Ben Barnicoat wins Petit Le Mans in rookie IMSA season

Sunday, October 2, 2022
IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship - Motul Petit Le Mans - Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta
Ben Barnicoat ended his first season racing with Vasser Sullivan and Lexus Racing USA in the best possible way over the weekend, taking a famous victory at the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship season finale, Petit Le Mans. Ben, alongside teammates Jack Hawksworth and Kyle Kirkwood, recorded an historic first endurance victory for the US brand to claim the runners up spot in the manufacturers’ standings, while Ben also secured an impressive 2nd place in the drivers’ championship in his rookie year.

The pace of the #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 never looked in any doubt over the early stages of the weekend, running quickest as the team prepared for the final qualifying session of the season. Ben’s British colleague, Jack Hawksworth, once again took the quick-fire qualifying session and was immediately among the quickest of the GTD runners. His second flying lap would set a new benchmark, before his next lap extended the advantage, underlining the overall pace of the #14 RC F GT3 with a new class lap record in the process.

After early threats of wet weather, the race got underway on Saturday afternoon in warm and dry conditions. Jack took the start and maintained the lead for the opening stint before looking to make a stop as an incident looked like it may bring out the Safety Car. In an unfortunate case of bad timing, the pitlane closed under Full Course Yellow procedure after Jack was committed at the pitlane entry so was forced to abort the stop. This meant a drive through the pitlane and then a stop a lap later once the pitlane reopened, with Jack making way for Kyle’s first stint. This extra tour through the pitlane dropped the #14 down to P5, but now on a different pitstop strategy to the new leaders.

Several further Full Course Yellow periods saw the field closed back up, and as the pitstop cycles worked through the fluro yellow and black Lexus climbed back up to the race lead as Ben took over for his first run at the turn of the third hour. The Derbyshire-born driver was immediately pushing for position, making up ground and moving forwards as further caution periods slowed the pace. At the four-hour mark, Ben had moved Vasser Sullivan back up to head the field before an extended Safety Car period was called with the team’s sister car being involved in a high-speed incident. Teammate Aaron Telitz walked away uninjured, but now all efforts for the team were focused on the GTD Pro entry.

Making the most of this caution period, the team chose to pit Ben, switching back to Kyle, and the pitstop strategies continued to play out as the #14 regained the lead just after the race reached middle-distance. The stints continued, drawing out a lead, and Ben returned to the track approaching the seven-hour point, with the sun now set. A drop in position after the pitstops was only brief as Ben quickly dispatched of the leading pair to move back to the front of the field. He continued to push on, drawing out the advantage to the chasing pack and he would conclude his final laps, handing the car over to Jack for the final stint with a 3.2-second lead.

The final stint was no less full of action, as the race now continued under the cover of darkness. Jack continued to lead, and the lead pack all stopped for a final scheduled service with one hour remaining. A further Full Course Yellow shortly after caused yet further incident, and closed the field back up once again. The restart saw the #14 drop out of the lead, and Jack was forced to defend hard, suffering contact several times as he managed to hold position before a final caution period was thrown as the leading DPI competitors tangled.

This last Full Course Yellow would remain in place all the way to the flag, bringing the race to a conclusion with a procession across the line, the #14 in P2. However, an immediate investigation into maximum driver times excluded the leading GTD Pro car, promoting Ben and the #14 Vasser Sullivan crew up to take an historic race win.

Delighted to have taken the race win, and also confirmed as runner up in his rookie season, Ben explained:
“What a day! You can see how much this means to everyone here at Vasser Sullivan, and the whole Lexus family. Everyone has worked incredibly hard this year, and we have kept fighting all the way to the very end. We had scored a couple of wins coming into this weekend, so we knew we had the car, the pace, and the team to do it, and this result is the perfect way to sign off the 2022 season.
“I joined them a year ago, and we have made some huge steps forward, but to be able to do this at my first Petit Le Mans with the brand is just incredible. I couldn’t have done it without Jack and Kyle and this entire Vasser Sullivan team. I am so proud of every single one of them, and to be a part of this amazing team!”