Indianapolis 500 Preview: Townsend Bell

Photo credit: Michael Levitt (via IndyCar Media)

#99 BraunAbility Dallara-Honda, Schmidt Pelfrey Motorsports

Born: April 19, 1975

Home: San Francisco, California

2011 RESULTS: For the second consecutive year, Bell partnered with Sam Schmidt Motorsports to run at Indianapolis. He posted an impressive fourth place qualifying run from out of nowhere, but after a lap 158 crash with Ryan Briscoe their day ended early. Bell was listed 26th in the final running order.

CAREER BEST: Schmidt helped put together the Bryan Herta Autosport-run Dallara-Honda that the late Dan Wheldon took to victory lane last year, after taking pole with Alex Tagliani. As for Bell, his best Indy 500 finish came in 2009 with KV Racing Technology, where he finished an unexpected fourth.

OUTLOOK: Townsend Bell is as busy as he’s been in years. After taking a pit reporter job for the NBC Sports Network and a Lotus-backed ride for Alex Job Racing in the American Le Mans Series, he returns to Indianapolis for the sixth time after posting a series of respectable runs. For the third year in a row, Sam Schmidt will hire the American to pilot the #99 car, his Indianapolis-only entry. This year, Bell doesn’t even have to bring the sponsorship; BraunAbility, makers of wheelchair lifts for vehicles, has signed on to back Schmidt, who is himself a quadriplegic after a 2000 accident.

Of all of the drivers who generally make Indianapolis-only runs, Bell has proven over the past few years to be the most consistent. He’s qualified in the top 10 in each of the past two years and in the top 15 on four of five attempts. As for the lone exception, in 2009, he worked his way up from his 24th place qualifying spot to finish fourth. It’ll be no shock if Bell, once again, puts together a decent run at Indianapolis. And it’ll be no shock if, once again, fans of the sport lament that he’s never had the chance to run a full schedule.

– Chris Leone


IndyCar Season Preview: Simon Pagenaud

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#77 Hewlett-Packard Dallara-Honda, Schmidt/Hamilton Motorsports

Born: May 18, 1984

Hometown: Poitiers, France

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Pagenaud competed in three IndyCar races in 2011, twice as an injury replacement at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and once at HVM Racing when Simona de Silvestro could not make it to Infineon due to a customs issue. His best finish was eighth at Barber. Meanwhile, Pagenaud also finished second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Peugeot that he shared with fellow French IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Pagenaud had planned to run the Indianapolis 500 for Highcroft Racing, running a blue No. 16 that hearkened back to some of the race’s earliest, French-born winners, but sponsorship failed to materialize.

SEASON OUTLOOK: The 2006 Atlantic Series champion will compete full-time in major American open-wheel racing for the first time since he finished eighth in the 2007 Champ Car World Series. Pagenaud inherits the flagship car at Sam Schmidt Motorsports, which won the pole at Indianapolis with Alex Tagliani behind the wheel and scored plenty of solid road and street course finishes.

That should bode well for Pagenaud, whose bread and butter has always been turning both ways. The 2010 American Le Mans Series champion has raced on most of the series’ road and street circuits, whether in ALMS, Champ Car, or IndyCar. Meanwhile, the ovals will mark a completely new challenge for the flying Frenchman. Much like Bourdais, his countryman, Le Mans teammate, and former Champ Car rival, his overall finishing position at the end of the season should be decent thanks to a road and street-heavy schedule, but his ability to adapt to ovals will determine whether this team can finish in the top 10 or lag somewhere between 11th and 20th.

– Chris Leone