Strong start for Bell leads to powerful close from Auberlen (23 January 2009) Daytona Beach, FL--Matt Bell is looking to establish himself as a big name in the next generation of sports car stars, and the California youngster went a long way in...
Strong start for Bell leads to powerful close from Auberlen
(23 January 2009) Daytona Beach, FL--Matt Bell is looking to establish himself as a big name in the next generation of sports car stars, and the California youngster went a long way in that effort on Friday in his Grand-Am KONI Challenge GS Class debut, winning the Fresh From Florida 200 in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport H&R Springs/StopTech Brakes BMW M3 co-driving with Bill Auberlen.
The race marked Bell's second career start at Daytona, as he moves up from his rookie season of KONI competition in the ST Class in 2008 to compete in the top GS class for the 2009 season.
Using his previous knowledge of the track and the strong qualifying performance he posted on Thursday, Bell opened the race from third on the grid and raced as high as second but never fell out of the top four to open the three-hour race. After a series of yellow flag periods, the race settled into a quick pace as Bell once again moved up to second before turning the car over to co-driver Auberlen near the middle point of the event.
Making the most of the track position he inherited from Bell, Auberlen moved back to the front and staged a mammoth battle for the lead. A well-timed caution period saw the No 96 machine back in for fresh tires and fuel with just under an hour to go. Auberlen led 18 laps, then ceded the lead to a Mustang only to retake the lead with just a handful of laps remaining, just in time as a full course caution froze the field to the finish as the Turner machine turned left into Gatorade Victory Lane to celebrate the win.
"This is really the perfect way to start the season off," said Bell following the champagne celebrations. "The M3 was easy to drive, fun to race, and highly competitive. A typical Turner car. I just tried to be as efficient as possible and not make any aggressive moves at the start. The car was a bit loose, but I just kept focused on conserving as much of the car as possible for Billy while still setting a good pace. The competition at this level is really fierce, so to take a win my first time out is just amazing. Billy ran a great race, and the Turner guys did a fantastic job with this car, so I'm thrilled."
Bell wasn't the only excited driver on the podium, as his co-driver was enthusiastic about Bell's big performance.
"I'm really happy to have a co-driver like Matt, who can bring the car in close to the lead so I can just jump in and go--this is a name that people are going to know soon enough and so I'm excited to start the year off this way," said Bill Auberlen.
"We have pretty high expectations for Matt, but he even exceeded the performance we were looking for from him today," said Turner Motorsport owner Will Turner. "Daytona hasn't always been the best track for us, so to win and have three team cars in the top ten is great."