During his US racing career, Townsend Bell has seen both sides of the pendulum. Starting late in the game as a professional, Californian Bell really made his name in the former Dayton Indy Lights series run by CART, able to take Rookie of the...
During his US racing career, Townsend Bell has seen both sides of the pendulum. Starting late in the game as a professional, Californian Bell really made his name in the former Dayton Indy Lights series run by CART, able to take Rookie of the Year in 2000 and winning the title with six wins and eight poles in 12 races the next year.
It seemed the San Luis Obispo native was on his way to the Bigs, even driving twice (and well) that year in the CART Champ Car series. He moved up to Patrick Racing full-time in 2002 and, somehow it all went to dust. After nine starts, a best of fourth and a pile of busted Reynard/Toyota race cars, Bell got the hook.
He stuck around with Patrick's team for the balance of the year hoping against hope he'd get the job back, but Spaniard Oriol Servia got the call and kept the ride through 2003, when Patrick Racing closed its doors and became part of the Indy Racing League.
There would no second pairing between Bell and Patrick though, because after a year with Arden International in FIA Formula 3000, it was time for Townsend Bell to come home. He finished ninth in that tough arena.
Somewhere along the line, Bell caught the attention of Panther Racing. Perhaps all that prowling the paddock helped, but just a few weeks ago, there he was July 4th weekend at Kansas Speedway in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet and looking pretty good, despite a bunch of problems with the car.
Bell kept his nose clean and didn't do anything stupid after starting seventh and finishing twelfth. "The first weekend was a bit of a thrash because we only had three or four days to prepare. But," he explained, "by the time we got to the track, we had already gotten the seat made and everything was pretty comfortable," referring to his good qualifying effort.
By the time the Argent Mortgage Kansas Indy 300 was over, "I had 500 miles under my belt from the Kansas event and, of course the [Chevrolet] Michigan test." Last weekend he had a much better run of it, starting 12th and finishing a very fine fifth for the team. "When we got to Nashville, I felt we could start working on moving up the grid and working on performance," Bell said.
Having turned in the best Chevrolet performance on the unusual 1.33-mile Nashville SuperSpeedway concrete track, Bell's pretty optimistic about his chances this week in a race presented by his sponsor. The Menards A.J. Foyt Indy 225 on the historic Milwaukee Mile on Sunday.
Bell found success on this flat track at the State Fairgrounds. "I won there in Indy Lights in 2001, then I raced there in CART as well. I don't think the track's changed a whole lot and it's a fun place to go," Bell advised. "We run maximum downforce there with the IRL package so it makes it a lot of fun, because the speeds are pretty high and you're driving the car quite a bit."
This seems to be a different Townsend Bell than the crasher who tumbled out of CART competition a couple of years ago. In fact it was nearly exactly two years since he last raced on US shores, learning a lot of craft in the year with Arden International.
While insisting he is not the magic bullet for the Panther Racing team, which has found itself tested by the level of competition this year for the first time in a while, Bell realizes, "There's never any one magic solution. It's a culmination of thousands of little things. The driver is certainly a big part of that but everything has to work in harmony," he said.
"You know this last weekend still had some challenges," Bell contended. "We had a weight jacker fail during the race, a few other little problems. But if you can limit the problems and have everything work as harmoniously as possible, that's how you get to the front. So we're making progress, but again, we're not quite there yet."
During his time in F3000, it's apparent Bell learned a lot about working with a teammate. "It really makes a big difference and this is the first time the Panther guys have had two cars for a full season."
The job of building chemistry is coming into focus here and he believes it is "quickly developing both with me and my teammate and the whole team. I think that's probably a big thing we're working on right now, is just trying to get everything synchronized with a two-car team."
Bell is trying to keep it fairly casual, on the level about his change from one type of racing to another, even one like the IRL's premier IndyCar Series, where all the races are on ovals. "You know, this is no different than any other place I've raced," he said of the League. "Just to contribute as much to the overall performance of the team and then stay focused, give it maximum effort," he said were his goals for the year with the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy.
"Panther's a winning organization," Townsend Bell declared. "they know how to win races and win championships. They're a team that's focused on winning. That's our objective," he shrugged, "like any race team. I think the future looks pretty promising here."