24 March, 2011
Bell continued with his 2011 season of racing with a trip across the Atlantic for the Sebring 12 Hours race, one of the classic American endurance events which is always a tough test for driver and car. Driving the Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia alongside Ed Brown and Guy Cosmo, it was Bell's first race in the new Ferrari race car. The second of a two-car entry for the team, the No.002 car showed plenty of potential, finishing in tenth place.
Testing preceded the Sebring 12 hours, giving Bell his first chance to sample the Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia GT race car. The team used the test to develop the car set up in preparation for the long race head. The first official practice sessions kicked off on Thursday with clear blue sky to greet the teams. Bell and his team mates all had stints behind the wheel, but with 56 cars in the field there was interrupted running. The No.002 car posted fifth quickest lap in the second of the sessions, showing the promise of its competitiveness.
The qualifying session saw the No.002 Ferrari 458 post seventh quickest lap in its class, although with a Ferrari 430 topping the time sheet and less than a second covering the top eight cars, it was evident that there was much more to come from this new 458 introduction for 2011. Bell was comfortable in the car and took little time to reacquaint himself with the bumps and bends of the Sebring circuit, but with his season-long American Le Mans Series team mates understandably taking priority, Bell had only 12 laps in the car ahead of the race.
Bell reflected, "With this new model of Ferrari it is at the beginning of its development phase, so the team is learning about the car, as am I. There is so much potential in the car, but only limited time, so the focus is on getting the car right for the Sebring track first. There are four Ferrari 458 cars in the field and our sister car topped the class in the evening, which is encouraging."
Bell's team mate Cosmo took the first stint for the race, lying ninth at the end of the first hour with 25 laps completed. After 50 laps the team was up to sixth in class, but dropping to ninth at a quarter distance and tenth at the halfway point. As the Sebring race wore on it claimed a number of victims, and with the No.002 Ferrari 458 also needing to head to the pits after ten hours of running, the team identified an issue with the gearbox. They continued on with the race, despite losing first and second gear, but had dropped off their lap times, so were unable to improve on their position, finally taking the tenth spot when the chequered flag fell."
Bell summed up this year's Sebring experience saying, "All four of the Ferrari 458 cars competing in this great race had the teething problems which often accompany the introduction of a new car, particularly in such a tough race which is very hard on the cars. We did have a battle on our hands having lost the low gears in the closing stages, but we kept going, so the team were able to complete the race distance. For me I now have valuable early season knowledge of the 458 and more experience of Sebring, which is always useful. I've enjoyed my trip and hope that I can return for another crack at this race as it is one of the top endurance events in the world."