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“Pressure is Off” as Bell, Sweedler Defend GTE-Am Win

Defending GTE-Am winners looking to “enjoy” Le Mans return…

Photo: John Dagys

Scuderia Corsa drivers Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell say the pressure is off them as the defending GTE-Am winners at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The longtime driving duo added victory at Le Mans last year with Jeff Segal to wins at the Twelve Hours of Sebring, Rolex 24 at Daytona and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class title in 2015.

The introduction of the new Ferrari 488 to the GTE-Am class and addition of IMSA regular Cooper MacNeil to the lineup as the mandated Silver in place of Segal, who has been elevated to a Gold driver-rating, means there is plenty for the team get used to, but Bell says the understanding of what it takes to win at Le Mans will make their lives easier this time around.

“I don’t feel it, if anything it’s less pressure because you can just enjoy it a little bit more and you know there are so many things you don’t control anyway,” Bell told Sportscar365.

“The confidence that comes from winning is in knowing that if you can execute in all the hundreds of things that you have to do over 24 hours, then the result is going to be very favorable.

“In 2015 we made a lot of mistakes but we eliminated I would say 90 percent of those last year and the result delivered as expected. If we didn’t make mistakes, we thought we would be a contender to win.

“Knowing what it took and what it didn’t take, what I didn’t have to do to win it, is I think really confidence-inspiring.

“It relieves some of that pressure and now you come back and smell the roses a little bit more.”

After a strong third in class on his first outing at Le Mans in 2015, Sweedler achieved his life-long goal last year and concurs that there will be less pressure on their shoulders, but will still be treating the race with the utmost respect.

“To come back here as winners is a pretty special feeling, it always brings a big smile when I look at that podium picture and see us celebrating with the champagne and the national anthem playing – it was surreal,” Sweedler told Sportscar365.

“I grew up watching racing and always dreaming of racing, but it wasn’t until my thirties that I started. My goal was always to get to Daytona, so to achieve that dream and then go beyond it was is really indescribable.

“This year the pressure is off, we’re going to go out and enjoy it, but we’re competitive, we’re going to fight and we’re going to fight hard and we hope to be on the top step again.

“Nothing’s sweeter than a repeater!” 

Bell only drove the turbo-charged 488 for the first time at the test day, but was the best-placed of the eight-strong Ferrari contingent in fourth and reported that he was very happy with the package.

“It was spectacular right out of the box, just as everybody said it would be,” he said.

“That was a real confidence-booster to know that the car was really strong, no changes required and there was a great baseline setup which seemed fast out of the box.”

Accommodating MacNeil into the team is the only major unknown, but Sweedler is optimistic that the team will be in the mix after 24 hours, having acclimatized well to the car at the test.

“We’re always cautiously confident, but it’s a 24-hour race and everything has to go right,” he said.

“Townsend and I are back together with the addition of Cooper and we’re excited to have him. This is his fourth time here, for Townsend and I this is our third time, so we’re very excited.

“The only thing I could say was a struggle for me was to quickly get used to the brakes, because at Le Mans you’ve got to be able to be aggressive in the braking zones, but by the end of the test I felt very comfortable.”

James Newbold (@James_Newbold) is a UK-based freelance motorsport journalist. A graduate of Politics and International Relations, James is also the editor of Autosport Performance.

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