Townsend Bell is an American racing driver who competed in different racing series since his debut in 1997, including CART/Indy Car, Formula 3000, American Le Mans Series and IMSA SportsCar Championship, but he's mostly known as a regular entrant at Indianapolis 500. Early in his career, Bell was the 2001 Indy Lights champion. His most recent success was a class victory at the 2016 24 hours of Le Mans. Prior to that, he took class wins in two American endurance races, at Sebring and Daytona.
12-year-old Townsend started the racing career with go-karts
Townsend Bell was born on April 19, 1975, in San Francisco, California. He started his racing career in karting at the age 12, switching to the bigger cars in 1997 when he entered the Skip Barber Western Regional Series. In his debut season, Bell finished third in the points, with two wins in ten races.
Runner-up in the debut Indy Lights season
The next step was the Barber Dodge Pro Series, in which he finished third at the end of the 1999 season, winning one race at Lime Rock Park. In 2000, Bell joined Doricott Racing to compete in the Indy Lights championship. With two victories, at Mid-Ohio Sports Cars Course and Gateway Motorsports Park, Bell finished as runner-up, nine points behind Scott Dixon.
Dominant win in the 2001 Indy Lights season
Bell stayed with Doricott Racing in the 2001 Indy Lights season and he dominantly took the title, with six wins in twelve races. Townsend won the championship with 44 points advantage over Dan Wheldon. In the second part of the season, he joined Patrick Racing in two European races of the CART FedEx Championship, at Lausitz and Rockingham. The race at EuroSpeedway Lausitz was the one in which Alex Zanardi had an accident and almost lost his life.
Replaced after nine rounds in the CART championship
In 2002, Bell joined Patrick Racing for the full season in the CART FedEx Championship to drive the #20 Reynard-Toyota. The results were disappointing, with fourth place at Portland as the highest finish, so Bell was fired after nine rounds and replaced by Oriol Servia. One of the reasons for releasing Bell was his probation penalty after an exclusion from the race in Toronto, where he caused an accident with Bruno Junqueira.
European adventure in the Formula 3000
In 2003, Bell was competing in Europe, driving for Arden International team in the Formula 3000. In ten races, his best result was third place at Hungaroring and he finished 9th in the points, second in the rookies standings. At the end of the season, Bell had an opportunity to test a Formula One car for BAR Honda and Jaguar Racing, but he had no intention to enter F1. He returned to America and joined Panther Racing for the second part of the 2004 Indy Racing League season.
Indianapolis 500 debut in 2006
He participated in ten Indy Car races, finishing best in the fifth place at Nashville Superspeedway. In the 2005 season, Bell had only one race appearance as a replacement for the injured Tomaš Enge at Michigan International Speedway. In 2006, Bell debuted at Indianapolis 500, driving the #90 car for Vision Racing. He retired after 161 laps due to a suspension failure.
2008 was the last IndyCar season for Bell
In 2008, Bell participated in six races of the IndyCar Series (plus the non-championship race in Australia) for Dreyer & Reinbold, sharing the #23 car with Milka Duno. At Indianapolis 500, he was driving the #99 car and finished 10th in the final classification. It was Bell's last season in the IndyCar Series, since then he raced only at Indianapolis 500 and at the 2011 Kentucky Indy 300.
Fourth place as the best finish at Indy 500
In eight appearances at Indianapolis 500, between 2009 and 2016, Bell's best result was fourth place in 2009 when he was driving for KV Racing Technology. From 2010 to 2012, Bell was driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Indy 500, catching the fourth place on the starting grid in 2011, but finishing 26th. In 2012, Bell was ninth, which was his second-best finish at Indy 500.
Video : Townsend Bell crashes into the turn 2 wall at the 2014 Indy 500
Second row on the starting grid of the 2016 Indianapolis 500
In recent years, between 2013 and 2016, Bell participated at Indianapolis 500 with four different teams: Panther Racing, KV Racing Technology, Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing, and Andretti Autosport. In 2016, at the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, he was fourth fastest in the qualifying, driving the Andretti Autosport's Dallara-Honda, but he finished 21st, one lap behind the winner Alexander Rossi.
Debut and victory at 2012 Sebring 12-hour race
In 2012, Bell switched his interest to sports car racing, debuted with Alex Job Racing's #023 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup at 12 hours of Sebring. Bell's debut was victorious, as he finished first in the GTC class, sharing the car with Bill Sweedler and Dion von Moltke. For the rest of the American Le Mans Series season, Bell and Sweedler competed with Lotus Evora GTE in eight races.
In 2013, Bell and Sweedler returned to 12 hours of Sebring in the Team West/AJR #23 Ferrari 458 Italia GTC, sharing the car with Leh Keen. They didn't finish the race. Bell and Sweedler were partners in the same car for the full 2013 ALMS season but without notable results.
Bell tried some dirty racing in the Global Rallycross Championship
During 2013, Bell also tried a rallycross car, competing in two German rounds of the Global Rallycross Championship with Olsbergs' Ford Fiesta. He qualified for the finals and finished sixth on the second day.
One more victorious debut at 24 hours of Daytona
In 2014, Bell debuted at 24 hours of Daytona and took the class victory with Level 5 Motorsports' Ferrari 458 Italia. His co-drivers in the #555 car were Bill Sweedler, Scott Tucker, Jeff Segal and Alessandro Pier Guidi. After eleven races in the 2014 IMSA United SportsCar Championship, Bell finished 4th in the points of the GTD class. Bell and Sweedler were the winners of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup in the year of 2014 with AIM Autosport.
Sweedler and Bell - IMSA GTD champions in 2015
In 2015, Bell and Sweedler competed in the #63 Ferrari of Scuderia Corsa and they won the GTD class of the IMSA United SportsCar Championship. At Daytona, the #63 Ferrari didn't finish the race, and the only season's victory was achieved at Oak Tree Grand Prix at Virginia International Raceway.
Le Mans podium for three American rookies
In June 2015, Scuderia Corsa's Ferrari was shipped to France to compete at 24 hours of Le Mans. Bell's co-drivers in his Le Mans debut were Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal. The American trio in the Italian car finished 24th overall and 3rd in the GTE Am class.
Class victory at the greatest endurance race
In 2016, Bell, Sweedler and Segal returned to Le Mans, determined to catch an even better result, and they succeeded. The #62 Ferrari snatched the GTE Am class victory after a close fight against another Ferrari of AF Corse.
In the 2016 season of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Bell switched from one to another Italian car: from Ferrari to Lamborghini Huracan.
Bell also has a successful TV career
Townsend Bell is also a familiar TV voice. He had his first TV job in 2003 while competing in Europe, when he was a color commentator for IndyCar Series at Europe's Sky Sports. A year later, he expanded his commentary work to Speed Channel's Formula 1 broadcasts. In recent years, Bell was a color commentator for NBC Sports's IndyCar and Global Rallycross broadcasts as well as the host of 'What'Cha Got' on Fox Sports 1.