After Ben topped the timesheets in the final practice session, temperatures continued to rise at Watkins Glen International. Qualifying took place with a track temperature hitting 50°C, and Ben continued to show good pace, running at the sharp end of the times despite this being his first visit to ‘the Glen’. His first flying lap set the benchmark for the frontrunners, but the times continued to improve with a close battle between the top-5 runners. As the session concluded, Ben secured P4, less than half a second behind pole position.
With hot temperatures continuing over to race day, Ben took the start and looked to make an immediate impact as the lights went green. Quick pace over the opening laps saw him firmly engaged in the lead battle, moving up to P3 within as many laps before the first of the Full Course Yellow periods were called after just 15 mins. With the neutralised field now closely packed, Ben made the most of the opportunity with a very strong restart and continued to run with the leading pack as pitstops started to take place and further Full Course Yellow periods were called. Just after the 70-minute mark, with Ben still in the car, he made another strong restart and gained a further position before making the move for the race lead as the clock approach 2 hours 30 minutes.
Ben maintained the lead, gradually building a gap to the chasing pack over the remainder of his final stint before bringing the fluro yellow and black #14 Lexus into the pitlane for a full service by the Vasser Sullivan team. Handing over to teammate, Kyle Kirkwood, Ben’s job was completed and the #14 returned to the track, still running closely in the lead pack. At the midpoint of the race, the team held P3 before Kyle retook the lead shortly after as pitstop strategies played out.
Positions between the lead trio ebbed and flowed as fuel and tyres were replenished, but a heavy incident for a GTD entry while Kyle ran in P3 looked to be a lengthy Full Course Yellow interjection. However, shortly after this, the race organisers were forced to red flag the race due to the risk of an electrical storm, putting a temporary hold on proceedings.
With the clock still counting down from 90 minutes during this red flag period, the race got back underway with just over 20 minutes remaining and Kyle looking to make the most of the situation. The remaining minutes saw a chaotic ending to the 6-hour battle unfold across all classes, with several frontrunners being forced to make a final stop in the pitlane for a splash of fuel. As the two leaders made a final stop, Kyle moved back into the race lead, but a lap later the #14 was also forced to take a trip to the pitlane.
As the pitstops and last rush to the finish line played out, the red flagged part of the race would also cause confusion over the minimum driver times required. At the line, Ben and Kyle finished in P5, but a post-race penalty for the race leader would then promote the #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 up to P4.
“It has been a day full of emotions to be honest. We arrived here at Watkins Glen on a high from our race win, and I have never raced here before so wasn’t sure what to expect. It is a fantastic circuit, and we were in a great position going into qualifying thanks to the team. We knew we didn’t have the quickest car outright, but the set up gave us one of the best handling, and that showed as we made some moves up the field in the race. We also made the most of the restarts, and I really enjoyed my stints to get us up into the lead. We were unlucky with some traffic, and then the red flag just threw everything up in the air. It didn’t quite play out over the time we had left, and we had to stop for a splash of fuel, but P4 is a solid result and some more good points in the championship.
A big thanks to Vasser Sullivan and the Lexus team for all their hard work throughout a tough and hot day at the track. They did an amazing job to keep us at the front all day, until Mother Nature denied us of a podium! Now, we go again, and full focus on this weekend in Mosport.”