A great debut for the new AIM Vasser Sullivan team, started by NTT IndyCar Series team co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, became even better on Thursday.
The No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3 initially was registered in third place in the GT Daytona class at Sunday’s completion of the Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance event at Daytona International Speedway. But on Thursday, sanctioning body IMSA levied a drive-time requirement penalty to the No. 29 entry that had provisionally finished second. Results of the infraction lifted the AIM Vasser Sullivan car, co-driven by former Indy car driver and NBC analyst Townsend Bell, Road to Indy star Aaron Telitz, Frankie Montecalvo and Jeff Segal to second in the official finishing order.
The result came just more than three months after the AIM Vasser Sullivan partnership with Lexus was announced for the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Vasser said he was thrilled with the result – and this came before the elevation to second place was announced.
“It seems no matter what Sulli and I do, we seem to have these successes,” said Vasser, referring to the partnership with Sullivan that yielded a 2013 Indianapolis 500 triumph with driver Tony Kanaan and a late agreement to partner with Dale Coyne Racing in fielding Sebastien Bourdais last year in the NTT IndyCar Series. Bourdais won the 2018 season opener, and an extension of the partnership with Coyne has already been announced through 2020.
“Last year, we did the INDYCAR thing together away from KV and partnered with Dale Coyne and we won St. Petersburg right out of the box,” Vasser added. “We won Indy together and now a podium here. When things are meant to be, they’re meant to be, right?”
The race was red-flagged twice for torrential rain and dangerous driving conditions. It ended up being shortened 10 minutes from the 24-hour time limit. Telitz has experience in the rain, winning the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race at Watkins Glen in 2017 that saw a torrential downpour.
“I was a little excited when it started raining during the end of one of my stints,” said Telitz. “I got to go around in the rain a little bit here when it was wild and crazy. It was a long day. I think I underestimated how mentally taxing a 24-hour race would be so I’m a little frazzled, but this feels really good.”
Telitz is scheduled to continue with the sports car team at the remaining IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races. The Wisconsin native also plans to spend more time with the INDYCAR leg of the team as well.
“You’ll see him as part of our Dale Coyne with Vasser-Sullivan squad,” Sullivan said. “He’ll be learning the ropes of what we do over there in INDYCAR, and we believe in that kid on the racetrack and we want to give him an opportunity in the future if we can give him an opportunity.
“We’ve got a commitment to each other that he’s going to be spending some time with us around INDYCAR and then, you never know, we’ll see what materializes.”
Telitz earned the praise of the team owners and veteran driver Bell after bringing the car back to the pits each stint with no damage and figuring how to make it go fast in difficult conditions.
“Aaron has been a terrific addition,” said Bell, the 2001 Indy Lights champion and a veteran of 39 Indy car starts. “I love seeing a young American driver who has worked his tail off for everything. Much like I did coming up through the ranks, (Telitz) worked his butt off to get every opportunity and come into sports car racing. Maybe not as his first choice (but to) realize, ‘Wow, this is not only a lot of fun, it’s great, competitive, hard racing,’ and we think he’s terrific.”
For Bell, this year represents his first full-time sports car drive since winning the 2015 GTD class championship in IMSA. A runner-up finish in the team’s first race was the perfect way to start off a championship run.
“It just really speaks to kind of the commitment that everybody on this race team that works so hard to get a whole new organization up and running,” said Bell. “For everybody at Lexus and AVS, it’s humbling, frankly, to be standing here and think, ‘I’m just a guy who wheels it around.’ So much work has gone into this, so I’m just incredibly proud for everybody and thrilled that we’re starting our season and our team off in this manner.”
Bell will continue commentating on INDYCAR broadcasts for NBC Sports Group this year, but he has not ruled out returning to the driver’s seat for the Indy 500.
“Never say never,” he said. “There’s always a little twinkle in the back of my head that says, ‘If the golden opportunity presented itself, I’d have to look at it.’ Indianapolis is my religion, it’s everything to me and it’ll be fun to go commentate that race this year, but I always in the back of my head feel like I can win that race. Somehow, I just fit well there as a driver and have always been competitive.”