Photo: Scuderia Corsa

NBC’s IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell caps off crazy 2015 with IMSA GTD title

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BRASELTON, Ga. – If you’ve lost track of Townsend Bell’s schedule this year, we don’t blame you.

Bell has been on the call for the majority of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and Red Bull Global Rallycross seasons on NBC Sports.

He made his ninth Indianapolis 500 start, finishing 14th in the No. 24 Robert Graham Special Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold-Kingdom Racing.

He’s made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut, where he finished third in the GTE-Am class with longtime friends and co-drivers Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal in the No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari F458 Italia.

He’s filmed the second season of “What’Cha Got?” presented by Continental Tire, where he hosts and instructs Major League Soccer stars in their battle to win a Lamborghini.

Oh, and of course, he’s also completed the full TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season in the GT Daytona class co-driving with Sweedler in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia.

On Saturday night, the pair redeemed themselves after a tough, late-season loss last year to score their first full-season title together as co-drivers.

Bell and Sweedler won only once this year, at Virginia International Raceway in August, but it proved a crucial win as their title rivals from Paul Miller Racing and TRG-AMR failed to taste the victory champagne at all this year.

Then the Le Mans podium trio reunited for a clean, trouble-free drive to fourth on Saturday evening.

Segal drove well as usual and helped Bell and Sweedler to the championship. Ferrari also clinched the GTD manufacturer’s championship.

“I am still kind of in shock that we have won this championship,” Bell said post-race. “Last season, Bill and I led the championship throughout the year and then lost it in the final race. This time, we have done the opposite and won it in the final race.

“It was a real challenge out there in the rain. The Ferrari doesn’t have the rear downforce that some of the other GTD cars have, which made things really difficult as the rain kept falling. But Jeff and Bill did an incredible job, and it was phenomenal to share another big success with the two of them.”

Sweedler, who’s one of the top gentlemen drivers in the field, added to Bell’s thoughts.

“What an incredible feeling to come from behind to win the championship,” said Sweedler. “The Scuderia Corsa team executed perfectly. We knew the rain was coming so we prepared a strategy that would let us be near the front in case the race was called, and we capitalized on it.

“We have enjoyed an amazing season with Scuderia Corsa, including a win at VIR, our podium at Le Mans, and now the championship. It is unreal, and I am very proud of everybody on this team – it was a true team effort.”

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).