24 Hours of Le Mans takes heavy toll
Grueling race leaves Bell fatigued, sore
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.”
Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Copper MacNeil finished third in the GTE Am division.