Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Q&A With Townsend Bell

(All Photos courtesy of Indycar.com)
16th And Georgetown: Heading into May you'll have 2 teammates in Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon with a combined 13 Indianapolis 500 starts, each of which with a victory that you can go to with questions or suggestions. How beneficial do you see it being to have 2 very experience guys to go to throughout the month?

Townsend Bell: It's always a big help, for sure. Those guys have won a lot of races, and they've both won an Indy 500, so I'll look for any support where I can get it. Can't do much better then 2 Indy 500 Champions to lean on.

16th And Georgetown: Herbalife was your helmet sponsor in 2008, your primary last year, they've worked with E.J. Viso as well, and they're coming back as your primary sponsors for the '500'. Obviously times are tough for everyone, but especially in the racing world, what kind of feedback have you heard from Herbalife about their experience with the series?

Townsend Bell: The Indy 500 is still the biggest race in the world and it gets a good global television coverage. They certainly like the fact that the event is not only high profile in the U.S., but it's high profile around the world as well. For me personally it's tough racing once a year, but right now that's the event that makes the most since for them. I'd love it if the rest of the IndyCar calender would see a big bump in the coverage and the following, it would certainly help me do some more races.

16th And Georgetown: In just 3 Indy 500 starts you have 2 top 10 finishes and have ran pretty well at IMS. Is there anything specific about the track it's self, or your driving style, or maybe the amount of preparation leading into the race that lends it's self to some of your solid runs?

Townsend Bell: I feel really comfortable there, I have since the first time I took laps around the track. It's incredibly smooth, and I've had good cars there. Not necessarily the fastest straight line, but from a handling stand point I've always come in with a pretty good package on race day and have always had something that worked pretty well. So hopefully this year with the combination of my experience, the great partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing and a really slippery car in a straight line it'll be even better.

16th And Georgetown: Last May you had a second week program, which meant the best you could of qualified is 23rd. I believe you wound up 24th and moved your way up to 4th through the race. If you would of had a full month to qualify a little higher and work on the car a little more, how would it of affected the end result?

Townsend Bell: What hurt us last year was not necessarily starting the race 24th, it's where you sit on pit lane. I didn't realise that until things played out. That's as far back as I've ever started, I think I've started 12th & 15th the previous two times. The biggest problem was that by the last 50 laps, last 2 pit stops, everybody that I was racing with on track which was Danica, Wheldon, & Helio, they are all pitted at the sharp end of the grid, down towards turn 1 and I'm all the way at the back. So regardless of how quick the pit stops were, the KV guys did a great job in pit lane after we made a few adjustments. The biggest challenge then is if I get done with my stop, and say it's a 10 second stop and Danica does a 10 second stop way down at the other end of pit lane, I'm coming down pit lane at 60 mph, all she has to do is pull out to the high line straight from her box, and I've got to lift to avoid running into her. That's what hurt us, just the situation of getting blocked going down pit lane with the people we were racing with, apposed to being somewhat near them in the box and being able to race them out of the pit stall. That's the only thing that would of changed. If we would of qualified a little higher, lets say top 12, top 11, top 14, whatever it probably would of helped us a bit. I don't think we would of been able to cover Helio, but I passed Wheldon and Danica I think each of them twice on the racetrack. Certainly Wheldon twice, and it was frustrating to lose it back in the pits, but all in all it was a pretty good day for us.

16th And Georgetown: A few months ago IMS announced changes to the May Schedule. They basically just dropped 2 qualification days, added an extra practice day, and squished everything together. What are your thoughts on the revamped schedule?

Townsend Bell: You know, the first time I went to the Indy 500 I was 10-years-old and that was 1986 and I distinctly remember the tradition of the Indy 500 being a month long experience, but there was a reason for that. There were different motor and tire combinations, and chassis combinations, it really seemed like people needed the time to develop their packages around the unique track. Today we run in a spec series. The cars are the same, the situation is the same if you had a 2-day event at Kansas as you do at Indianapolis, so it really just isn't necessary to have that much track time. For me as a one off obviously it's better for me to have more track time, just to shake off the cobwebs and get up to speed. It doesn't take me 5 days to get up to speed, it might take half a day, but just to get comfortable in traffic and all of that and to just get back into the rhythm of things helps. But as you pointed out, I think there is only 1 fewer actual day on track, it's just in a more concentrated schedule. It's kind of a shame not to have what it used to be which was a real sort of R&D exercise, but I think it makes since to condense things given the current formula.

16th And Georgetown: For anybody that follows you on Twitter or YouTube, they know that your love to work out in all sorts of ways from boxing, to skiing, to biking and everything in between. On one of your YouTube videos, your on an IndyCar simulator. I know guys like Tomas Scheckter, and Justin & Stefan Wilson are big iRacing fans. How much do you find that the simulators actually help the on track performance?

Townsend Bell: Well, first I want to say thanks for following me on twitter because I think I've only got about 40 people on there right now. For any of your audience that can get on @TownsendBell99 on twitter and bump up my numbers. It's embarrassing that I've got 40, and Paul Tracy's got 4,000, so we need to increase our numbers a bit there. I just started using it about a week ago though, but I like it. But anyways, the simulators are cool. They've come a long, long way. Obviously in Formula 1 they started getting serious about those several years ago and they've got some amazingly robust simulators over in Europe for the Formula 1 teams. Then there's what anybody can do by just going out and buying a computer, and steering wheel and pedals. Then there is a mid-tear range, with professionally engineers simulators that are available to the consumer or a racing driver and that's what I've been using. I use a company called CXC, which is hear in southern California. What really kind of helps is track knowledge. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway hasn't really changed in the last 3 or 4 years, so track knowledge isn't necessarily the main focus there, I use the simulators more on some of the road courses. Like I've been playing a lot on Barber Motorsports Park, where I've never been, but just looks like a really cool track and I enjoy the challenge of learning to driver there. The software accuracy, the track model accuracy seems to be pretty impressive. For me it's just kind of sharpening my skills, the steering wheel functionality is similar and just little things like going through the process of leaving the pits, going through your shift patterns on out laps and those sorts of things. It's just one less thing I'm going to have to worry about when I get there in May. It's a big help to be able to keep yourself sharp on a simulator. Shifter carts are also a great way, I'm waiting for my engine to get back from my engine builder, but that's something I'll be doing over the next few weeks.

16th And Georgetown: Obviously, over the last couple months all of the potential 2012 chassis' have been unveiled. What are some of the traits that you'd like to see in the next generation car and is there a particular chassis that your drawn to?

Townsend Bell: What I'd like to see in the car is a significant change from what we've had, in that were driving stuff that's been around ever since when I was a kid going to the Indy 500. The basic equipment is pretty much the same, nothing has really changed. The technology and the rapid development, and the pushing of the envelope and all of that, that really got me as a young kid and as a teenager excited about being and IndyCar driver, frankly that's kind of gone away. It's funny, a couple years ago at a race team that I was driving for they had a mid 90's CART car, like a '95, '96 Lola that one of the mechanics was restoring. We had 6 Dallara-Honda chassis' that were being prepared for the race, and I found myself being constantly drawn to the older car because it was sleeker more compact, more efficient looking, much more sinister. I miss that, I miss that about IndyCar racing, it was pushing the limits and really driving technology forward. When I was a rookie coming into CART, there was still quite a bit and those cars were beasts it was close 900 horsepower and real hand full just to come to grips with the power and handling and all of that. I sort of miss that challenge, we've been stuck in this rut of the same old thing and we've lost fans because of it and we've lost attention because of it and all of that. More than anything, I want to see in the new car is something that really inspires thought, debate, a new challenge, and a new frontier if you will that really differentiates IndyCar racing. The only new car concept that I've really studied closely is the DeltaWing concept because there is a lot of information available from Ganassi and Mr. Bowlby and their thought process going into the car. If you forget about what it looks like for a second, because it's not like were driving the most beautiful race car now anyway, and just look at the technical rational and the design concept and the thinking behind it, to me it all makes a lot of since, it's hard to argue with the logic. The one thing that I think is missing in all of this is power to weight should still be sensational. The specification that I've seen there, it would be nice to see a lot more horsepower involved given the weight. Top speed is one thing, but 0-150 or 50-150, that's the spectacle that is really going to get people excited about IndyCar racing from a street circuit and road course perspective. As a race car driver I want to feel like I'm getting strapped into a rocket ship. Something that is really going to blow me away in terms of performance. In my opinion I want something that feels like a really animal that your trying to harness.

16th And Georgetown: Over the last several years the IZOD IndyCar Series has gone through a ton of changes. If you were king of American Open-Wheel for a week, what are some of the changes you'd like to make?

Townsend Bell: I'd be looking for another job. No, I don't know. First thing is, you've got to acknowledge reality which is that outside of the Indy 500 and even including the Indy 500 the sport is pretty flat, I think we all acknowledge that. Television ratings are way down, sponsorship revenue for the teams are down. There are some highlights like IZOD coming in, which I think is fantastic. The job that Terry Angstadt and his team did to secure a title sponsor in the current environment, and not just a sponsor but somebody that really seems to acknowledge where IndyCar racing is as a sport right now and where it needs to go, I think is huge. But, as an industry it's pretty soft so I think acknowledging that reality is important. Taking some bold decisions about how your going to reinvigorate the sport, the fan base in a way that acknowledges reality, meaning you can't fall off the floor. So lets get aggressive and do some things that really shake it up. When I really listen to some of the people in the business that I respect the most, their opinions about where things need to go, what I hear more and more is 'lets be aggressive, lets be bold, lets push the envelope here, because we don't have a lot to lose'.


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