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TJ Bell feels he has more to offer than recent results

March 23, 2002

TJ Bell believes he has more on offer than shown in Daytona and Sebring. His maiden races couldn’t have happened at more historic places. TJ Bell, the most promising US rookie in sportscars, started his career with Ascari at the long distance classics in Daytona and Sebring, the two most important sportscar races in the USA. A winter and spring to remember for the youngster.

But the 20-year-old from Reno, Nevada, didn’t let tension affect his performance. Bell found a good rhythm in the Judd-powered Ascari A410, which was re-named KZR-1 after adding a new front aero package and a new air inlet to it for Sebring – and attracted the attention of Ascari’s racing director Ian Dawson. “He is doing a very good job”, noted the Englishman. “He has settled at a competitive speed rather quickly and knows what he’s capable of and what he’s still got to learn. Plus, he integrates with the team very well.”

Timothy Jonathan Bell admits: “I’m definitely still missing seat time in the car. It’s hard to feel the limit – especially in Sebring where it is very bumpy. When the car begins to step out in the fast, bumpy corners, you don’t know if it’s speed or just the bumps which makes the car nervous. That’s an area where I still have to find out far I can slide the car until it reaches it’s limit.”

Bell’s move from Toyota Atlantic into sports prototypes goes along with a steep learning curve. Not only is the American racing a closed-wheel car for the first time – he also has to share a car with a second driver, which he has never done before. “It’s harder for me to feel the aero balance”, he compares the Ascari with the old open wheelers. “The Atlantics don’t have as much downforce, and you can certainly feel that on the straights. But more than that, the aero balance doesn’t shift a lot on the Atlantics: When you add downforce to the front or the rear, there’s just more downforce – but the general balance of the car stays mostly the same. Since there is much more bodywork on a sportscar, the aero balance tends to shift a lot more.”

In terms of car pooling, Bell is helped by his teammate, South African Werner Lupberger. “Werner and myself have more or less the same driving style. Whatever my input about the car’s set-up has been so far, he’s been feeling it as well.” Since both Ascari drivers have their heritage in open wheel cars with big engines – Lupberger graduates from Formula 3000 – it’s not a surprise their styles are similar. “We don’t like understeering; we like to turn in quickly. Our style is probably more aggressive than that of many other sportscar drivers. We charge pretty hard – but the car seems to like it.”

Despite TJ Bell lost top positions both in Daytona and Sebring due to accidents, his confidence is still sky-high. “The shunt in Daytona was a bit my fault”, he admits. “It was my first ever 24 hour race. The team told me to slow down. I did that – but let my concentration go down with it. In Sebring, we were running very good. We were tenth right before a pit stop and the team tried to get me out of the pits very quickly. Moments after the stop a wheel came loose and caused damage to the suspension. That wheel rolling off caught me completely by surprise. But still I believe we have shown a lot of potential – and I’m sure that with more experience in the car I’ll be able to go faster and avoid some mistakes I’ve made in the first practice sessions and races. I think the Ascari has got what it takes, and I’m keen to get the most out of that car.”

Bell will travel to Europe within the next three weeks for an extensive testing program in preparation for the 24 hours of Le Mans in France – the next classic he will be experiencing in his young career. Chances are he’ll be the youngest American ever to drive a prototype in the world’s greatest sportscar race. But the degree of preparation that both Ascari and Bell put into their French assault will make sure that TJ won’t even be nervous when driving in front of more than 200,000 fans and all of the racing world’s attention this summer. Ascari

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