Monday, Sep 15, 2014

Bell a triple threat


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Townsend Bell is a triple threat in major motorsports. He is proven winning race car driver, and is highly regarded as a motorsports TV announcer. He also has engineering skills, resulting in a new lighter, stronger wheel for the Ferrari 458 Italia race car that he co-drove to victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and will enter with a new team in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh from Florida.

"I have been blessed in my motorsports career to have great teammates and work with some great teams," Bell says. "This is my third year in sports car racing, and I have been lucky to win both Sebring (2012) and Daytona in my first attempt. Now I'm going for the double - my second win at Sebring and to win my second straight race of the new sports car series. This is exciting!"

With the merger this year of the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am, Sebring is now race number two of the new Tudor United SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

A full field of 66 cars is expected at Sebring, including the Ferrari 458 Italia that Bell and Bill Sweedler co-drove with three others to a GT Daytona class victory at Daytona.

That Ferrari was entered by Level 5 Motorsports, which has announced it will not be at Sebring and will withdraw entirely from the Tudor series.

Consequently, Bell and Sweedler have acquired the Ferrari that wore No. 555 at Daytona, and cut a deal with a new team, AIM Motorsports which will enter it as No. 69 at Sebring. A third driver will be named for the new team before Sebring.

"I would call it a disagreement Level 5 had with IMSA," Bell says. "Politics.

"But Bill and I are going ahead. Bill and I are good teammates and good friends; we're a perfect match. I've only been in sports car racing with Bill, and we've enjoyed a lot of success and had a lot of fun. He is very fast behind the wheel, gives great technical feedback. He's just a real blast to be around.

He's a great motivator."

Bell has never need much motivating. He started racing go-karts at age 12, and quickly moved up the ladder. He won the Indy Lights title in 2001 over Dan Weldon. He moved up the IndyCar ranks and raced for Patrick Racing, Panther Racing and KV Racing Technology, and finished fourth in the 2009 Indy 500. He has been a Formula 1 test driver, too, and turned to sports car racing in 2012.

" I will still do the Indy 500 and expect to be back at Indy this year for my eighth attempt to win the greatest spectacle in racing," says Bell.

Bell will also return as one of the IndyCar TV announcers this season, and will add some Global Rallycross events to his TV resume. He is also co-host of the "Shut Up and Drive" feature series on Fox with Justin Bell (no relation!).

"We just filmed a Shut Up and Drive segment in the desert outside Las Vegas," Townsend says, "driving the Mini that won Dakkar. That was a wild ride."

Like the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Sebring could prove to be a wild ride too. More than half the full field at Sebring are expected to be GT Daytona entries. GTD is defined as race cars are that are enhanced (not defined by) technology. They are also based on production model cars but do not feature the same level of aerodynamics and power as the GT Le Mans class cars. The GTD class consists of cars from the Grand-Am GT and ALMS GTC classes, as well as FIA GT3-spec cars and produce 450 horsepower.

There were 29 GTD entries at Daytona and there 63 lead changes by 30 drivers in 16 of those 29 entries. Controversy struck late in the race when the No. 555 Ferrari being driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi was initially penalized for "avoidable contact" with the No. 45 Audi R8 LMS of Markus Winkelhook, Spencer Pumpelly, Nelson Canache Jr., and Tim Pappas, but more than three hours later the No. 555 was reinstated as GTD winner when a TV replay showed there was no contact.

The well-known-to-Sebring-fans Flying Lizard Audi team has put the Daytona incident behind them but clearly has its sights on a GTD class victory at Sebring. A fleet of fast new Porsche GT America cars will also be entered in GTD at Sebring.

So in order to win its second straight Tudor race at Sebring, Bell and Sweedler will need all the advantage they can get. And that's where Bell's engineering skills may pay off again.

For the last three years, Bell has worked closely with Motegi Racing wheels engineers to develop a new lighter, stronger wheel to hold the spec Continental tires.

Explains Jody Groce, President of Wheel Pros, "The relationship between Townsend Bell and Motegi Racing is an authentic partnership focused on cooperation in technical performance and a multiplatform marketing brand exposure strategy. It is not easy to find a race car driver like TBell because from a technical point of view his feedback on the performance of our wheels is accurate, objective and very valuable to keep improving."

Bell knows for a driver to win he has to "optimize performance and minimum mistakes. Helping the crew make the car the best it can possibly be is part of the driver's responsibilities. And telling the crew how the car handles is part of that. And if he can bring a better part - like a revolutionary wheel - to the team then the car is better, faster and has a bigger chance of winning.

"Motegi has a vision three years ago and it's been spectacular to see how quickly we've developed the best available wheel in the industry. They undoubtedly have the finest product in motorsports because they've been so quick to respond to feedback from manufacturers, teams and drivers."

"From the marketing side, Townsend's ability to race and be competitive in multiple types of racing is a great value," says Groce. "A local Californian friendly and successful racer and business man, with experience in Formula 1, ladder series in open wheels, IndyCars, Rallycross, truck racing, and sport cars is exceptional, adding to that his outgoing personality and communication skills that led him into key roles in TV broadcasting, we have in Townsend Bell an outstanding ambassador of the Motegi Racing brand and a true asset for our engineers looking for information."

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