Bureaucracy happens.. Justin Bell's status questionable for Lime Rock Trans-Am. Derhaag recruits Kenny Wilden to substitute. Lime Rock Park, CT -- Justin Bell, the 2001 Trans-Am Series Rookie-of-the-Year and two-time series winner enjoyed only a...
Justin Bell's status questionable for Lime Rock Trans-Am. Derhaag recruits Kenny Wilden to substitute.
Lime Rock Park, CT -- Justin Bell, the 2001 Trans-Am Series Rookie-of-the-Year and two-time series winner enjoyed only a brief celebration following his third place finish at Mosport on May 19. Justin Bell remains in Toronto while the US Immigration and Naturalization Service is sorting out his visa. He cannot return to his home in the US until his visa has been renewed, which puts his status in jeopardy to start the #40 XtremeLens/Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette in the Mohegan Sun Trans-Am Series race at Lime Rock Park, Monday May 27.
"Needless to say, this is a very frustrating situation," explains Bell. "I cannot and will not jeopardize my business, the team or my future. I am prepared to leave as soon as the visa is issued and in my hands. Until then, I can only sit and wait. In the meantime, Kenny Wilden will be filling in. Jim and I are in total agreement that this is for the good of the team and our sponsors. Jim has to put a driver in the car who, besides me, has a shot at winning. Still, It's kind of like having to miss a dinner date and your friend takes the girl out instead. It gets the job done, but it's not nearly as satisfying."
Born in Britain, Justin has been living and working legally in the United States for the past year. What would ordinarily have been a routine renewal, his visa application was delayed, due in large part to the events of 9/11. Assured weeks ago by his attorney that his paperwork would arrive in time for him to return to the United States after the race at Mosport, Justin remains in Canada until this is everything is in proper order.
"We knew the risk if I left the U.S, that I would not be allowed back, at least not right away," said Bell. "But you can't win in motorsports without some degree of risk. Yes, I could have stayed in the US and not raced at Mosport. If I didn't, then any chance for the championship would be done for. As you can see by the result, we made the right decision and we scored some valuable points. Now we can only wait and hope for the best."
Jim Derhaag had several options as to who would drive this weekend if Justin were unable to compete. Derhaag is a 27-year veteran of Trans-Am and considered getting back behind the wheel. Instead, he called upon his former team driver Kenny Wilden. Wilden won the Trans-Am race with Derhaag at Laguna Seca in 2000.
"Kenny is the best man for the job right now," said Derhaag. "He is a supportive team player and he already knows the car. He will be driving this weekend with the full understanding that as soon as Justin arrives, he will step out of the car. Justin is totally comfortable with this. If he weren't, I wouldn't be doing this. I would drive the car, but I have other responsibilities that come first. Kenny is capable of winning in this car. We have an obligation to our sponsors to put the car up front."
When asked about Justin driving a car setup by Wilden, Jim Derhaag asserted that there would be few changes, if any. "Both Kenny and Justin have similar driving styles. They both use the throttle as a rheostat, not a switch. They don't complain about a car being loose on corner exit because they stomped on the pedal."
Wilden, a three-time sports car champion and CART Toyota Atlantic standout, echoes Jim's feelings about this weekend. "I don't think that Jim expects me to go out and not develop the car to win. Whether it's Justin or me, Jim wants to win. I'm going to make the car as comfortable as I can for either of us to win."
Trans-Am Chief Steward Terry Dale has already ruled that Justin will be permitted to race, even if he does not qualify. If Bell arrives in time for the start of the Trans-Am race, he will start at the back of the field. Round Three of the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup from Lime Rock Park will be televised live on Speed Channel, Monday, May 27 at 3:00 PM.
Justin Bell is the Trans-Am Series' 2001 AmeriSuites Rookie-of-the-Year. Bell won the final two races of the 2001 season in the Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette. A class-winner at Le Mans and FIA GT2 Champion, Justin is the managing partner of the Justin Bell GT Motorsports Experience, a Chevrolet Driving school located in Palm Beach County, FL.