Townsend Bell has moved into the frame as one of the drivers being considered as Mark Webber's team-mate at Jaguar Racing for 2004, but admits that his American roots may have had something to do with the offer of a test in Spain this week.

The 28-year old former Indy Lights champion will be one of several drivers testing for Jaguar at Valencia's Ricardo Tormo circuit between 25-27 November, and he is sure that the connection between himself, America and team engine supplier Ford has had a certain amount to do with his selection to join Austria's Christian Klien and Briton Justin Wilson - who finished the season alongside Webber - as the winter testing 'season' begins in earnest.

Although Jaguar has insisted that the forthcoming test is not a shoot-out to decide Webber's partner for 2004 - and that it will more than likely give opportunities to other drivers at a later date - a good run could go some way to cementing certain names more firmly in the reckoning. Jaguar has also expressed an interest in Alex Wurz, currently working as a test driver for McLaren-Mercedes, having almost landed the Austrian when replacing Antonio Pizzonia after the 2003 British Grand Prix.

The Jaguar outing will be Bell's second in an F1 car, having conducted straight-line tests with BAR-Honda at Lurcy-Levis in central France. On that occasion, Bell complete more than 930 miles - approximately 1500km - of running on a one-mile track as he worked closely with Honda engineers to collect data for the end-of-season US and Japanese Grands Prix.

Despite the disappointment of not making the most of a CART opportunity with Patrick Racing in 2002, and missing out on a possible IRL ride with former champions Panther Racing for next season, Bell insists that his goal was always to become the first US driver to compete in F1 since Michael Andretti's miserable 1993 campaign. He is also candid enough to admit that his US connections - and F1's desire to build its presence on the other side of the Atlantic - have played a big part in the offer of a test.

"It is just a question of getting the right opportunity," Bell said, "Maybe that comes tomorrow; maybe that comes next year or the year after. Whether it is fair or not, I get a bit of an advantage because I'm an American, and that is nice, for once.

"I'd like to play a small part in making F1 more popular in the United States, which would be great for everyone, not just myself. None of it matters, however, unless you are getting the results on the racetrack."

This season, Bell took a determined step towards raising awareness of his ability among the F1 fraternity by competing in the FIA F3000 Championship with the Arden International team, running alongside Sweden's Bjorn Wirdheim, who went on to win the title. The highlight of Bell's season came in the Hungarian round, where he took third place and became the first driver from the United States to finish on a podium in an F3000 race. He ended up ninth in the final points standings, but helped Arden to clinch to teams' title to go with Wirdheim's driver's crown.

 

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