The Slipstream Network is pleased to announce #DriverQnA with Matt Bell, a new column featuring insights from one of sports car racing’s top drivers, Matt Bell. By posing your racing questions to the stars of racing, DriverQnA will bring fans closer to the action on track and the personalities behind the wheel.
DriverQnA this seaaon will feature Stevenson Motorsports’ Matt Bell. Bell has been driving the iconic red, white, and blue eagle liveried Chevrolet Camaro since 2010. It has not only become a familiar sight in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship paddocks, but also become synonymous with top tier performance and wins in the series.
2015 was a successful year for the veteran as he and co-driver Lawson Aschenbach finished fourth in the driver’s championship, helping teammates Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis earn the championship title. In addition to the great championship finish, Bell scored three poles in the season and was awarded the all-time pole lead in the Continental Tire Challenge with 12 career poles in the series. 2016 will pose a new challenge for Bell as he and Stevenson Motorsports take on the GTD field in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the new Audi R8 LMS, complete with Stevenson’s iconic eagle livery.
The 2016 IMSA season commenced with the weekend’s Roar Before the 24, the first attempt for many teams to shakedown their racing machines and begin dialing in the setup for a great race. We’ve taken the opportunity to kickstart the #DriverQnA column with a few questions of our own for Bell to start the column!
Matt, what was your training regimen like in the off-season; what did you do to keep focused for IMSA competition in ‘16?
MB: I definitely increased my workout regimen, more in duration and distance than intensity. I want to make sure I’m ready for the first two races in the year that are 24 hours and 12 hours long, respectively. These modern race cars are not uncomfortable; they don’t require a lot of driver input force, but a driver can still wear out over a long stint. It has never really happened to me, but I’m 30 years old now, which is like 180 in driver years. I don’t want to take any chances by being out of shape. I also have been spending a lot of time on the simulator between iRacing and Dirt Rally. The latter does not really help with the type of driving I’m doing, but it does require some serious concentration for a few minutes at a time. It’s fun homework!
What are you most looking forward to in the coming year of IMSA competition?
MB: I think the thing I’m most looking forward to this season, is the season! I have never had a full ride outside Koni/Continental, so this feels like a step up for me. The one-off races never give me enough time to get comfortable in a car. I’m excited to have some time to really get to know the new GTD car and class.
You’ve recently switched from the Continental Tire Challenge GS class in a Camaro Z/28.R to a WeatherTech Championship GTD class Audi R8 LMS. How different are the cars from a handling perspective?
MB: The cars handle very differently. The Camaro was incredibly heavy, thanks to some series policing, and had remarkable torque. The way you drive a nearly 2-ton muscle car is polar opposite to how you wheel a relatively lightweight, mid-engine sports car with downforce. I struggled the first couple days of testing with the new R8 LMS since I was attempting to over-slow it and power out of tighter corners– which is how I drove the Camaro and BMWs. I feel like I’ve figured out the new car better now, but it will still be a learning curve to fight a driving style I’ve established over the past seven years.
What track are you most looking forward to racing with your new machinery in 2016?
MB: I’m looking forward to Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca the most, I think. It is my home track. It’s where I saw my first professional race and where I raced for the first time. To have the opportunity to get comfortable with the new car and the big series before showing up there is something I’m really excited about. I’ve done a few one-off events there, but I have never felt like I completely got used to the car before the race. That will hopefully be different in 2016! I always have a lot of friends and family that show up for Laguna. It will be fun to be in the main event this year and hopefully put on a good show for everyone that has supported my career.
What was the first thing you thought when you found out you’d be switching cars and classes?
MB: To be fair, we had heard rumors of a switch for quite a while last year. We were all very interested to see if those rumors actually condensed into real plans. Of course when they did, the news was really along the lines of “Stevenson moves BACK up to GTD”. This wasn’t the case for me, since I have never had a full season there, so the first thing I felt was great accomplishment. You can’t ignore the hype and excitement of the big series for very long when you’re racing in Koni or Continental Challenge for seven years. The random single events I have done were merely a tease, and I’ve been waiting for a full-season ride in Rolex/Tudor/Weather Tech for a long time. Now that it is actually happening, I can’t wait to get going! This new car is a serious machine, and this team is the best in the business, in my opinion. Understandably, I am elated at the prospect of a full season in GTD with Stevenson Motorsport, driving a new Audi R8 LMS!
Matt’s season kicks off at the legendary Rolex 24 at Daytona January 30 – 31. Co-driving with Stevenson teammates, Lawson Aschenbach, Andrew Davis, and Robin Liddell, Matt will pilot the No. 6 Audi R8 LMS for the 24-hour race. The No. 9 Audi R8 LMS will be Bell and co-driver Aschenbach’s office for the rest of the season.
DriverQnA with Matt Bell will feature race-related questions, like the above, from the fans using the hashtag, #DriverQnA, on Twitter and Facebook. Fans are encouraged to Tweet or Facebook post their questions throughout the race weekend to see them answered Matt through the column at Slipstream Network after the weekend has received the checkered flag. Fans can see new posts after each IMSA race weekend at www.slipstreamnetwork.com/driverqna.