Townsend Bell is perhaps in the best position he has ever been heading into what should be his 10th start at the Indianapolis 500.
The 41-year-old Californian has built a reputation of running well on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in what has been his only Verizon IndyCar Series race each year since 2009 (except 2011, when he also drove at Kentucky Speedway).
For the celebrated 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil this month, Bell has joined Andretti Autosport and will team with full-season drivers Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Alexander Rossi.
Bell has a best Indy 500 finish of fourth with KV Racing Technology in 2009, when he said he had the fastest car on the track and was closing on Danica Patrick for third place at the checkered flag. In 2011 driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, he qualified fourth and was running inside the top five much of the day until he crashed with Ryan Briscoe on Lap 158.
It could be argued that Bell’s best drive came in 2014 when, again driving for KVRT and starting 25th, he slithered his way through traffic and made it to the front. Bell found himself fighting for the win with 25 laps to go with eventual race winner Hunter-Reay, Andretti and Helio Castroneves, but his amazing drive ended on Lap 191 when he crashed in Turn 2.
Joining Andretti Autosport, which has won the Indianapolis 500 three times (Dan Wheldon in 2005, Dario Franchitti in 2007 and Hunter-Reay in 2014), is just the alignment Bell believes he needs to contend in 2016. Having four teammates to share data with was a determining factor.
“Lots of information, which is terrific,” said Bell, who will drive the No. 29 Honda with sponsorship from longtime backer Robert Graham and California Pizza Kitchen. “The more information you can have, the better. I’ve never been in a five-car situation or even a four-car situation in INDYCAR.”
Bell is accepting this opportunity with one of the top teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series with an open mind and optimism.
“I think the motivation is always high, I go there intending to totally focus on performing there every time, but this will be the strongest team from a proven pedigree standpoint,” he said. “I’m just excited to see how that translates. I’ve also got a lot to learn about a new organization, new teammates and new information. I go into it eyes wide open, but very focused on making the most of it.”
Bell, who doubles as a series TV analyst for NBCSN, drives fulltime in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and is set to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June in the GTLM class. Along with reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon (who will drive a Ford GT at Le Mans in addition to his normal duties in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet at the Indy 500), it gives Bell the chance to chase racing history since only one driver has ever won the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans endurance event in the same year: A.J. Foyt in 1967.
“Couldn’t get better than that!” Bell said.