Palisadian Townsend Bell Finishes Third at Le Mans

There are three well-known car races: the historic Indy 500, the glitzy Monaco Grand Prix, and Le Mans, which one writer has described as masochistic.

Palisadian Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler earned their third straight appearance on the podium at Le Mans by finishing third on June 18 in France. They drove the No. 62 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GTE-AM fielded by Scuderia Corsa, which they shared with full-time IMSA WeatherTech Championship racer Cooper MacNeil.

Bell and Sweedler won the GTE (Grand Touring Endurance) Am class in 2016 and finished third in 2015.

Racecar driver Townsend Bell, who took third at Le Mans, drove the pace car on July 4 for the Palisades Will Rogers 5 & 10K Race. Photo: Luis Velasquez

Racecar driver Townsend Bell, who took third at Le Mans, drove the pace car on July 4 for the Palisades Will Rogers 5 & 10K Race. Photo: Luis Velasquez

This year, Bell held the class lead early on, and the car was a fixture in the GTE Am top five throughout the 24-hour race.

At Le Mans, LM GTE is divided into two classes: GTE-Pro and GTE-Am. GTE-Am cars must be at least one-year old or be built to the previous year’s spec, and have limits on the quality of drivers allowed in the lineup.

“Wow, what a race,” Bell said afterwards. “I spent a lot of time in the car over 24 hours, and it was as good at the end as it was when I started it. Thanks to WeatherTech for being with us and to the whole Scuderia Corsa crew and the team from Kessel. We had a great combination of drivers and support here all week.”

“It is magical to get here again and do well,” Sweedler added. “Three runs here and three podiums: two third-place finishes and a win is incredible. Townsend did monster stints and Cooper did a great job as well.”

The Le Mans is run on the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe, and involves a variety of automobiles from LMP prototype race cars to vehicles such as the Porsche 911 and the Chevrolet Corvette that are run by manufacturers and private teams, driven by both professional and amateur drivers.

Black Flag magazine explained in “Your Guide to Enjoying All 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2017” that the track uses part of a full-time circuit as well as closed-down public roads. Le Mans race cars have to navigate around traffic of varying speeds, which becomes much trickier as the sun sets and parts of the track become pitch black.”

A 2017 Wired story explained: “What started in 1923 as a race for small European manufacturers and aristocrat drivers evolved into a proving ground for the world’s biggest carmakers. It’s where Bentley and Porsche would prove their mettle, Ford would crush Ferrari to settle a beef, and, in 1955, fast cars and an even faster track claim 80 lives in the worst crash in motorsports history.”

All teams in the field have three drivers per car. Race interruptions and weather mean it is difficult to plan when to change drivers and lack of sleep becomes a factor. Nutrition and hydration are issues that drivers also have to face.

Townsend Bell has participated in the Indianapolis 500 auto race nine times, finishing as high as fourth.

At the 2013 X-Games in Munich, Bell competed in Global Rallycross and finished sixth in the final. He is a color commentator on NBC Sports IndyCar and Global Rally-cross coverage, and host of “What’Cha Got” on Fox Sports 1.

Bell and wife Heather have two sons.

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