PHOTO: STEVENSON MOTORSPORTS

Driver QnA with Mat Bell: Sebring Debrief

April 6, 2016
247 Views

The third installment of #DriverQnA with Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS driver, Matt Bell, comes to you off the heals of the oldest endurance race in North America – the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Thank you to fans who participated during race weekend, keep using #DriverQnA on social media to be featured in the next post!

After the long post-Rolex 24 break DriverQnA, Matt Bell took to the bumpy, creviced surface of Sebring International Raceway for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The weekend proved to be as unpredictable as the weather with Matt Bell and co-drivers ,Lawson Aschenbach and Dion von Moltke, qualifying 11th for the race. A late night transmission change for both Audis kept the Stevenson crews up late, but both cars were well prepared for 12 hours of racing come daybreak. Bell’s No. 9 Audi remained very competitive through the race, in sight of the podium for much of the time. A 2-hour, weather-spurred red flag put a lengthy stop to competition, but once the skies cleared the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship paddock was back in session. With less than three hours remaining, a stuck valve-train component rendered the No. 9 Audi powerless with flames spitting out the back. Bell and team were forced to head home with a 16th place result. The unfavorable result was still enough for Bell and his team to continue their courtship with the new machinery, becoming more familiar with the Audi. Slipstream Network and fans have reached out to Bell with their questions of his hard-fought race, here’s what he’s got to say!


MB: That “7.0L soundtrack” is something I’ll miss regardless of what I’m driving. If you grew up in the United States of America, even in California, you can’t help but absolutely love the sound of a large V8 engine. That said, one of my earliest memories of motorsport is hearing the bark and howl of an Audi 5-cylinder, and the new V10 has a very similar harmonic. I can’t imagine getting tired of hearing this new R8 from the cockpit. There is a learning curve to driving a car like this. I have the least experience on the team with “downforce” cars. I believe everyone else has had some time in a formula car, and they’ve all had full seasons in GT cars. These are things I can’t say about my career, so I’m definitely struggling more than I’d like with the car. That said, it is very easy to drive, has incredible visibility, and comes to the team pre-engineered. These are things that we weren’t able to say about our GS cars, but all of these things are inherent to a developmental production-based sports car. The R8 is built from the ground-up as a race car. In fact, I heard a rumor that the race car was drawn on paper before the road version was! After 36 hours of competition, the car still has some surprises, but we are all getting faster with every outing. We are sure to see some success this season.

 

MB: I can’t speak of any specifics of why we all changed gearboxes. That said, it is not uncommon for such a technically complex item to be replaced before an endurance race. I have a lot of trust in Audi Sport and have had years of trust in Stevenson Motorsport. I never think twice about decisions they’re making before a session. There are gambles in racing, but I know these guys gamble right more often than not. If anything, I usually assume the car will be better than the last outing if a large change was made!

 

 

MB: To be honest, I wasn’t happy with the car at Daytona in the wet. In fact, with the combination of track, tire, and setup, I believe I even mentioned that it is the worst I had felt. This was probably an exaggeration, but it didn’t leave me confident when weather was forecast for Sebring. Once I hopped in and started pushing in the wet for the 12 Hour, I was incredibly pleased. I went from saying it was one of the worst cars I had driven in the wet, to one of the best. Oddly enough, I think I am more comfortable with the car in the wet than I am in the dry! As I explained in another answer, I still have a lot to learn, and when the great equalizer (rain) is in the mix, I think it brings the car down to a level I can understand. Downforce doesn’t help as much with the decreased speeds, and the fast way to drive the car is how we used to drive the Camaro. As far as strategy in the wet goes: Don’t get caught on the wrong tires. That’s it. We’re all going to push hard, we’re going to try to make passes while staying on track. If you’re on slicks with standing water, you’re going to have very little grip and be hydroplaning over every puddle. If you have wet tires on and the track dries out, they will quickly overheat, not to mention they intrinsically have less grip due to reduced surface area. We made the right calls, and were top 5 the majority of the wet stints.

 

MB: Concentration is very fragile at a race track. There is a lot going on in the car, in pit lane, in the fan zones. When you are exposed to everything during a race, it can be very difficult to keep your mind in the right place. I usually like to just relax during sessions like this. I don’t want to mess with my phone, I don’t want any in-depth conversations, I don’t want to distract myself with anything that is not racing-related. Once I’m sitting back in the car, I usually try to just calm down, start running a lap or two in my head– basically meditate. Say a prayer, hope for the best, start feeling fast again, and get back at it! This red flag was very hard for me because when the decision was made to go back to racing, it was very quick. I only had a few minutes between getting my helmet on and rolling out of pit lane. It worked out okay, thanks to a few years of practicing getting my head right quickly, but I didn’t appreciate the rapid call to drive.

 

 

MB: The car didn’t finish the race, which is crushing. We were leading the race for a little while, and when we weren’t leading, we were close to the front. The car was outstanding in the wet, I was starting to feel comfortable in the dry, the other guys, Dion and Lawson, were very fast and reliable in traffic. We had a great car and were dialed in on strategy. It went wrong. I can’t say what the problem was, but it was nobody’s fault that was present at the track. The best thing to do, mentally, is just accept the result but take away good information. We have hours of data and video, and more than that, for me, I have hours more experience in the car. We’re optimistic for Laguna. The car should be good there and it is my home track. While there’s always opportunity for anyone to screw it all up, myself very much included, it is good to follow up a disastrous race weekend with an event that we have good history with.


Matt Bell’s next race will be at the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca April 29 – March 1. Being his home race, Matt is looking forward to continue the strong performance from Stevenson Motorsport and Audi Sport for a great race. Be sure not to miss this race as the GT Daytona and Prototype Challenge classes take to the sifting sands of the classic California landmark.

DriverQnA with Matt Bell features race-related questions, like 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 by 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.

As a mechanical engineer, Dusty’s passion is for sports cars and endurance racing. In his opinion, there’s nothing better than a race car closely based on a model that you can go out and buy from the manufacturer showroom. He’s very particular about his writing utensils and appreciates a great, cruelty free pomade.

Leave A Comment