A strong showing by Ben Barnicoat and his #14 Vasser Sullivan teammates over the latest IMSA weekend, saw the young Brit on the podium, once again. Ben, and teammate Jack Hawksworth, continued to show their qualifying strength, securing a third pole position of the season, before a race-long battle at the front, which saw the GTD Pro Lexus RC F GT3 cross the line in P2, just 1.5-seconds behind the race winner.
As the season continues to gather pace, Ben arrived at VIRginia International Raceway, leading the IMSA Sportscar Championship standings. The opening practice sessions extended this strong start, with Ben and Jack ended the practice sessions at the sharp end of the timesheets. Qualifying then followed this trajectory, as Jack took to the track. Choosing to run later in the session, the #14 Lexus was immediately on the pace, and Jack’s flying lap saw him collecting purple sectors as he went round. The session ended with him quickest, setting the fastest times across each sector of the whole lap, to take the third pole position of the season.
Race day started in very hot conditions, but with threatening clouds hanging overhead, which would play a minor part later in the race. Jack took the start, with Ben primed and waiting for the later run, and he watched as the #14 Lexus defended the lead into turn 1. From here, Jack steadily extended a gap over the chasing pack over the opening 10 minutes, before a full course caution neutralised the race and brought the field back together. A well-managed restart pulled out a gap again for Jack, and with a 2.3-second lead with two hours remaining, this was extended to just over 6-seconds as the driver change window opened.
With Ben installed in the cockpit, and a full service completed, he rejoined the track and looked to regain track position over the leader who had not pitted. A heavy impact for one of the GTD field brought out another Full Course Caution, and Ben bided his time as the clock ticked down, and the threat turned into a very real rain shower. With the race back to green with around 90 minutes remaining, and the circuit now slippery but the rain easing off, Ben completed the first lap of running, holding station in P2 overall, leading the GTD Pro field. With the sighting lap completed, he made a bold move for the race lead, bringing his closest competitor with him through the rollercoaster section of VIRginia International Raceway. After initially conceding the place in the drag along the straight, Ben defended heavily with a very late braking move, and regained the race lead. He continued to hold on to the fine margin at the front as the final pitstop cycle approached.
Into the final hour, Ben held the lead, and the chasing Corvette opted to pit early. Ben completed a further lap of the track, and was quickly serviced by the Vasser Sullivan crew, but was unable to hold on to the lead as he made his way back on to the track. From here, he battled hard to close the gap to the leader, setting the fastest lap of the race as the time clicked down. As the race entered the final five minutes, he mounted one final charge, closing the gap further, eventually crossing the line just 1.5-seconds behind the race winner.
After the race, Ben explained: “I’m super grateful to everyone at Vasser Sullivan and Lexus for giving us a car that was more than capable of a race win. We wanted to win for everyone on the team, and we were still able to finish a solid P2. It’s frustrating when we had a win in our hands and weren’t able to complete it, but I’m still proud of the job that everyone did, and I’m grateful to have such good people behind us that give us such fast race cars.”
The result, an eighth podium of the year, sees Ben and Jack maintain the championship lead with two rounds to go. The penultimate event of the season now heads to Indianapolis for the TireTrack.com Battle of the Bricks, 15-17 September.