It was a textbook race weekend for Ben Barnicoat and his Lexus Racing Vasser Sullivan teammate Jack Hawksworth, as the #14 Lexus took lights-to-flag victory at the Grand Prix of Long Beach. The latest round of the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship ran with relatively little drama for the #14 crew, bringing the RC F GT3 home for a first win of the 2023 season, to now lead the GTD Pro class.
Ben returned to the track 12 months on from scoring his first IMSA podium, and rapid pace in each session saw the newly liveried, 100 Thieves-backed, entry firmly at the front of the field. The first Free Practice period ended with Ben and Jack less than a tenth of a second off the top of the timing screens, and then improved ahead of qualifying to lead the field.
Jack took on qualifying around the bumpy street circuit, and looked to repeat the pace from the earlier sessions. With GTD and GTD Pro entries posting extremely competitive times, it was tight at the front the category as the clock ticked down. With an initial benchmark time set, the #14 then improved further before a red flag in the final moments drew the session to a close, with Jack and Ben securing pole position for 100-minute race.
Ben watched on from the pitwall as the race got started, as his teammate made an immediate move off the line, clearing traffic and looking to run in clear air. However, an incident for the leading prototypes on the opening lap brought out a Full Course Yellow caution, and the race was temporarily neutralised. On the restart, Jack held position and worked on building a lead before the pit window opened.
Running slightly longer than the chasing pack, the Vasser Sullivan team brought the #14 in to the pitlane with just less than 60 minutes remaining. Ben emerged from the pitlane and picked up from where his teammate had left off, running in clear air and building a comfortable gap to the chasing field. He grew this buffer to as much as 10 seconds as the race progressed, working through and negotiating traffic around the tight circuit.
While action was playing out around the circuit, the race itself was relatively calm, compared to the opening rounds of the season so far. Ben was able to maintain his focus on running a clean race, bringing the car home as the laps counted down. A battle for the lead of the prototype class saw Ben’s lead reduced as the traffic around the track became congested in the closing stages, but the 26-year-old maintained his composure and extended the gap to the chasing group as the traffic subsided. The penultimate lap of the race then saw an incident for the leaders bring out a further Full Course Yellow, bringing the race under caution to the chequered flag, as Ben brought the #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 home for the first race win of the season.
Commenting after the first victory of the season, Ben explained: “It feels amazing. We’ve been in great form all year. Third at Daytona, second at Sebring and first here at Long Beach. We’ve just been building up to it. Long Beach is an amazing track to win at. There’s so much history here. It’s our first win in Long Beach and the first win for Lexus and Vasser Sullivan here. It was great to have the 100 Thieves livery on the car this weekend. We’ve both got to thank the team for this amazing effort. The pit stop and the strategy was perfect and gave us the advantage. What can I say? An amazing day!”
Ben and Jack now lead the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship GTD Pro standings, with round 4 remaining in California. The Vasser Sullivan team will be back in action, over the weekend 14-15 May, for the Motul Course du Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.