CART FedEx Championship Series June 18, 2002 An interview with: Townsend Bell Part 2 0f 2: Q Essentially you're a rookie this year. I know you drove two races last year. What is it like not having a teammate to share information, ...
CART FedEx Championship Series
June 18, 2002
An interview with: Townsend Bell
Part 2 0f 2:
Q Essentially you're a rookie this year. I know you drove two races last year. What is it like not having a teammate to share information, share thoughts with? Is that difficult for you as a rookie?
Townsend Bell: I think one of the big differences with my situation is that, you know, being with Patrick Racing, I have just about as much information and support and background data I think as any one-car team can have. They ran two cars the last few years. There's a lot of data from lots of the tracks that we go to.
Probably the biggest handicap is that on the race weekends, a test day, the rate at which you can develop the car is essentially cut in half, assuming that the other driver is capable and other engineer is capable of developing the car in a direction that is consistent with the thoughts and the characteristics that I like. So that's probably the one handicap. But it makes us work all that much harder, and also as a team work harder to try to add another car for next year. I'd love to have a teammate, have that push. But I'll tell you, there's plenty of push I get from the other 17 or 18 drivers on the grid. I really think that all in all, as a one-car team, we're in a very good situation and I've got a good group of people to work with.
Q You're one of the few drivers still running a Reynard chassis. Do you feel at a disadvantage or do you feel it's pretty close in performance?
Townsend Bell: Well, if you look at our race lap times from Laguna and Portland, we're in the same tenth of a second. We were second fastest at Laguna and third quickest at Portland within the same tenth. You know, that's one lap, though. There's, say, 110 laps in the Portland race. So I haven't seen the composite of all the racetrack times from the race, but I tend to think that we're right there.
There's probably going to be some spots where the Reynard is better and some spots where the Lola is better. But, you know, until I test a Lola and Reynard back to back, you really don't have a good indication, except for the fact that the teams that I guess tested the Lola and switched haven't gone back. That can be an indication, as well. You know, for how competitive the times have been, I'm pretty happy with the package we have. A lot of it is up to what you do with what you get. If you look at Lolas at the back of the CART grid and Lolas at the front, you can say that some teams do a lot better job than others at developing those cars. I think that's the most important thing, is not to worry about, you know, whether you're absolutely in the right package or not, but take what you've got and make the most of it. That's what we're focused on.
Q Alignment at the start of the race has been an issue for many years. Seems like the support series always comes down to the green flag and are aligned perfectly. For some reason the Champ Cars, we never see that. Is it because the cars are more powerful or something? What is the reason why the Champ Car drivers can't seem to get lined up?
Townsend Bell: I don't know. Everybody's definitely going for it. I mean, we had I don't know how many attempts waved off, three attempts at Portland. Every driver in CART was a standout in the lower levels. You know, everybody thinks they're the fastest and deserves to be at the front. So sometimes things get spread out.
I guess also if you have -- if there's a half second difference or a tenth of a second difference between the time the polesitter pushing the throttle in a Champ Car and the time the second place qualifier pushes the throttle, the difference in acceleration I guess of the cars versus Barber Dodge, you know, that tenth of a second difference wouldn't translate into as big of a gap. Who knows? You can get really scientific about it. I think the fact is that everybody just wanting to gas it at the start and beat everybody else. Nobody is all that worried about the aesthetic qualities of the start.
Q There's a lot of questions about next year, what everybody is doing. Are you currently in a one-year contract? Do you know what you're doing next year? Is it still up in the air?
Townsend Bell: I probably won't comment on that. I really prefer not to talk about it.
Q In listening to you talk over the last few weeks about the first part of the season, am I right in saying one of the toughest things you've had to learn is patience?
Townsend Bell: Yeah. I think, you know, people have asked what the biggest difference is between the Lights and the Champ Car. You know, I think the answer I've given most often is just the rhythm and the length of the races. We did 110 laps there at Portland, which seemed like a long time without a lot of cautions. The big thing is that each stint in a Champ car, if you run a full 30-lap stint, say, at Portland, that's physically and mentally about as draining as one Indy Lights race was. You know, the difference has kind of been preparing myself for three or four of those stints, or even longer if a Superspeedway race.
I've tried to make some improvements there. But I also try not to analyze things too much and get too into all that. I mean, I push hard from when the green flag drops, and you have to in this series. You talk to (Cristiano) da Matta, Bruno (Junqueira), Dario, all of us were going pretty much flat out the whole race. I think that's great. That's the way the racing should be. Everybody is running full rich for the most part, just standing on it. You make some mistakes when you're pushing hard, and I made some mistakes early on. We also had some things that weren't my fault. But, you know, you never stop learning, and hopefully going forward here I keep learning and keep improving.
Q I found it interesting, you were talking about -- when things aren't going good, seems like everybody and their brother or sister has a piece of advice for you. I find that a lot in my business. I find myself when somebody is telling me how a certain show should be, I'll start thinking about what I'm having for dinner, anything not to listen. Kind of get into that mode, "I'll keep eye contact but I'm going to think about something else"?
Townsend Bell: I've been doing a lot of household chores, say, up until Laguna Seca weekend trying to keep my mind off of things. I end up sitting around in between races. One of the things that I'm excited about now is that we're racing every weekend, in this case we have a week break off. I mean, I love that. Whether you do good or you do bad, knowing by Thursday you're getting ramped up for another race weekend is great for me because even now we had a decent weekend up in Portland, and a pretty strong result. But I was hoping that we could be racing again this weekend, whenever, because I love driving those cars and love competing against all those guys. Whether I do good or bad, there's no substitute for getting back in the race car in terms of satisfying my urge.
Q Last two races you made steps forward in each one of them. You make one more step forward, you're on the podium. Have you thought about visualizing what it's going to be like standing on the podium?
Townsend Bell: You know, I'd like to think that we've been on podium pace a couple times now, in Japan and at Portland this last weekend, and even at Laguna, we got taken out there in the start, went to the back of the pack. We were still pretty quick towards the end compared to everybody else. I'd really like to start thinking about winning races. Not to say that I haven't thinking about that all along.
You know, it's really tough. The closer you get there to the front, Ganassi, Newman/Haas, they both have really strong cars right now. Those guys are going to be tough to beat. But it's nice to know that we've been mixing it up with those guys as a one-car team. We'll just have to see what happens. There's, again, so many variables, so many things that play out during these races. Kenny Brack had his wheel fall off. You just can't plan on that, but you've got to be prepared to capitalize on it when it happens. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can and prepare to capitalize on those circumstances when they come up.
Q I'm sure you practiced holding the trophy over your head.
Townsend Bell: We're clearing out space on the shelf.
Q Can you talk a little about your experience coming up in the CART ladder system, typically as an instructor in Barber Dodge, how that may have helped your career?
Townsend Bell: Well, I never was an instructor for the Barber Dodge. This whole Skip Barber terminology can get a little confusing sometimes. They have in the school series what's called the Formula Dodge cars, then their top level series is the Barber Dodge Pro Series, which also has instructors. I wasn't an instructor in either of those. I was an instructor for about six months in what's called their Three-Day Racing School, which is in the Formula Dodge race cars.
That was a lot of fun, met a lot of great people. But it really didn't give me enough time to work on making it to the next level in terms of going out and raising sponsorship. While I enjoyed the experience, it tied up my days a little too much. So it's a great group of people that work there, and they've been a big part of developing a lot of the drivers that are in the top levels today. So I routinely try to get back over to that side of the paddock and say hi to not only guys I raced with a few years ago, but also the instructors both at the Barber Dodge Pro Series level and the Formula Dodge level and even the Skip Barber Three Day School. Sometimes we get back out there for events with sponsors or friends of mine, and I'll swing in and say hi to everybody because they're a big part of the reason why I'm here.
Q We've talked the last two weeks with everybody about the ladder system. Do you think the changes this year, the ladder system, is a great deal better than it's been in the past? Do you foresee this is really the way of the future for up-and-coming racers?
Townsend Bell: No doubt that both CART and Skip Barber have done an excellent job to help develop a clearer picture for up-and-coming drivers and for fans, a clearer picture of what exactly the ladder is. I don't think that it's been a huge step in just one year here. It's something they've been working on since I've been involved back in '97, and something that's progressed quite impressively each season to the point now where it's really clear that if you want to get into the CART series and you're just starting out, that the path from go-karts to Champ Car is pretty well laid out. With the right ability and the right amount of desire and hard work, the path is right there in front of you.
Q Can we talk about sponsorship? I believe in Lights, you were heavily involved, as all drivers are, in gaining sponsorship for your efforts. Can you talk about what you do in that, how much time you spend in those endeavors each week?
Townsend Bell: These days very little. I don't have really any sponsorship that I've brought with me to the Patrick team. They've got a long-standing relationship with Visteon and Bridgestone and all of the sponsors that are associated with the CART program. To tell you the truth, it's been a wonderful transition from pounding the pavement and spending long hours working on that side of the equation to where things are today, where I just spend time worrying about going faster in the car and helping to develop the package we have.
I also have some people that help me with the business side of things these days, when I used to do it primarily on my own. But it's the biggest challenge, you'll probably hear that. You should ask the same question to Marc Breuers who is going to be talking to you later, because he's coming up through Barber Dodge right now. He's had to go out and raise money just like I did for Barber Dodge and Indy Lights. When I moved to Indy Lights, I was with a wonderful team and team owner, Bob Dorricott, the whole Dorricott Racing team. They were a big help in taking some of the load off my shoulders in terms of the budget and providing the infrastructure to take care of sponsors and the like. Again, I don't spend much time on that as I used to, but it's certainly been a huge part of why I'm here, with a lot of great companies along the way.
Q Do you think in the Barber Dodge, Atlantics, that some assistance or more attention needs to be paid to that aspect?
Townsend Bell: There's several components to that whole situation. You always hear lots of talk about which drivers do a better job of getting sponsorship or drivers from which country have an easier time getting sponsorship. Let's not forget also that the teams in the lower levels, let's say in the Atlantic level now, the teams also I think need to make just as much of an effort as the drivers to gain the sponsorship. You know, the less an Atlantic team has to rely on the level of a driver's budget, the more power they have to pick the best drivers available.
It would be great if we had a situation where every Atlantic team up and down the grid had full sponsorship. These guys that are 19, 20, 25 years old are all hired for their ability, get paid a salary, and they're full-time racers. That's a vision that I think everybody should try to keep in mind, that as a professional racing series, both team and driver take on that challenge together and ultimately I think it would be great if the teams had the money and the drivers were just there on talent alone.
Q During the CBS broadcast it was suggested that a few years ago a driver could enter CART and he would have a couple, three years to prove himself, but suggested that's perhaps not the case any more. You have to prove yourself the very first year. I'm wondering if that is what you are feeling in the CART series and maybe specifically at Patrick Racing?
Townsend Bell: You know, I put a lot of expectations on myself. I really haven't felt a lot of that pressure except from what I expect of myself and what I know I'm capable of doing, what I know my team's capable of doing. So, you know, it's tough. It's part of being in a professional sport, is you're expected to produce. And I don't have a problem with that. That's why we get paid a lot of money and that's what it's all about. So I don't think I'd want to be part of an organization where everybody was patting me down the back the whole time and giving me two or three seasons because that's not really the mindset that I take.
I think what's happened, though, is with a smaller car count in the last year or so, you've got more guys that have won races and that are fast that are kind of looming over your shoulders, and every one of the cars in CART, seems like everyone is very talented, all the teams are very capable. You know, you've got fast guys at the back of the field some weekends, and the same guys can be at the front the next weekend. With Max Papis and Oriol Servia, Roberto Moreno, all these guys pounding around, it keeps you on your toes for sure.
Merrill Cain: Before we let you go, I would like to ask you one question, if you wouldn't mind. We have Marc Breuers from the Barber Dodge Pro Series coming up next. As a driver who has come up through the ladder system, what advice do you give up-and-coming drivers like Marc? What do you tell them to try to make that step to the next level?
Townsend Bell: One of my favorite pieces of advice from the Barber Dodge and the Skip Barber family, is from this instructor, this guy named David Loring, raced Formula Fords a long time ago. His advice was always pretty simple. It was, "Go fast and take a lot of chances." He always said that with a smile, but I always took him seriously. That would be my piece of advice to pass on.
Merrill Cain: We appreciate you taking some time with us this afternoon. We're all happy to see your progress over the last few weeks of the season. We wish you the best of luck coming up with the CART Grand Prix of Chicago, the weekend of June 29th and 30th. Enjoy your weekend off. Thanks, Townsend.
Townsend Bell: It's been my pleasure.
Townsend Bell part I