Action-packed visit to Road America sees first GTD Pro victory for Barnicoat

Monday, August 8, 2022
IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship - IMSA Fastlane Sportscar weekend - Road America
Pole position to victory doesn’t come close to telling half the story from the race result at Road America for Lexus Racing factory driver Ben Barnicoat, and the Vasser Sullivan team. In an action-packed endurance battle in challenging conditions lasting from lights to flag, Ben and his teammate Jack Hawksworth secured their first GTD Pro victory with the #14 Lexus RC F GT3 to move up to 2in the championship.

The team looked in a good position in the early sessions, despite an initial fuelling issue which was quickly resolved, and the pair topped the initial GTD Pro practice session timings. Qualifying would be a close battle with the championship-leading Porsche, which would spill over into the race, but first blood went the way of the Vasser Sullivan team. After letting the rest of the field set early benchmarks during the 15-minute session, Jack took to the track and his efforts clinched the first GTD Pro pole position for the team.

With the forecast rain not appearing for the start of the race, the track went green with the field running on slick tyres. The track was initially dry, but with damp patches, and action started as soon as the leaders crossed the start line, with contact made before Jack held position into turn 1. From here, the #14 fluro yellow and black Lexus was under continued pressure and forced to defend hard as the top-2 traded fastest sector and lap times before spots of rain started to fall around the circuit. The conditions continued to worsen as clouds descended over Road America, and the leaders were managing damp conditions along with lapping traffic as Jack continued to absorb pressure from behind.

With rain now falling, the Safety Car was scrambled as a prototype lost control and span off track. The resulting extended Full Course Yellow period led to the pitlane becoming extremely busy as the GTD grid made the switch to wet weather tyres. At this point, Ben took over and headed out on the wet track running in P2. A chaotic restart got the race back underway, with much of the prototype field still running on slick tyres on a now wet track, and Ben made an immediate pass to retake the lead.

The continued pressure that Jack had experienced in the opening stint resumed over the following laps. Ben worked hard to defend his position, while dealing with challenging conditions and working his way around the longest circuit on the IMSA calendar with cars from different classes out of position as they ran different strategies. In a very rare error, Ben ran slightly wide just before middle distance, which was enough to surrender the lead, but a further Full Course Yellow was thrown after yet more incidents. As the GTD field, once again, streamed into the pitlane, Ben remained in the car and the Vasser Sullivan crew worked quickly to switch the RC F GT3 back to slicks and send him on his way.

With over an hour left on the clock, Ben once again quickly made his move after the restart and was back into the lead of the GTD Pro class. The championship-leaders pitted under green flag conditions with less than an hour remaining and, as a further Full Course Yellow was called, Ben worked hard to fuel save as best he could to leave him in a strong position for the restart knowing that a further stop would drop him down the order. He managed the restart extremely well, and worked to extend his lead, while his main competition moved back up the order.

The following laps saw Ben maintain the gap at the front, battling hard and continuing to deal with traffic as he made his way towards the final 10 minutes. A final twist then saw yet another Full Course Yellow thrown as one of the lead prototypes suffered a heavy impact. With the track now covered in debris, the race was brought under caution and the clock continued to tick down, ending with Ben crossing the line at the front of the field to take the Brit’s milestone first GTD Pro victory of the year for Lexus Racing USA and Vasser Sullivan.

Fresh from the top step of the podium, Ben explained:
“Absolutely amazing weekend all round. Pole position to race win sounds like it was fairly straightforward, but that was one of the toughest stints I have ever driven. The conditions threw a lot at us, and I was doing everything I could to fuel save where I could, but this is the result of a huge team effort. Jack did a great job in qualifying and the opening stint to set things up for me, and the team were absolutely amazing all weekend long to give us the package to keep fighting to the very end.
"We definitely had some challenges with the weather, and some great battles all the way through, but it is great to finally take the W in GTD Pro. We set out this season to challenge for the title, and this has taken a bit longer than we all hoped, but we are still in the fight heading to VIR, and it is great to finally get that win with Vasser Sullivan and Lexus Racing USA.”

The result moves Ben up to in the championship standings heading to the penultimate round, the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway over the weekend, 26-28 August.