The story of Townsend Bell as a sports car driver began when he, Bill Sweedler and Dion von Moltke did a one-off race driving with Alex Job Racing in the American Le Mans Series GTC class at the 2012 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
In the ninth of nine classes competing in the single joint ALMS/FIA World Endurance Championship race, they won.
Four years later, Bell and Sweedler have now crested their latest summit as a driver pairing: season-long champions in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class.
The title comes a year after the pairing won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and also captured the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, then driving for both Level 5 Motorsports and AIM Autosport in what proved to be both teams’ IMSA swan songs.
But they came up just short of the season-long title after leading most of the season, instead falling behind Dane Cameron of Turner Motorsport in the final races.
For 2015, a move to Scuderia Corsa followed, albeit still with the tried-and-true, venerable Ferrari 458 Italia both drivers have had a wealth of experience driving.
The highlight for Bell and Sweedler this season prior to Saturday’s waterlogged Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda had been a GTE-Am class podium finish on debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, co-driving with Jeff Segal in a GTE-spec Ferrari F458 Italia.
Sweedler then delivered an excellent drive in his stint at Virginia International Raceway, which helped propel he and Bell to their only win of the year in the TUDOR Championship GTD class.
As it turned out, it proved vital since their closest title rivals all year – the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 LMS and No. 007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 – never visited victory lane.
Bell and Sweedler entered Saturday four points behind then-points leader Christina Nielsen of TRG-AMR and three behind von Moltke and Christopher Haase of Paul Miller Racing.
However, Bell, Sweedler and Segal reunited as a trio and delivered a come-from-behind drive at Road Atlanta, which allowed Bell and Sweedler to capture their first titles.
Bell and Segal drove all bar one lap of the seven hours and 51 minutes, with Segal able to bank the requisite two-hour, 30-minute drive time needed for Silver or Bronze-rated drivers.
“We had our plan in advance. We thought it would be a significantly shortened race,” Sweedler explained. “We did our mandatory times early on.”
Bell figured the race might be called after the red flag called past the five-hour mark, and then was flabbergasted when it was called just before the eight-hour threshold.
“I was surprised. I thought at the five-hour mark, or yellow at 5:15, ‘We’re looking good for the end of the race,’” Bell said.
“Poor Jeff had to go through two or three restarts which were so hectic. I’m not sure officials appreciated how difficult the visibility was.
“I was prepared to get to back in the car. I thought, ‘Man I’m gonna finish at night in the rain.’ I gotta keep it together.
“When they announced checkered flag, I thought I was dreaming. I was so mentally focused to get back in.”
Bell, Sweedler and Segal finished fourth, to cap off a year where they finished between first and ninth in each of the 10 races.
The title for Bell caps off a banner year where he’s juggled a full season of IMSA competition, drives in both the Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans, a balance of both IndyCar and Global Rallycross commentary for NBC Sports, and the second season of “What’Cha Got” presented by Continental Tire.
For Sweedler, it’s his first full-season title in IMSA competition, going back to the first season of ALMS GTC in 2009. Over seven seasons, he has firmly established himself as one of the best gentlemen drivers active in sports car racing.
And for Giacomo Mattioli’s Scuderia Corsa team, it’s his second title in three years.
Coincidentally, its previous title with Alessandro Balzan in the 2013 GRAND-AM Rolex Series season came in similar last-race, come-from-behind fashion. Balzan seized the title once Magnus Racing’s hopes ended from early race contact at Lime Rock Park.
Bell and Sweedler will continue into the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for their fifth consecutive season as teammates, however not with Scuderia Corsa.
“We have plans. We’ll announce it soon,” Sweedler said.