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

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
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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.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”