Bell, Sweedler’s new Lamborghini program in IMSA confirmed

Photo: O'Gara Motorsport

One of sports car racing’s worst-kept secrets is now official, with news that Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler will switch from Scuderia Corsa to O’Gara Motorsport for the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

It sees the defending GT Daytona class champions switch from the venerable Ferrari 458 Italia to the new Lamborghini Huracán GT3, which has raced in Europe this year but will make its North American debut in IMSA next season.

Bell, who is also an NBCSN analyst for the Verizon IndyCar Series and Red Bull Global Rallycross, has dovetailed those commitments with his full-time racing deal.

Tom O’Gara’s team steps up after running in the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America series the last three years.

“Bill and I had a great season last year; winning the GTD class was amazing,” Bell said in a team release. “I’m really looking forward to joining Tom (O’Gara) and the O’Gara Motorsport team for their first season in the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship.

“I’m excited about this opportunity and think Bill and I are going to have yet another great season. O’Gara Motorsport made quite the impression in their first year as a team. I’m confident that their attention to detail and first-class operation will allow us to be as successful with this new endeavor.”

Added Sweedler, “I think the core ingredients for a championship winning team include passion, experience, and the drive to never give up. Tom’s passion for racing, coupled with his seasoned successful business acumen have formed the foundation that this team is built on.

“From the inception of the team, Tom has brought together the best race management, engineers, and crew. I am excited for Townsend and myself to be the drivers for the 2016 WeatherTech Championship. I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of the new Lamborghini GT3.”

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.