Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Townsend Bell, Frankie Montecalvo pair up for 2019 IMSA championship run

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Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo will race full-time for AIM Vasser Sullivan (AVS) in 2019 in pursuit of an IMSA Weathertech Sports Car championship.

They will pair up in of the two Lexus RC F GT3 race cars that will be campaigned in 2019. In his last full season of 2015, Bell won the IMSA GTD championship.

“This is a great paring of drivers,” said car owner Jimmy Vasser at IMSA.com. “They know each other and they know what it takes to be successful.”

Montecalvo has seven podium finishes in 32 combined starts in the Weathertech and American Le Mans series.

“I’m thrilled to have a chance to go after another IMSA GTD Championship with Frankie,” said Bell. “We’ve had some partial seasons the last few years and the stars aligned to make this happen.

“My best Indy 500 finish came while driving for Jimmy Vasser and I’ve always admired the way he runs the team and guides the ship. The fact that AIM and Ian Willis are also involved makes this feel like one big family get together. Ian led us to a Daytona 24 win in 2014 and the NAEC Championship. I’m looking forward to turning some laps soon in the Lexus RCF GT3. It’s a race winning, pole sitting car and it’s nice to have that confidence heading into a new season.”

Bell made five starts last year with a pair of fifth-place finishes to bracket the season in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and the Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

Preparations for the race include a tire test: “We have tire test coming up soon,” Bell told NBC Sports. “I’m looking forward to testing on the Michelins with the car. Then it’s the usual physical conditioning and simulator work to get ready for the longest race of the year at Daytona.”

“I could not be happier joining AIM Vasser Sullivan for the 2019 IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship season,” said Montecalvo. “In 2017, I raced with AIM and had some success in the Pirelli World Challenge Sprint X. … We should have a very competitive team this year. Co-driving with Townsend, I feel AVS has a real shot at competing for a championship. I’m looking forward to heading to Daytona to start off the 2019 season!”

Bell and Montecalvo will join Jack Hawksworth at AVS. Hawksworth’s co-driver has not yet been announced.

The complete IMSA season can be seen on the NBC family of networks beginning with the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona, January 4 – 6, 2019.

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.