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Sebring Rebound Puts No. 14 Lexus Back in Hunt for GTD PRO Repeat

Vasser Sullivan Will Enter Both Team Cars in GTD Class at Long Beach


By David Phillips


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 2024 NCAA basketball tournament may be well under way, but the biggest rebound in March was already on the books before it started. It didn’t occur on the hardwood; rather, it took place March 16 during the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s annual school of hard knocks, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac.


That’s when Vasser Sullivan’s No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 captured the Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) win at Sebring International Raceway – the first win for the manufacturer on the 3.74-mile road course – simultaneously erasing the unpleasant memories of a DNF in January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona while putting Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat, Vasser Sullivan and Lexus back in the thick of the running for repeating as class driver, team and manufacturer champions, respectively.


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“Huge bounce-back,” team co-owner Jimmy Vasser said. “It was exactly what we knew we needed to do to get back in the championship fight.”


Officially, the No. 14 sits third in the team standings, 105 points behind the leading No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3. But the Ferrari is scheduled to race only in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events, which leaves Vasser Sullivan (and full-season drivers Barnicoat and Hawksworth) trailing the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 that’s running the full slate by a scant seven points.



Lexus is the GTD PRO manufacturer leader following Sebring, 12 points up on Porsche. Vasser expects that battle to be just as tight – and just as important – as the season wears on.


“In GT sports car racing, the manufacturers championship is every bit if not more a championship that we’re fighting for,” he said. “Corvette is going to be there, although they haven’t scored the points yet, but they’ve got two cars in GTD PRO. And it’s just a matter of time before the (Ford) Mustangs get sorted out because that’s a strong organization and a strong driver lineup.


“So, it’s going to come down to consistency once again, like it always does in racing. But I like the position we’re in. Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood (who joins the lineup for the Michelin Endurance Championship races) have shown time and time again that they’re a great trio.”


A ‘Zanardi-Esque’ Performance by Hawksworth


Vasser was proud of how hard the team fought back to overcome an early penalty for Hawksworth hitting a crew member as he was leaving his pit following the first stop. Hawksworth more than atoned for that indiscretion in the closing minutes of the race when he charged to the lead, the piece de resistance coming when he forged past Daniel Serra in the Risi Ferrari with just 20 minutes remaining.


It’s a move that elicited the highest imaginable praise from Vasser, one that had the 1996 IndyCar champion recalling his days as half of one of the sport’s most dynamic pairings.


“How about Hawksworth there at the end?” he said. “He was just a beast. The Ferrari had pace on us, for sure. The Corvette did too. The newer cars have the ability to turn it up a bit; our car is getting a little long in the tooth and it just doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of some of the newer stuff.


“But Jack just wasn’t going to be denied with those passes he made. People say, ‘Oh, he was too aggressive.’  But he never touched anyone. That pass at Turn 1 on Daniel Serra was one of the best. It was so (Alex) Zanardi-esque; Zanardi did stuff like that. And I’m not really referring to when he passed Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca. Zanardi just had a way of muscling his way by.”


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Back in the thick of the GTD PRO championship, Vasser Sullivan turns its attention to its Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) program that will be featured without GTD PRO at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 20. Like its sister car, the No. 12 Lexus had a disastrous Rolex 24, suffering a DNF when it caught fire following what figured to be the final pit stop while in a position to win its class. In contrast to the No. 14, however, that dark cloud followed the No. 12 Lexus to Sebring. Although Frankie Montecalvo, Parker Thompson and Aaron Telitz ran at or near the head of their class for much of the 12 hours, a late coming together with a lapped car resulted in an off-course excursion and a 13th-place race finish.


“We had pace, we ran up front,” Vasser said. “I’m not sure we had anything for the (winning) No. 57 Mercedes-AMG. We were struggling a little bit with a braking issue but we were still hanging in there and we certainly should have been in the top five, maybe the podium.


“We have two poor finishes to start the season and we’re in a hole that we have to dig our way out with the No. 12 car, so we just have to put our heads down and start clicking them off.”


Vasser added that the team will run both cars in the GTD class at Long Beach to bolster its chances in the race and for the team and manufacturer standings. It will require a shuffle of the driver lineups to assure that the Lexuses meet the requirement of a Bronze- or Silver-rated driver in each car and a number change (the No. 14 will run as the No. 89).


“While the No. 12 car is the one that’s in the GTD driver and team championship, having two (entries) at Long Beach will be important for the manufacturers points,” Vasser pointed out. “And that place has always been kind to me as an owner. We won there last year with Jack and Ben (in GTD PRO) and had a double podium the year before. Back to the Indy car days (Vasser won at Long Beach in 1996), there’s just some great memories there and we’re really looking forward to it.”