Ten with Townsend: IndyCar title bout and Sonoma preview

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The fourth season of the MotorSportsTalk original series “Ten with Townsend” – a 10-question Q&A with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell – is back this week following a trio of exciting races in Pocono, Texas and Watkins Glen. Pocono was rain-delayed until Monday, August 22, Texas rain-delayed from June until August 27, and Watkins Glen a replacement for the canceled Boston round.

A full archive of past posts is linked here and we thank Townsend for his time and insights.

Here’s the breakdown going into Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where the championship is set to be decided between Team Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.

Bell and engineer Craig Hampson. Photo: IndyCar
Bell and engineer Craig Hampson. Photo: IndyCar

Heading into the finale, what have been some of your favorite moments of the year?

Leading the Indy 500 with a car to win the race was pretty cool. The sting still burns bright! (right)

Josef Newgarden’s steely resilience after Texas was a standout moment. For him to pull off what he did at Iowa was simply breathtaking.

Rain-delayed races in Pocono and Texas and a race added in Watkins Glen have made for three fascinating races to close the year before Sonoma. What’s been your biggest takeaway from these last three events?

I see two terrific parallel plots. The two championship point leaders will continue to provide great moments while the rest of the field is engaged in hand-to-hand combat for one big result. And they don’t care who’s in the championship hunt. Many drivers have one last chance to save their rides, careers, etc. The stakes will be very high at Sonoma.

Simon Pagenaud, left, and Will Power. Photo: IndyCar
Simon Pagenaud, left, and Will Power. Photo: IndyCar

Heading into Sonoma, how does Simon Pagenaud handle the pressure of leading the points knowing how close he is to his first title?

You could hear it play out on NBC at the last race in Watkins Glen. Ben Bretzman, Pagenaud’s engineer, coaching his anxious driver through the strategy required to achieve the best points day.

How different to you is 2016 Will Power vs. 2014 Will Power as now he has a title when trying to get a second this year?

Not much different. Just more confident and more relaxed having the experience of winning a championship already and understanding the dynamics in play.

Scott Dixon’s Watkins Glen weekend… we never need to be reminded of his greatness but after a tough year, how much did he need that weekend?

It likely helps him sleep a little better without having to think about what ‘might have been’. He’s certainly had the speed at many races this season where things slipped away. If you look at the pace and mileage he achieved on the final stint, that will go down as one of the biggest smackdowns in IndyCar history in the spec car era. Right up there with Newgarden at Iowa this year!

Having been at Watkins Glen for sports car weekends in the past, how cool was it to see IndyCar back, plus going the speeds they were?

Impressive. I’m torn though on track repaving, because it eliminates a lot of the character of the patches and seams. Kind of like when they repaved Daytona a few years back. I really enjoyed watching the Cup cars bob and weave through the corners on the old surface. But I suppose, in time, both tracks will get back to the same distinctive irregularities that come with weather and age.

We’ve seen roughly five or six rookies (Daly, Rossi, Chilton, Pigot, Brabham) this year and now RC Enerson’s had two races to debut himself. What do you make of his entry into the series thus far?

RC seems just completely unfazed by the challenge. No mistakes so far which is really hard to fathom given his circumstances. He would be a good gamble for a team looking to take the road less traveled. Worked for the Oakland Raiders on Sunday!

Who has something to prove the final race of the year at Sonoma?

Hawksworth, Sato, Montoya, Kimball, Rossi, Marco and Chilton.

The silly season chatter kicked into overdrive at Watkins Glen. How much potential movement do you think we’ll get?

More than we’ve seen the last couple of years. I know Honda would like to see a big change in results outside of Indy. So when they get active (as Robin Miller leads us to believe) in team and driver movement….look out!

Kevin Lee’s joined the booth for a couple races while Leigh Diffey will be back at Sonoma. Since you’ve done the pits to booth transition, how much of a challenge is that to do, and how do you think Kevin did in his first two calls?

Kevin was great. I’m not sure that Indycar fans realize that he does NFL and NCAA Basketball work outside of racing. That mainstream sports exposure is really helpful for introducing new ideas and keeping us relevant with other big sports. Stepping back and letting him fly with the play-by-play at Texas over the final 2 laps was fun- he was on the limiter! It’s almost like I was right there… Oh wait..I was.

Having Leigh back at Sonoma will be exciting as well. He has such a passion for our sport along with tremendous knowledge of the drivers and their career paths.

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E

Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.