Dramatic Watkins Glen win extends IMSA championship lead

An action-packed Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen saw the battle for the GTD Pro honours go down to the wire, with a grandstand finish. Ben Barnicoat and his #14 Vasser Sullivan teammate Jack Hawksworth delivered another determined drive from P3 on the grid, battling to the lead, before a late penalty forced a further fight back to the front in the closing laps. The result extends the lead in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for the British pair, who have now scored an impressive nine consecutive podiums.

With the threat of rain hanging over a damp but drying circuit, Ben watched on as Jack took on the qualifying shootout. The #14 Lexus looked to be perfectly set up for the conditions as it was immediately quickest, and firmly in the fight for provisional pole position. With pace improving across the field, Jack was firmly in contention, posting consistently quickest sector times as the time ticked down. A final roll of the dice saw the order reshuffled in the closing minutes, and the fluro yellow and black Lexus RC F GT3 ended the session in P3.

Race day saw Jack take the start as part of a packed field. With 29 cars battling in the GTD and GTD Pro classes, the overall grid totalled 57 cars. With Jack immediately in a battle as the track went green, an incident on the opening lap brought out a Full Course Yellow. The #14 Lexus then held position off the restart, before a late call for a stop just before the pitlane closed after a further incident. After a rapid service by the Vasser Sullivan crew, Jack remained in the car and headed back out on track and, as the rest of the field stopped the following lap, he assumed the lead of the race.

Just ahead of the two-hour mark, Jack made way for Ben, and the young Brit moved back up the order to regain the lead as the stops played out within two laps. From here, he didn’t look back over his opening stint, building a five second lead as the race approached middle distance. Ben was the first of the GTD Pro field to pit, remaining in the car after stopping just ahead of the three-hour mark. He regained the lead once again after the field stopped, before a further caution was thrown after the chasing Lamborghini was involved in a multi-car incident.

Ben made a further stop, staying in the cockpit for a third stint and, at the four-hour mark, still held the lead. His final stint ran relatively incident-free, building a strong lead which extended to as much as 15-seconds, before bringing his mammoth effort to a close. Another strong stop by the Vasser Sullivan crew saw Jack head down the pitlane, but picking up a drive-through penalty for a speed infringement as he headed back out on track.

Dropping to P2, but still in the fight thanks to the margin built up over the earlier stints, Jack had one focus, reeling in the leading Corvette. The following laps saw the gap brought down gradually, as he looked to see if there was a way through for the lead, while also defending his position as the top three cars were separated by just over one second. With just over 20 minutes remaining, Jack made a bold move down the inside of turn 8, cleanly passing for the lead, followed closely by the chasing Ferrari. Jack negotiated the traffic and defended hard as the race timer clicked slowly down, before a final incident brought out another Full Course Yellow with just three minutes remaining. From here, the race was brought under caution, and the field would cross the line behind the safety car.

Fresh from IMSA Victory Lane, an emotional Ben explained: “What a weekend, what a race, and what a team. We felt we had a bit of work to do before the race started, but it was chaotic from the very start, and Jack and the team did a top job to take the lead before my stint. The car felt great, and everything and everyone just worked perfectly. The penalty wasn’t part of the plan, but it just seemed to spur Jack on even more, and there is no-one else I would want to share a car with. He absolutely smashed it, and it was an amazing effort by the whole team. 

“A big congratulations to the #12 crew as well for their win, great to get the double win for Lexus Racing and Vasser Sullivan, and extend our lead at the front of the championship. There is still work to do, but I am so proud to be part of this amazing team, and feel like we get stronger with each event. Bring on Mosport!”