IMSA Spotlight: Matt Bell
Driver: No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS
How has the transition to the WeatherTech Championship been for you and the team?
“The team was very ready for their return to the ‘big series.’ These guys are super professional, and the series suits them. Personally, I’ve never done a full season in the WeatherTech Championship, so I was obviously extremely excited for the opportunity, especially with the team I’ve been with and respect so much.
“They have had incredible success with GT cars, so this is an ideal opportunity for my freshman year in the series.
“The idea of the transition, for me, made me nervous. I’ve been in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge paddock since 2008, and I’ve grown used to the cars, names, and culture of that group. By this point in the year, I think I’m comfortable with the car, I get how the series works, and have fallen into a rhythm; I’m feeling competitive.
“The decision to go with Audi was interesting for me, as well. I have been coaching at the Audi Sports Car Experience in Sonoma for as long as I’ve been racing, have convinced my family to all drive Audis, and drive an older Audi, myself.
“I’m definitely drinking the Ingolstadt Kool-Aid, so combining my personal interests with my racing career is a rare but very well appreciated opportunity.”
What has been one of the biggest surprises in GTD this year?
“I think the biggest surprise is the interesting interaction between the GT classes and the prototype classes. The PC class cars aren’t much faster on the straights, and can only really accomplish a safe pass under brakes.
“The DPs have remarkable apex speed and braking, but the judgment to make a pass mid-corner is one that sometimes isn’t communicated. It can be tricky.
“I think each of the Stevenson drivers has been tagged by a prototype mid-corner. It has definitely been surprising!”
We’re headed to VIR next. How do you think the GT-only format will be from your perspective?
“I am torn on the GT race at VIR. I think the track is nearly perfect for the production racers like ST and GS cars. The memories of having all four wheels off the ground in 3600-pound cars through the “Esses” and laying black stripes for a hundred yards off “Oak Tree” leave me missing the opportunity.
“I’m not sure the GT cars will have quite the same entertainment factor from the driver seat. That said, speed = fun, and these GT cars should rip around the fresh pavement. I think the track will offer some interesting passing opportunities and it should suit our Audi R8 well.
“Without the sometimes disruptive prototypes out there with us, I think it will allow us to focus ahead much more, and that is a good thing. Many laps are thrown away in practice and the race because of extra-class traffic, so any separation in the field means we can be a bit more efficient in tuning the car for the race. I’m pretty excited for the all-GT brawl at VIR, and feel it could be one of our best events.”
If you were IMSA President for the day, what track would you add to the WeatherTech Championship schedule and why?
“If I was president for a day, I may change more than just add a race to the schedule… That said, the obvious choice for me would be Sonoma Raceway. It’s my true home track, one at which I coach weekly, and is one of the more dynamic courses in the country.
“It would be such a great opportunity to compete there with IMSA, be in wine country, enjoy the Northern California weather, and race at a track that I have grown to absolutely love.
“Despite the thousands of laps I’ve enjoyed around Sonoma, I’ve never competed there, so merely for selfish reasons, I’d likely have that venue added to the schedule.”
Do you have a memorable or favorite road trip?
“I have been on many memorable road trips by myself, which I don’t think count as real road trips. I think half the fun of burning miles in a car is being stuck in a vehicle with someone else, with all the sights, sounds, smells, and awkward conversations.
“One trip that I think really was my favorite was my belated honeymoon with my wife. We decided to spend a few weeks traveling between Italy and Austria, and instead of flying to each destination, we drove. It was a phenomenal decision, as it let us take in the little variations in culture between each place.
“We fell in love with a few towns, met a few new friends, and experienced so much more together than we had thought we would. We were able to venture off the beaten path and explore Europe on a much more personal level.
“The perfect honeymoon has the same attributes as a perfect road trip: it is one you remember forever. I think our honeymoon-road trip was just that.”