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Bell, Sweedler back to defend Le Mans win with Scuderia Corsa

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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.

Mattioli, Segal, Sweedler and Bell. Photo: Scuderia Corsa
Mattioli, Segal, Sweedler and Bell. Photo: Scuderia Corsa

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!”

The two entries come via an automatic entry for winning in class last year, and a second as an at-large invite from IMSA.

The race takes place June 17-18 at Circuit de la Sarthe.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

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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).