24 Hours of Le Mans takes heavy toll

Gru­el­ing race leaves Bell fa­tigued, sore

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Josh Peter @joshlpeter11 USA TO­DAY Sports

How tir­ing is it to drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans? Townsend Bell said he couldn’t muster the strength to twist off a beer cap Sun­day in France while cel­e­brat­ing a third-place fin­ish with his two team­mates and me­chan­ics.

“It was pa­thetic,” Bell told USA TO­DAY Sports this week while con­tin­u­ing to re­cu­per­ate.

For Bell, a top Amer­i­can driver, the fin­ish line of his re­cov­ery is The Mas­sage Place in Pa­cific Pal­isades, Calif. With his back sore and his wrists and hands stiff, Bell said Mun­lika Tan­tipiyapot will put him through an in­tense 90minute pro­gram.

“I’ll be sore for three days af­ter she’s done,” Bell said. “I can’t wait for that just to get my back loos­ened up.”

The phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment started weeks be­fore the fa­mous race when Bell sub­jected him­self to gru­el­ing train­ing ses­sions on Catalina Is­land off the coast of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Then, Satur­day af­ter­noon in France, he climbed into a Fer­rari 488 GTE and em­barked on what’s con­sid­ered among the most gru­el­ing auto races.

Dur­ing the 24-hour com­pe­ti­tion, Bell said, he logged 111⁄ hours on the road course — 2 about three hours more than he logged in pre­vi­ous Le Mans races — while driv­ing four shifts in the GTE Am divi­sion.

“So I’m re­ally glad I put in all the ef­fort,” he said, re­fer­ring to his cross train­ing that in­cludes kayak­ing, pad­dle board­ing and moun­tain bik­ing on Catalina Is­land. “There’s noth­ing you can do to sub­sti­tute for driv­ing the car. But I think the way in which I go about try­ing to pun­ish my­self ahead of time for long du­ra­tion puts me in a good phys­i­cal and men­tal state to go into some­thing like that.”

Get­ting only 90 min­utes of sleep dur­ing the 24-hour com­pe­ti­tion, Bell said he awoke from his lone nap so dis­ori­ented that “I could have been passed out in a ho­tel in Tokyo for all I knew.

“You sort of stag­ger to the pits and have an espresso and kind of get psyched up to get back in,” he added. “It’s bru­tal.”

Serv­ing as the work­horse for team­mates Cooper MacNeil and Bill Sweedler, Bell helped en­sure a trip to the podium for the third con­sec­u­tive year. His team fin­ished third in 2015 and first in 2016 in the same divi­sion.

Of course, Bell did not leap for joy when the race ended.

“You’re walk­ing like a 90-yearold man when you get out of the car,” he said. “Re­ally achy. Your back is killing you. Your knees hurt.

“I was pretty shat­tered (phys­i­cally) by the end of it.”

Like the car, Bell needed re­pairs — and sleep. He said he slept well Sun­day on the flight home and got another good night’s rest Mon­day. He is sched­uled to serve as an an­a­lyst for NBC this week­end for the Ver­i­zon IndyCar Series in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and the fol­low­ing week­end he’ll be back on the course in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

“I could race again right if I had to,” Bell said. “But by Thurs­day you’re back to nor­mal.”

DAN ISTITENE, GETTY IMAGES

Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Cop­per MacNeil fin­ished third in the GTE Am divi­sion.

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