Ferrari trio seeking Rolex 24 repeat, redemption without drama
One year after celebrating in Victory Lane some four hours after the race, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Jeff Segal have reunited in quest of becoming two-time Rolex 24 at Daytona class winners, but this time under more conventional circumstances.
The trio, along with Scott Tucker and Alessandro Pier Guidi, were declared GT Daytona class winners last year after a penalty for their Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 was overturned post-race, long after podium ceremonies were over.
"It was the ultimate high to the ultimate low to at least the satisfaction of knowing that we had some redemption, even though it was four hours later," Sweedler told Sportscar365.
"Frankly, we’re not even reflecting on it anymore. We’re focused on this year now. It’s 2015 and we’re out for the championship."
While Level 5 has not returned to the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship since the controversial call from race control, Sweedler and Bell went on to claim the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup following a switch to AIM Autosport.
This weekend, the longtime pair are teaming with Segal to make their respective debuts with Scuderia Corsa in a similar Ferrari that took them to victory a year ago.
"Winning the Rolex 24 was the highlight of my career and something I had wanted since I started racing," Segal said. "Unfortunately this year, that feeling of an accomplishment wears off and now we’re back here and we gotta do it again if we want to have that feeling for another year."
This year’s twice-around-the-clock endurance classic presents some new challenges for the trio, who are joined by Anthony Lazzaro as the fourth driver in the No. 63 Ferrari.
Among them includes a switch to GT3 bodywork, which has taken some adjusting to, as well as acclimating with the Giacomo Mattioli-led Scuderia Corsa squad for the first time.
"Even though we as drivers are used to each other, Scuderia Corsa is new for all of us. So we’re trying to merge all of those things. I think we’re starting to hit our stride here," Segal said.
Segal has enjoyed success with the Prancing Horse on numerous occasions, including winning the Grand-Am championship in 2012, and feels the 458 Italia GT3 is well-suited to Daytona’s unique characteristics.
"The thing for the Ferrari is that it’s inherently such a good car," he said. "It’s a car that, by its nature, mid-engine, the weight distribution, the aerodynamics … everything about is a race car, even though it’s a street car.
"We’re one of the cars that don’t need [Balance of Performance] to help us. In fact, BoP is essentially used to hurt us where other cars that don’t make the transition so well from street car to race car need a little bit of help."
A repeat victory, albeit with a different team, could very well be in the cards for Sweedler, Bell and Segal, although all three drivers realize the task ahead of them in the highly competitive GTD category, which features a class-high 19 entries.
One thing is for certain: Sweedler doesn’t want a repeat of the late-race and post-race dramas from last year.
"We want to be part of the podium ceremony this time," he said. "That’s the goal. It was bittersweet last year but clearly this is a new year, a new race. We all have watches but frankly we’d like another one."