NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell and his longtime sports car co-driver, Bill Sweedler, will have the chance to defend their 24 Hours of Le Mans victory in the GTE-Am class as Scuderia Corsa has confirmed its lineups for both of its cars.
Bell, Sweedler and the previously announced Cooper MacNeil will be in the team’s No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE, thus providing the three drivers their first run in the new GTE-spec version of the 488 after running previously in the F458 Italia. This entry will feature a partnership with WeatherTech Racing.
Meanwhile Christina Nielsen will have her full-season IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship co-driver Alessandro Balzan making his overdue debut at Le Mans, and Bret Curtis on board as third driver in the No. 65 Ferrari 488 GTE.
Bell, Sweedler and Jeff Segal podiumed in class in their 2015 Le Mans debut before the trio’s dominant win last year. Segal, who’s since been upgraded from Silver to Gold in the FIA Driver Rating system, is ineligible to join that lineup as a result this year, but is expected to still attend Le Mans anyway as a driver coach.
“I’m so excited to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and defend our race win along with Scuderia Corsa and Ferrari,” Sweedler said in a release.
“Le Mans is such a unique and special place that has the most passionate residents. The city literally shuts down for a week to welcome racers, teams, and fans from around the world into their city. I’m truly honored to be able to participate again after two successful years. My hope is that Townsend, and our newest teammate, Cooper MacNeil, can take our collective experience and deliver another strong finish for Scudera Corsa and Ferrari in 2017!”
Team principal Giacomo Mattioli said of his lineup: “The opportunity to bring two Ferraris in defense of our Le Mans victory is a great honor. To debut in 2015 with a podium, and win last year was an absolute dream-come-true. To return now with the Ferrari 488 GTE is a brand new challenge that we are all excited for. It’s of course great to see Bill and Townsend back with us for another year, and now with Cooper MacNeil joining us, we should be very strong.
“It goes without saying we had an incredible 2016 together with Christina and Alessandro, and Bret Curtis is a long-time member of the community that we’re very excited to work with. We’re definitely confident for another Ferrari victory!”
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.