Townsend Bell thriving early on at Indy in Andretti’s fifth car

Photo: IndyCar

INDIANAPOLIS –  Townsend Bell’s form this week has been one of the early interesting and impressive story lines in practice for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Bell’s deal with Andretti Autosport was formally announced at Phoenix in early April, with California Pizza Kitchen and Robert Graham serving as co-primary sponsors of the No. 29 Honda, and other partners such as the Justice Brothers on board.

As he noted after ending second in Thursday practice, it’s funny in a sense for him as an NBCSN analyst to see the Honda early week improvements in practice, considering their early season struggles.

“A few weeks ago, a month or two ago, I would have said ‘I don’t know’ (about Honda),'” Bell said. “I’ve watched Honda since I was 5 years old do great things in racing, whether in CART, IRL, or now IndyCar. I know how hungry they are to win this race. They’ll do anything it takes. They’ll go over and above to make sure they deliver. They come here well-prepared. Andretti is too. They haven’t had the best start to the year.”

Bell elaborated on those earlier comments during Thursday’s post-press conference.

“I think I’m in the television media a good part of the year, and it’s almost weird because two months ago it was all about, oh, my gosh, Chevy is just dominating, and Honda, you know, has just done a phenomenal job to keep their heads down, keep working, and they’ve come here very well-prepared, and I’m super proud to be in one of their cars. It’s been neat.

“I told somebody earlier, you know, for as long as I’ve watched the television, which is since I was probably five, Honda has always won.

“You know, they’ve won in Supercross when I was a kid. They’ve won in MotoGP. They’ve won in Formula 1.

“So in the back of my head, even back when things might not look so good at the beginning of the season, I just knew that they would come back, especially for this race, with a strong program.”

The strong program Bell has in front of him is the fifth car at Andretti Autosport, which has a very solid engineer in Craig Hampson and a solid crew led by crew chief Jeff Grahn.

For a one-off program, Bell was incredibly thankful for the preparation work and the mindset change in moving from a single-car, one-off program, which he ran last year with Dreyer & Reinbold-Kingdom Racing.

“I’m really proud of my team of guys that have come together to support this fifth car one-off entry with Andretti, and also really thankful to be part of a five-car program where there’s so much information to learn and reanalyze what I do and all of that. Also the chance to run with them in traffic repeatedly is, I think, helping me a lot,” Bell explained.

“Everything feels very familiar, so new engineers, first time working with Craig Hampson, he’s been just terrific, and Jeff Grahn, my crew chief. The car has been just meticulously presented every day.

“The guys haven’t made any mistakes, and they’re very methodical with the preparation of the car, and that just gives you a lot of confidence knowing that you’ve got really solid, experienced people that are making sure that you’ve got the best thing that they can give you.”

Bell actually admitted it was the driver that more or less let down the DRR crew during last year’s race. In 2014, Bell was one of the passing stars – he rose from 25th to as high as second then driving for KV Racing Technology – before a heavy accident took him out in the final 10 laps.

“I thought DRR did an incredible job for me last year. I was really pleased. I let them down a bit in the race,” Bell admitted.

“But it was a one-car team with a new kit. You’re limited in the information you can collect. This is completely the opposite. The aero kit largely repeats in many facets, and the team has a lot of information to rely on.”

Bell, who called this his best Indianapolis 500 opportunity yet after signing, has a best finish of fourth in 2009 (KVRT) in nine prior starts.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.



Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III