CHAMPCAR/CART: Townsend Bell press conference, part I

CART FedEx Championship Series June 18, 2002 An interview with: Townsend Bell Part 1 of 2 Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us on this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART ...

CART FedEx Championship Series
June 18, 2002

An interview with: Townsend Bell

Part 1 of 2

Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us on this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART publication relations. We're happy to be joined today by two up-and-coming CART open-wheel race stars, one who has made his way up the cart ladder system and is starting to experience some success in Champ Cars, and one who is on his way up in the development series. In just a few minutes we'll hear from Marc Breuers of the Barber Dodge Pro Series.

First off on today's call we'll welcome in Townsend Bell, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Reynard Bridgestone for Visteon/Patrick Racing. Thanks for taking a few minutes to join us on today's CART media teleconference.

Let's do a little introduction here. Townsend is a 27-year-old California native. He's coming off a very strong weekend in Portland where he finished fourth in Sunday's G.I. Joe's 200, marking his career best finish in Champ Cars. He came very close to a podium effort as he challenged Dario Franchitti for third in the closing laps of the race. After a rough start to the season, Townsend has gotten it back on track in Portland. It was his second consecutive Top 10 finish. He enters CART's next race in Chicago leading the Jim Trueman Rookie-of-the-Year award. He leads that race by 13 points over Mario Dominguez. We're happy to see him back on track and doing well. We'll open it up for questions for Townsend.

Q Can you just talk about the Portland race, not only the start, must be pretty challenging for a rookie who hasn't run the festival curves in a Champ Car, and talk about the start of the race, then later on when you went from third to fourth? I know you overall have to be pleased with your finish. Talk about how the race went for you.

Townsend Bell: Well, you know, I've been on pole there three times in Portland in previous races and I've never won there because of the problems in the first corner.

I never took the escape road there, and wanted to keep that in my hip pocket as an alternate plan if things didn't look good down at the festival turn. I guess we had three attempts that were waved off. Of the fourth try, I had a decent run down the outside lane and went late on the brakes and actually got up in front of Christian Fittipaldi. As I started to turn in, it was clear he was not going to make the apex and starting to run wide. It looked like I was either going to get caught there in the gravel trap and likely get stuck, which has happened to me in the past. So there's really nowhere for me to try to make an effort to make the corner, so I opted to go just straight ahead and get things sorted out on the other side. Turned out it looked like there were some cars getting together anyway. So we ended up back in sixth place for the single-file restart.

Q How about later in the race? It would have been great to have your first podium finish, but just talk about the circumstances that led up from you going from third to fourth.

Townsend Bell: Yeah, well, I think we passed (Alex) Tagliani on cold tires to pick up a position, then I got Dario on the restart to get to third. He got a little loose coming off of the last corner there on the restart. And we had a pretty good run. Toyota versus Honda going down the straightaway there. Seemed pretty evenly matched. I went in a little deeper and just made it to the apex. Then I think we pulled out a little bit of a gap on Dario in the next couple laps. Once I had tires that were up to temperature, it seemed to even out.

Then we came in for our final pit stop, and there was just miscommunication on the jack stands. Once they dropped me down, they sent me to go, and then they had me hold up, the fuel nozzle was stuck. When I got the clutch back in, normally I pump it twice to try to get any air out, and I didn't get a chance to do that on the retry there. When I let go of the clutch, it just killed the engine. So it was a little unfortunate, we lost about 10 more seconds, I think, in the pits, and then came out. I think we were sixth place at the time, but two guys were out of sequence and came in the pits and we ended up fourth in line. And I could catch Dario a little bit again on cold tires, and then he was really quick and didn't make any mistakes and the gap stayed about the same.

You know, it's frustrating to have a podium kind of in hand there and have something go wrong. But, you know, on the good side, if we finished fourth with some issues during the race, that's I think a pretty good sign that we're on the right direction. You know, the Visteon guys have done a great job all year. At Japan we were running third and (Tony) Kanaan ended up falling out. We probably would have finished second there. I packed it in pretty good.

And so on pace, we've been right there. But learning how to get to the end of the race with a strong result has been a process over the last few weeks. And I'd like to think we're making some progress there. So hopefully momentum carries us through the summer.

Q I know you had a lot of confidence in your abilities coming into the season. How much was that confidence shaken, if at all, through those first four races, a couple mistakes on your part, bad luck, you were knocked out of those first four races? Did you ever lose that confidence?

Townsend Bell: Well, I think -- I mean, what tends to happen is when you get off to a shaky start like that, there's no shortage of advice available to you, whether you want it or not. So there was plenty of people telling me that I should do this or that. You know, generally if you start second-guessing your own gut instincts, your own abilities, I think it's a big step in the wrong direction. So I was just focused on keeping my head down, doing what I know works for me, and learning, try to learn quickly, and learn from my mistakes.

I think we've had a couple good race weekends here. We've had some problems, but, you know, in CART, it seems like from what I've learned so far in the six races we've done this year and the two last year is that there's chaos every race for somebody. There's either some big pit incident or something at the start or some kind of mechanical failure, and it's just so important to be strong. But most importantly, just hang in there and be there at the end. So I'm working hard to continue to do that. If the car is quick and I can drive clean races, like the last couple, I think we'll be right there for the balance of the season.

Q Could you talk about running at Laguna, your home track? You're in seventh, you're behind Dixon. Even though all you had to do was hold your position, finish that high in your career, you were still trying to get past Dixon. Talk about the back and forth with your crew. They probably want you to bring it on in. You were still trying to move up.

Townsend Bell: Well, again, it kind of goes back to second-guessing your own instincts. That's just how I drive. Dixon was maybe a second or so slower than I was there at the end. I think he was having some kind of handling problem. And our car was really starting to come to us. So I want to fight for every position till the end of the race. And, you know, in the back of my mind, of course, I know that I need to finish some races here. But at the same timewith the car that much quicker, it being my home track, I certainly want one more position if I can get it.

He was pretty hard to get by. I was a little frustrated there. But we had a couple close calls. But, hey, if you're not pushing hard, you're going to be at the back in this series. I don't want to get on that kind of rhythm either. So I'm glad I was pushing hard at the end, and it worked out. And hopefully we'll continue to have good finishes here.

Q Looks like you're starting to have a good time out there.

Townsend Bell: We've been having a good time - sometimes too good of a time, not finishing races. Lately it's been even better making it to the end.

Q   I was up in Montreal for the Grand Prix a couple weeks ago.  Your name
was being mentioned up and down pit lane.  Any test drives planned?

Townsend Bell: Well, if you know something I don't, you can give me information. Right now we're just focused on -- CART has lots of races on the schedule. I think we've got a weekend off here this weekend, then we go back three in a row, then a weekend off, then I think four in a row. So my immediate priority is getting results here and trying to get further up the finishing page. You know, Formula 1, there's lots going on over there I know economically speaking. I still keep in touch with the people over there and things that are going on. I was hoping to try to get to an F-1 race earlier this year, but it didn't work out with my schedule. We'll just have to see, you know, what happens over the next six months. But I certainly wouldn't close the door to an opportunity if it exists.

Q Can you talk a little bit about the role of Jim McGee in the development of your CART career as a veteran guy who has been around since day one with Pat? Talk about his role and how he guided you.

Townsend Bell: The key thing with Patrick Racing and the whole Visteon team is stability for me, especially with the first few races not going so well. You know, these guys don't get down in the dumps too easily, and they don't get overly excited too easily. I think that stability and consistent stability has made a big difference over the past few months for me.

You know, I'm the guy that's new, that's got to figure everything out, that has to go through the trial and error process. You know, Jim has been pretty instrumental in helping to take away all the unnecessary distractions and help me stay focused on what I need to do in the car. I mean, he's been around the sport for such a long time, and he's had a lot of wins, had a lot of great drivers. There's very little that he hasn't seen or been through before. Again, that foundation I think has been key.

Q Can I skip over Chicago and look ahead to Toronto. We know you were there with the Indy Lights series. I guess it will be your first tour of duty in a Champ Car. The fact that you've been there in Lights is one thing, but can you talk about the adjustment you're going to have to make when you have the horsepower of a Champ Car to work with on the narrowness of Toronto?

Townsend Bell: I don't think it will be any different than going to Long Beach for the first time in a Champ Car. We qualified pretty reasonable, I think five of six races in the Top 10. We were fifth in Long Beach and sixth there at Portland. I hope that the car will be as good or maybe even better with the things we've learned by the time we get to Toronto. I'm pleased that it looks like the aero rules are frozen and maybe some of the development slows down on the Lola, because we're one of four cars running the Reynard right now. For obvious reasons, further development of the Lola could have hurt us. We'll see where we stand.

There's no reason to think that we can't be, you know, right there in the top five again. If you qualify in the top five in this series, you have a decent car in the race for setup, if a couple things fall your way, you can be right there at the front. Toronto is a great city. I won there last year. I think I had pole position, too, in Lights. It was a really smooth, easy race for us. I'd love it to be the same.

Q Your thoughts about the idea of maintaining the turbocharged engine for the power source within CART. There was a possibility of a change last year, but now Chris has talked about maintaining that type of unique power.

Townsend Bell: I'll be interested to see what the final specs are on revs and horsepower. I think it's great. I mean, like everyone else, the first Indy 500 that I went to was 1986, I think, and the sound of a turbocharged engine whistling around any of the tracks, Laguna Seca, Long Beach, some of the other CART events, that's what I fell in love with when I was a kid. I'm very enthusiastic about keeping the high horsepower, turbocharged, high revs, high technology, because I think that's what differentiates CART from other series in North America. So I'm pretty pleased about that. I'm just curious to know what's final specs will be once those are released.

Q I think you talked about the transition driving the Champ Car when we had you out here at Long Beach. I know the reaction of a viewer or an observer as your car goes by, it's electrifying. What is it like in the driver's seat with all that power?

Townsend Bell: I think initially the best time to ask me that would have been after my first test at Mid-Ohio last year. But, you know, it's such an exhilaration, you're just amazed at both the downforce and the braking potential, actually how easy the car feels to drive compared to Indy Lights because it's a little bit more of a purebred racing machine because Indy Lights had more an old-school engine that was pretty heavy and higher up in the car.

As far as driving that last one percent on the limit, it's quite a step up in level of commitment. So what happens, though, through the ladder series, when you come up each step say from Barber Dodge on up to Atlantics or Indy Lights, each step along the way you develop a tolerance for the speed and the experience. So six months or eight months now after I first tested a Champ Car, that tolerance level kind of comes into play.

It feels pretty normal, and sometimes slow in some places, if you can believe that. It's only until you go back and drive. For instance, when I tested the CART car last year in Mid-Ohio and then we went to Chicago and did a test, then I did those two races in Europe, then I had to come back and get back in the Indy Lights car to finish off the championship. Boy, what a difference. All of a sudden Indy Lights feels like a four-stroke go-kart or something. It's really amazing to experience that tolerance level, that threshold be bumped up at each level.


Townsend Bell part II

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , Townsend Bell , Mario Dominguez , Marc Breuers