Photo: Scuderia Corsa

Bell, Sweedler kick off Le Mans title defense with solid test

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NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell and longtime co-driver Bill Sweedler have a new car, and a new teammate, with which to defend their GTE-Am class victory in the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.

After co-driving with Jeff Segal to win last year’s race in the No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia, Bell and Sweedler now join Cooper MacNeil in the WeatherTech-backed No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE, the next iteration in the line of successful Ferrari GT models.

MacNeil arrived in France after competing Saturday in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Detroit, one of several drivers who flew on his private plane over to Le Mans immediately after the race.

All three drivers were busy today in the Le Mans Test Day. In total, the trio ran 74 laps around the 8.4-mile closed-road circuit. At the end of nearly eight hours of running the trio were fourth on the time sheet with a fast lap of 3:58.599, fastest of the class Ferrari cars, and fourth in the GTE Am class.

“Solid first day running at Le Mans,” Bell said. “The WeatherTech Ferrari was perfect out of the box. Cooper and Bill were really strong too their first time in this new car. Can’t wait for race day!”

Sweedler added, “The team had the car ready go from the drop of the green this morning. It was great to get in a lot of laps for all three of us today. The car feels great on the track and we all drove competitive times. Gives me a lot of confidence for the race in two weeks.”

MacNeil, who was last of the group to arrive, hailed Bell and Sweedler’s immediate feedback and pace.

“Townsend and Bill arrived before I did and had everything ready to go,” MacNeil said. “When I got in the car it was right. We need to work on my seating position a little bit, but that is a small thing we will correct. The Michelin tires are great and I turned a lot of laps. The WeatherTech Ferrari is very confidence inspiring around this 8-mile track. I am happy with the way the day went and I am looking for driving it in the 24.”

Gabby Chaves to sub for Joao Barbosa at Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen

Photo: IndyCar
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Gabby Chaves is set to return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Watkins Glen International later this month.

The Columbian-American driver, who last competed in IMSA in 2016 – with the DeltaWing outfit – will sub for the injured Joao Barbosa – he hurt his wrist in a cycling accident earlier in June – in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen.

Chaves will partner Filipe Albuquerque and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Cadillac.

Chaves expressed gratitude for being asked to fill in, but kept his enthusiasm muted, noting that he is getting the opportunity ultimately because another driver got hurt.

“The first thing is of course that you never want to have an opportunity because someone got hurt, so this is an unfortunate circumstance with Joao having his injury,”said Chaves. “But I appreciate the opportunity to join the championship-leading team. Mustang Sampling Racing has had a strong start this year and hopefully I can help the team continue to have those kinds of results.”

Chaves added, “I love Watkins Glen, it is a great track and I am looking forward to racing the Cadillac Prototype there. I’m excited to be going back to endurance racing. With different classes all racing at the same time, there is a lot for the driver to deal with as you work through traffic. So I am looking forward to racing at the Glen again, and I really appreciate this opportunity with Mustang Sampling Racing.”

Chaves’ most recent IMSA event was the 2016 Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, when he finished seventh in the Prototype class.

The No. 5 Action Express Cadillac currently sits tied with the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac of Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr atop the IMSA standings, though Barbosa’s hopes of a driver’s championship are set to take an enormous hit with him missing Watkins Glen.

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