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Disastrous Daytona Doesn’t Deter Vasser Sullivan

Double DNF Strengthens Defending GTD PRO Champion Team’s Resolve


By John Oreovicz


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship campaign got off to a punishing start for Vasser Sullivan and Lexus.


The team’s No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 shared by Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat, Mike Conway and Kyle Kirkwood – the defending season champion of the Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) class – was knocked out contention by another car’s spin with Conway leading in the just the second hour of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.


To make matters worse, the No. 12 Lexus that had taken the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) pole in the hands of driver Parker Thompson succumbed to a mechanical failure while vying for a podium finish with just under an hour remaining in the twice-around-the-clock marathon. You could say the team’s Rolex 24 was bookended by frustration.


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“Conway getting caught up with one car, out while leading in the first hour, and then the other car falls out while on the lead lap headed toward a top five in the last hour, it’s hard to write those kind of scripts,” Vasser Sullivan co-owner Jimmy Vasser said.


“I don’t know what more we could have done as a team as far as preparation and execution. We were just rolling the whole time and staying out of trouble. You need a little old-fashioned racing luck when it comes to that race, for sure.”


Barnicoat started in GTD PRO for the 24-hour endurance contest in the No. 14 and quickly took the class lead. The Lexus retained the lead when Conway took over at the first pit stop, just 40 minutes into the race.


Exiting Turn 2 following the restart, Dennis Andersen spun the No. 20 MDK by High Class Racing entry from the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class, blocking the track. Conway had nowhere to go, and the resulting impact destroyed the front bodywork and radiator of the No. 14 Lexus. After being trucked back to the garage on a flatbed, the car rejoined the race about an hour later but was forced to retire in the 16th hour, finishing 11th in class.


“Not much I could do to avoid the spinning car in front of me,” stated Conway. “Maybe I could’ve seen it coming, but once it happened, I had nowhere to go.”


“Wrong place, wrong time,” Barnicoat added. “That happens sometimes in motorsports. Fantastic job by the Vasser Sullivan crew to get the car ready to go. We were still able to get some points from the day and we did everything we could to maximize what we could. Just bummed for everyone that put so much effort into this race.”


The No. 12, with drivers Thompson, Frankie Montecalvo, Aaron Telitz and Ryo Miyata, led 146 laps and remained in the mix for the GTD class win heading into the final hours. Thompson was running fifth when the car caught fire exiting the pits following its last scheduled stop, causing the final full-course caution of the race.


“To have it go away like that has me lost for words, honestly,” Thompson said. “The pit box did an amazing job to keep us in the top five all day long. Unfortunately, we have to wait another 12 months to get another crack at (winning the Rolex 24).”


With this year’s Rolex 24 in the history books, Vasser Sullivan’s focus turns toward defending its GTD PRO championship while trying to accomplish a unique double by adding a GTD crown.


Barnicoat and Hawksworth won the 2023 GTD PRO title in the No. 14 Lexus with a margin of 112 points; they left Daytona with a 144-point deficit to the class-leading Risi Competizione Ferrari, which is expected to contest only the five IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds. Among full-season contenders, the No. 77 AO Porsche 911 GT3 R finished second in GTD PRO at Daytona and holds a 123-point advantage over the No. 14.


The No. 12 Lexus faces an even bigger mountain to climb in GTD, dropping 169 behind the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3. But with a GTD field hovering around 20 cars at the remaining nine races, it’s way too early to admit defeat.


“We’re in a hole in the points after the first race, which isn’t exactly confidence inspiring,” said Vasser. “We’re confident in our execution as a team. But the competition has stepped up. There’s some new cars, with the Mustang and the Corvette, and there are more cars in both of the GT classes.


“But we’re confident in our people and our execution as a team. We just really need to start digging out of this hole in the points.”