Rust from year-long hiatus disappears quickly.
From the smile on Townsend Bell’s face Monday, you could tell the veteran driver of the No. 24 Robert Graham Special was extremely happy to be back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 99th Indianapolis 500.
Bell, an eight-time Indianapolis 500-Mile Race starter, returned to action at the “World’s Greatest Racing Facility” for the first time since last May 25 when he ran as high as second with 20 laps remaining in the 98th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
And Bell didn’t hesitate to step on the throttle Monday despite being out of the cockpit for nearly a year as he posted a best speed of 223.637 miles per hour in his 70 laps in the Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing-prepared Chevrolet-power Dallara DW12.
“We really didn’t have any issues today as the crew did a great job preparing the Robert Graham Special for me,” said Bell, whose best Indy 500 finish was fourth in 2009. I want to thank Davey Hamilton for shaking down the car at the test. The driver (Bell) has a few kinks to work out here at Indy but it feels so good to come back to the Speedway. Compared to what I race in the sports car, this feels like a rocket ship.”
Bell, race analyst for NBC Sports Network, took to the famed 2.5-mile oval earlier in the day for some refresher laps and completed 31 circuits with a best speed of 218 m.p.h. as the Verizon IndyCar Series officials demanded speeds around 215. But, after a rain delay, some 30 drivers, including Bell, hit the racing surface for the opening day of practice and Townsend secured another 39 laps with consistent speeds in the 223 m.p.h. range.
Sage Karam recorded the fastest speed of the day at 225.802. Bell finished 14th.
“Not much was different from last year for me except that the gusts of wind were coming across the front straightaway from the tunnels of the main grandstand,” Bell said. “That did affect my car at times. In fact, I thought the car was broken at one time due to the wind bouncing the car around. It was an interesting experience but I’m glad I felt it today. Overall, it was a very good first day and I think we can improve on it.”
Assisting the Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing team Monday was two-time Indy 500 champion Al Unser Jr., who served as a spotter in turn three for Bell. Unser Jr., Infy 500 winner in 1992 and 1994, will spot for Bell for three days this week.
It is an honor to have Al helping us this week,” said Bell. “Whatever tidbit of information I can take from a legend like Al is a benefit at Indy. It’s great to have him help us this week.”
The second day of practice for the 99th Indy 500 is set for Tuesday, May 12, from 12 – 6 p.m. Qualifying rounds will take place this Saturday, May 16, and Sunday, May 17, with the 500-mile race scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, May 24.
Dreyer & Reinbold