Podium run cruelly ended in Canada despite race-winning pace

Ben Barnicoat looked to be on for another bumper IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship weekend, as the calendar travelled north of the border for round 6. Arriving at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park leading the championship, Ben and his teammate Jack Hawksworth, showed impressive pace until a mid-race incident dropped them down the order. Determined work by the Vasser Sullivan crew returned the #14 Lexus RC F GT3 to the track, and Ben scored important points as he brought the car home in P4.

Ben’s IMSA podium-finishing streak, dating back 16-months, was set up well after the opening sessions. The free practice sessions saw the fluro yellow and black #14 Lexus at the sharp end, and improvements continuing to be made. Responsibilities sat with Jack for the quick-fire qualifying run, and he set an immediate benchmark. From here, the pace improved, and he extended the advantage at the front of the field before pitting early to conclude his run. As the session time clicked down, the grid order remained the same, and Jack and Ben secured their second pole position of the season.

A quick start off the line gave Jack an immediate advantage heading into turn 1, and he continued to build the lead as the race got into a rhythm. Within 10-minutes, the #14 held a two second lead, and pitstops started just after the half-hour mark as teams looked to make the first strategic moves. Jack brought the GTD Pro Lexus into the pit lane, staying in the car, but dropping to P2 as he returned to the track.

The #14 reclaimed the lead as the pit stops played out, just before a first Full Course Yellow period. The extended caution period saw another strategy call, and Ben took over as Jack pitted from the lead. Once again, the Lexus rejoined in P2, and Ben was immediately in the fight as the race went back to green, fighting for the race lead. The battle saw Ben pushed wide by the race leader, suffering an impact to the front of the RC F GT3 as he was briefly forced off track. Back on track, he continued to push, but the damage was such that the challenge was short-lived, forcing him to pit for repairs.

The car was pushed behind the wall, and the Vasser Sullivan team set to work to repair the damage. The impact had punctured the radiator and, with the repairs carried out, Ben was sent back out on track for the final stages of the race. From here, Ben returned to turning race-leading laptimes as he brought the #14 Lexus home in P4, limiting the damage to the championship charge, and earning important championship points.

Ben commented: “It was a disappointing end to what was looking to be a very good race for us. Jack had an amazing start and did a phenomenal job in his first two stints controlling the race and doing everything we needed to do. That first yellow – when we pitted and I jumped in the car – it came at the wrong time for our strategy, which meant the #9 jumped us for the lead. On the restart, I had a good run, and I felt like my move was good. I had just kind of cleared the front of him before he made contact with the side of me and pushed us both off track. Sadly, we got a radiator puncture from that. IMSA racing is hard, and I maybe put myself in a little bit of a vulnerable position, but at the same time he definitely helped me on my way off the track. 

“My apologies to all the Vasser Sullivan guys. Our team did a great job up until that point and I probably could’ve avoided that incident. But at the same time, I was going for a win, and we all love winning here. I’m grateful to the 14 Vasser Sullivan crew for repairing our Lexus and getting us back out on the track to finish fourth. We got valuable points for the championship. Obviously, a disappointing day, but it could’ve been a lot worse. We’ll just have to deal with it and roll on to Lime Rock.”