Photo courtesy of IMSA

Bell, Sweedler return ‘home’ to Scuderia Corsa for NAEC effort

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Longtime co-drivers Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, who won the 2015 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class championship with Scuderia Corsa, will return to Giacomo Mattioli’s team for another time in IMSA competition. Bell is an analyst for NBCSN’s coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Bell and Sweedler lead the team’s Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup effort for the four endurance races on the calendar, and will share their No. 64 Ferrari 488 GT3 with Frankie Montecalvo for all of those four and Sam Bird for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Bell, Sweedler and Montecalvo shared an Audi R8 LMS with Alex Job Racing this season in the endurance races.

Bell and Sweedler have also enjoyed great success with Scuderia Corsa racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans the last three years. They won the GTE-Am class co-driving with Jeff Segal in 2016, and have been on the podium in both 2015 and 2017 co-driving with Segal and Cooper MacNeil, respectively.

The team’s primary No. 63 car will see MacNeil and Alessandro Balzan co-driving for the full season, with Gunnar Jeannette third driver and Segal the fourth driver for Daytona. The No. 63 car has won three straight GTD championships, with Bell and Sweedler in 2015 and then Balzan and Christina Nielsen each of the last two.

“The return of Townsend and Bill to our organization is a testament to the quality of our relationship, and the addition of Frankie Montecalvo should be a great contribution,” stated Mattioli. “Combined with Sam Bird for Daytona and all of our resources, we’re very confident in a great showing and fighting for the best results possible.”

Bell said, “It almost goes without saying that Scuderia Corsa is one of the best teams in the business. Our IMSA championship, our Le Mans victory, are all directly attributed to their program, and we hope to repeat the same success this year. It’s the most competitive era in the history of IMSA, but we’re confident we can be right in the mix.”

Sweedler added, “I’m thrilled to be back with Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari, and my teammates from last year for the NAEC championship. We have had great success over the years with Giacomo and I look forward to renewing our combined competitive drive and spirit to win again. Scuderia Corsa has become a world class team and I am honored to be back. Forza Ferrari 2018!”

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.