Townsend Bell Credits Full-Time IMSA Status as a Reason for Indy 500 Competitiveness
Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is there much similarity between driving the Lamborghini Huracán Townsend Bell races regularly in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and the Andretti Autosport-Robert Graham Honda IndyCar he qualified fourth for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 at 230.481 mph?

“Well,” he says, “they both have steering wheels…”

That Bell is able to compete full-time in the WeatherTech Championship, where he and co-driver Bill Sweedler won the season championship in the GT Daytona class in 2015 in a Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, and still be competitive in his once-a-year IndyCar start at Indianapolis is less surprising than it sounds.

He began his career in open-wheel cars, in the Skip Barber series, and moved up to Indy Lights, then in 2000, to the CART series. In 2003, he raced in the Formula 3000 series, and was a test driver for Formula 1 teams. The next year he returned stateside for a full-time ride in IndyCar.

All the while, Bell was working on a second career as a broadcaster, and he continues his on-camera role this season for NBC’s coverage of IndyCar and Global Rallycross, and he also hosts a show on Fox Sports 1.

This is Bell’s 10th Indianapolis 500, and his fourth-place qualifying equals his best start, which came in 2009. His best finish is also a fourth, which came in 2011 for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

Being a part of the 100th running of the Indy 500 is “amazing,” he says. Fortunately, there’s a lot of on-track practice, “probably more than for the entire IndyCar season,” he says, “and that helps me shake the rust off.”

Still, “I have a great time in IMSA. People ask how I can show up at Indy and be so fast every year – well, racing in IMSA the rest of the season is what keeps my skills sharp. Plus, I love coming straight to Indy from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca because they both have so many left-hand turns!”

Bell, 41, started his IMSA career in 2012 with Alex Job Racing, taking a class win at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on his first attempt. In 2014, he won his class in the Rolex 24 At Daytona with the Level 5 GTD team, “and we could have won it this year,” he says, but their Lamborghini suffered a minor electrical glitch while leading that took them out of contention.

His Scuderia Corsa Ferrari team also went to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015 and scored a third-place finish in their class. Bell and Sweedler are planning a return to Le Mans this year.

But for this week, the focus is the Indy 500. “I have a car that can win the race,” Bell says, “and I have a great team. I’m ready for Sunday.”

Bell isn’t the only driver who’s racing this year in both the biggest race IndyCar has, the Indianapolis 500, and the premier race for the WeatherTech Championship, the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Eight other drivers in the 100th Indianapolis 500 also raced this year at Daytona:

--Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished third at Daytona with Visit Florida Racing.
--Mikhail Aleshin, who won the pole for the 2016 Rolex 24 with SMP Racing.
--Simon Pagenaud, who finished sixth in the Rolex 24 with Action Express Racing.
--Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, past Rolex 24 overall winners who teamed with NASCAR racers Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray to finish seventh in the Prototype class with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.
--Sebastien Bourdais, past overall winner at both the Rolex 24 and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, who finished seventh in the GTLM class in the new Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.
--Graham Rahal, a past Rolex 24 winner who finished 11th in the GTLM class in a BMW Team RLL car, led by his father Bobby Rahal, a past Indianapolis 500 winner.
--Spencer Pigot, who finished 10th in the Prototype class with Mazda Motorsports.