in Funny Car, Alex Laughlin in Pro Stock and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Capps raced to his second win this year and 66th overall, beating Tim Wilkerson with a 3.937 at 323.12 in a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

Laughlin topped Aaron Stanfield with a 7.068 at 204.76 in a Chevrolet Camaro for his first win this season and fourth in his career. Smith rode to his first victory in 2020 and 25th overall, topping Andrew Hines with a 6.843 at 196.99 on an EBR.