By IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As a sports car racer, Townsend Bell has accomplished quite a bit throughout his career.
He’s won the “triple crown” of endurance racing with victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He’s a champion of both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.
And in 2019, after three years of part-time activity, he’s returning as a full-time driver in the WeatherTech Championship. The 43-year-old Californian will share the No. 12 AIM VASSER SULLIVAN Lexus RC F GT3 with Frankie Montecalvo for the entire 2019 WeatherTech Championship season in the GT Daytona (GTD) class.
It represents a reunion of sorts for Bell, who raced with AIM Autosport in the 2014 WeatherTech Championship season with then-co-driver Bill Sweedler. That year began with a Rolex 24 At Daytona victory.
“It’s exciting,” Bell said. “There are so many familiar faces from AIM, it’s impressive. Anytime you’re with a team and you’re gone for several years and then you come back – like the AIM guys – and you see the same people, that’s always a reminder that the team and the people were great, because they stuck together.
“You see a lot of turnover in this business, and it’s kind of like putting the old band back together in a way. It’s just good, terrific people. Then, you add in Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, guys that I’ve known for a long time, and it’s just a nice, instant chemistry.”
In fact, Bell was one of the “chemists” who brought the program together. As an analyst for NBC Sports’ coverage of IndyCar racing, Bell has spent a lot of time around Vasser and Sullivan, who have fielded an IndyCar team for the past several years.
He knew of their wishes to get involved in sports car racing, as well as AIM Autosport’s desire to return to IMSA competition after competing in Pirelli World Challenge. He helped make the connection that led to this partnership.
“It’s kind of funny, actually,” Bell explains. “Over the summer, I had been speaking with Jimmy Vasser about an opportunity for Lexus, so I introduced him to the guys at AIM, having known those guys well and knowing that AIM had an appetite to be back in the WeatherTech Championship.
“Sometimes, you make introductions and things don’t work out. In this case, I had a good hunch that there’d be a lot of good energy there, and luckily it worked out that way and Lexus came together. It was like baking a cake. Sometimes it turns out all right.”
Bell will be focused on partnering with Montecalvo and working to put their No. 12 Lexus at the front of the GTD field in 2019. But he’s also keenly aware of what’s coming for fans in 2019 with the introduction of NBC Sports as the new television home of IMSA, and he’s excited about the prospects.
“I think (fans) should be excited about their passion for storytelling,” he said. “Having worked for NBC now – I think this is my eighth year coming up, something like that – you really feel like you’re part of a team that’s just so passionate about making sure they tell the stories thoroughly, professionally and with enthusiasm. We’ve done that on the IndyCar side.
“In fairness, IMSA broadcasting has been terrific all along. I mean, everybody in this paddock is absolutely linked by a common passion for the sport. But I think with NBC, what I found is – at least on the side of working for them – whatever it takes to be the best and do the best job [is what they will do].
“They want to introduce little innovations here and there that might have worked in other places for them. But at the end of the day, I think it really comes down to storytelling. Making sure for the fan watching at home that we try to extract the stuff that people care about that’s happening and we can convey that the best we can.”
Bell believes there’s no shortage of content or storylines to follow, especially heading into the 2019 season.
“When you look at the driver announcements already and the manufacturers and teams, as a competitor, you’re always trying to gauge your competition,” Bell said. “The sequence of press releases and alignments that have taken place over the last few weeks, as a competitor, you kind of take a deep breath. You’re like, ‘Whoa.’ Over and over again, you’re saying, ‘Well, that’s going to be a strong lineup and that’s going to be a strong lineup.’
“It’s pretty humbling when you think about the commitment that teams and sponsors make to this series, because it’s significant. I think, as a fan, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ You’re seeing some incredible technology, some great drivers and a lot of diversity in terms of the technical diversity of what you see out here. The fact that we all end up within half a second or a second of each other is a small miracle.”
The 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season kicks off with the 57th Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 24-27, 2019. Tickets are available now at DaytonaInternationalSpeedway.com. Any Rolex 24 ticket holder also has free access to the Roar Before the Rolex 24 on the weekend of Jan. 4-6.
Live coverage of the race also will be available live on NBC Sports, IMSA Radio, SiriusXM Radio and IMSA.com.