DETROIT – With 14 turns packed into 2.3 miles, the Belle Isle street circuit presented a host of challenges to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Daytona (GTD) competitors in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic. However, the key to victory Saturday lay as much on the quarter-mile stretch of pit lane as on those 2.3 miles of racetrack.
For canny race strategy and a flawless pit stop put the No. 17 Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Kyle Kirkwood and Ben Barnicoat into a lead Barnicoat was destined to hold to the finish, leading the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn across the line by 2.263 seconds after 100 minutes and 67 laps of green-flag racing.
The win was the first of the season for Vasser Sullivan Racing and the first career GTD victory for both Barnicoat and Kirkwood – in the first Belle Isle race for either driver.
Though the winning Lexus started from the GTD pole, De Angelis got the drop on Kirkwood at the green flag to thrust the No. 27 Aston Martin into the lead. The Canadian duly maintained the top spot for 24 laps from a fuel-saving Kirkwood before peeling off to the pits for the only stop of the race. Crucially, when the Aston Martin returned to the track, Gunn was on cold tires even as Kirkwood ran another lap on hot Michelins before hitting pit road for service and to hand the Lexus over to Barnicoat.
“We got passed by the time I hit the throttle at the start, which was weird,” said Kirkwood. “It was the first time I’d been on pole in the middle of a pack of GTDs and Daytona Prototypes. It was all new, but I just raced hard, raced clean and saved as much fuel as I possibly could, which put us in position to do an overcut (going one lap farther than De Angelis) and the overcut worked perfectly.
“Then the Vasser Sullivan guys did an awesome job and we had a speedy pit stop, and that put us out in the lead. And as everyone knows, track position is absolutely crucial around this place.”
Indeed, when he emerged from pit lane, Barnicoat was a bit surprised at the length of his advantage on Gunn – some four seconds.
“Was I surprised? Yes and no,” he said. “We knew Kyle had saved a lot of fuel running behind the Aston. And we knew we have the best pit crew in the whole field.
“From there, it was easy – initially. I started saving fuel but then there were a couple of laps in the middle where it got quite tight managing to let the prototypes come through. That allowed them to get close, so from there I had to scrap the fuel saving for a while and drop the hammer a bit. I’d like to say it was straightforward but winning is never straightforward. You’ve got to have a great group of people around you and fortunately we do with the Vasser Sullivan team.”
On the heels of a runner-up finish at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course three weeks ago, Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers brought the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 home in third place, with the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Frankie Montecalvo and Aaron Telitz finishing fourth.
Stevan McAleer and Mike Skeen finished fifth in the No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 to retain the GTD season points lead, unofficially 34 ahead of Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen, who finished seventh Saturday in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The race was also the fourth of eight counting toward the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup. Snow, Sellers and the No. 1 BMW lead that battle by 134 points over Robby Foley, Bill Auberlen and the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW that wound up in eighth place on Saturday.