BELL BRINGS THE HEAT
Six laps. After nearly one full year of absence from an Indy car, that's all Panther Racing's Townsend Bell needed on Monday to get his Turbo-sponsored No. 60 up over the 220mph mark. And on Tuesday, the ALMS racer and Indy 500 specialist continued his impressive return to open-wheel racing, touring the storied 2.5-mile oval with a lap of 221.898, good enough for P12 among the 34 cars that ran in the hot and windy conditions.
Add it all up, and the 500 veteran looks like he's bringing the heat to the Speedway once again.
“The hardest part about this is the first day, getting a feel for things, driving for a new team — although I've driven for Panther before, it's new people, different buttons on the steering wheel; when you get out there, and from showing up late [due to the ALMS race in Monterey]
“Everybody already has a few days of running and I don't get out there until Happy Hour (5 p.m.) on the third day and it's scary just to go out on your out lap and catch a pack of cars flying by. It's kind of scary; it wasn't ideal, but you just grit your teeth, try to relax as much as you can and do what you do. We were able to get up to speed quickly, but now's the hard part.”
Bell's Panther teammates JR Hildebrand and Oriol Servia finished up second and ninth on Tuesday, which only added to his comfort after missing so much practice time.
“Now you're sliding around a little more in the heat and it's hard to optimize, but it would be hard to argue against Panther at Indy, and it's nice to have the support and input from JR and Oriol. I'm coming in a little bit later than others — like I did last year — but there's no real sense of urgency for me knowing there's a strong foundation to get the No. 60 Turbo car up to speed. My teammates and all the engineers have put in great work, so we're right on pace.”
The Californian said he's switched mental gears from sports cars to Indy cars, but admits he was enjoying the creature comforts offered by his ALMS GT Ferrari F458.
“I miss the air conditioning, the windshield and the power steering, but this feels more raw, more animal style. Open-wheel racing, open cockpits…it puts you in a different state of mind.”
MANAGEMENT FOCUS SHIFT FOR INDYCAR, IMS
Just Marketing International CEO Zak Brown (LEFT) dropped me a note Tuesday morning to confirm he'd withdrawn from the running to become the second half of Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles' two-pronged management team.
“I have communicated my decision to relocate to the UK this summer with my family, which is a strategic business decision to support the growth and interests of JMI as the company's CEO,” he said. “It follows that I am unable to take on any other role.”
Brown, originally positioned as the overall racing CEO for Hulman & Co., which would have essentially filled the IndyCar CEO position once held by Randy Bernard (now held on an interim basis by Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus) and also placed the JMI founder atop all the racing properties held by the Hulman George family. But in recent weeks, Miles has shifted his views on the organizational chart that would best serve the Hulman George family, IMS and IndyCar. With IMS, and especially IndyCar in dire need of an increase in sponsorships and overall cash flow, Miles is now on the hunt for a commercial CEO, for lack of a better term, to go with Derrick Walker, who was announced yesterday as a competition CEO of sorts.
“We met with Zak and he had a few different possibilities,” Miles told RACER. “We told him what worked for us and eventually it got to the point where we had to make a decision. He was our first choice, but he had an ideal option elsewhere and decided to take it.”
With Miles at the top of the organizational pyramid and Walker as his first direct hire/report, the former ATP tennis executive is on the lookout for the other missing piece of his management puzzle.
“Several weeks ago we settled on the approach to section our organization where we'd have a senior person responsible for our operations, which Derrick Walker fills, and right alongside that would be a commercial person to look after that division for IndyCar and IMS,” he continued. “That's where we're headed. We've been establishing pools of candidates for both positions for some time.
“We've looked at other organizational models like the NFL and the NBA and think it's the best way to take us forward in the future. I have complete confidence in Derrick and know we'll find a dynamite person to run the commercial division. I'm looking forward to being very hands on, too.”
Where this leaves Belskus and IMS Productions boss Robbie Greene, who was moved into the role of interim IndyCar CFO, is unknown, but Greene, who has turned IMSP into a strong and profitable entity for the family, is a lock to return to that role. Belskus, whose IndyCar duties will be assumed by Miles, could also return to his regular post as IMS CEO.