Townsend Bell and co-drivers Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend with a Scuderia Corsa team that is virtually unchanged from 2015’s GTE-Am podium effort.
Then a first-year Le Mans effort for both the Giacomo Mattioli-owned team and its trio of American drivers, the near entirety of 2015’s third-place team, including the No. 62 Ferrari F458 Italia, is back for this weekend’s 84th running of the French endurance classic.
“Almost everybody on the team is back,” Bell told Sportscar365. “I think I saw one new face with the mechanics, but almost everything else repeats and that consistency is really important.
“We have the same team, drivers, great Ferrari race car and Michelin tires, it all feels and is very familiar.”
Bell and his co-drivers had a challenging but competitive run to the podium in their 2015 rookie season at Circuit de la Sarthe.
Segal started from ninth on the grid, with Sweedler and Bell following in the rotation, and it soon became evident they were capable of reaching the top-five or possibly higher.
The team moved into 5th in the eighth hour during Segal’s second stint and later cracked the top three for the first time in the overnight hours. Despite three separate flat tires and an overheating engine that had to be nursed through the final half of the race, the team stayed in GTE-Am class contention.
Bell recovered from a spin while battling Patrick Long’s Porsche for second in a spirited tussle Sunday morning, and the team secured third place for good in the race’s final hour when the class-leading Aston Martin crashed out.
“It was huge,” Bell said. “Really, it went great. It was awesome to have a podium finish, but for all of us to run the full 24 hours and finish the race, it makes us much stronger coming back here because we have a full race under our belts.”
The Le Mans podium was just one part of a successful 2015 season for Bell and Sweedler.
Back home in the U.S. in IMSA GT Daytona competition, the Scuderia Corsa squad challenged for the team and driver championships all season, culminating with a class win at Virginia International Raceway and the GTD title.
“It just seemed like we were racing under a lucky star last year,” Bell said. “Things just seemed like they were going our way in 2015. To win the IMSA GTD championship last year was the icing on the cake.”
Early indications point to another competitive run for Bell and company this weekend, after an encouraging test day and a solid start to the official track activity this week.
“I was five seconds off the pace last year at testing, at least,” he said. “Then I showed up this year and I was P1 as soon as I got in.
“It makes a huge difference to have that experience. We really hit the test day running and everything seems to be working really well.”
Despite last year’s encouraging debut and on-the-pace test two weeks ago, Bell knows one of the world’s hardest races and notoriously challenging circuits loom ahead this weekend.
“This place is tough,” he said. “Last year was a baptism of fire for all of us, but now you come back, you feel the experience, you know what to expect, you know what to expect out of the race track.
“It is a very demanding track but a lot of fun to drive.”
Putting 2015’s valuable experience to good use is the main thing Bell wants to do differently in this year’s Le Mans race.
“For me, what we will do differently is take the experience from last year and analyze it to minimize the chances of mistakes,” Bell said.
“Twenty four hour races are all about minimizing mistakes, you are always going to have some, but that’s the most valuable thing about having run last year.
“Now we know the track, which was the hardest part last year, getting up to speed, understanding what it takes to be quick on a very long circuit, a very challenging circuit that is totally unique in the world.
“The driving side is kind of an afterthought now, if you will, it is now about how you put all of the rest of it together in a way that just minimizes the probability for mistakes.”