The qualifying result achieved during the Roar Before The 24 set the Vasser Sullivan team up with a strong starting position on the third row. Further improvements to the setup of the dayglo Lexus RC F GT3 ahead of the weekend saw the team arrive at the iconic circuit in Florida feeling quietly optimistic. However, wet weather during the Free Practice sessions saw the team unable to trial these enhancements, instead opting to limit track running as it would be of little benefit with the race forecast to be dry.
The 60th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona got underway in cold but sunny conditions, with Ben taking the start for his event debut. As the green flag waved to set the clock ticking, Ben was immediately on the move, making up positions on the opening lap as the 61-car grid fought its way around the banking. He continued to push and, over the course of his opening stint, moved up and down the order at the front of the field, briefly taking the GTD PRO class lead. This front-running battle would prove to be how the team would run for the duration of the race, leading a total of 42 laps.
The race was heavily interrupted throughout with extended full course yellow and safety car periods which reset the order and neutralised any lead that had been built up. The team also successfully overcame two time penalties, including a three and a half minute stop/go penalty. Importantly, Ben and his Vasser Sullivan teammates remained firmly in the hunt for the lead throughout, running on the lead lap and in contention for a strong result. With temperatures dropping close to freezing once the sun had set, tyres – and tyre temperature management in particular – would be a key factor, and it proved to be a particular strength for the #14 Lexus RC F GT3 which made gains on the leaders on every race restart. This continual pressure, along with strong strategy calls from the pitlane saw Ben retake the race lead shortly before daybreak.
Further Safety Car interventions and pitstop scheduling saw progress for the bold Lexus ebb and flow as the sun rose and temperatures started to climb. A high rate of attrition saw the grid thin out by morning, but Ben, Kyle and Jack continued to fight and were firmly in the top-5 in class, consistently among the quickest of the GT field. Ben signed off his final stint in the car in the same way he had started, battling for position and in the thick of the action as the clock ticked down.
Handing over to Jack for the closing stint, Ben could only watch as two further full course yellow periods set up a grandstand finish to the 24-hour event across all classes. The action-packed final sprint ended with the #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus Racing RC F GT3 taking the chequered flag in a hard-fought 4th place to sign off a successful opening weekend to the championship.
“What a great way to start my new journey with my new family of Lexus Racing USA and Vasser Sullivan; P4 at the Rolex 24 at Daytona! We kept ourselves on the lead lap and right in contention until the dying moments of the race. Although we didn’t quite have enough to fight for the win today, we had a great race, and the whole team hit their marks at every step.
“We would have liked a bit more than P4 given how close it was at the end, but it is a great way to kick things off and some great points in the championship heading to Sebring. I am incredibly proud of everything we have achieved as a team already, and I feel it is a great way for me to start this relationship. We have shown our competitors that we mean business and we will be taking a fight to this championship.”
Ben returns to IMSA action with Lexus Racing and Vasser Sullivan for round 2 of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship over the weekend of 16-19 March, contesting the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.