DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Teamwork and consistency.
You can’t have one without the other, especially if you’re racing for championships. So far this season, Vasser Sullivan has zeroed in on both qualities.
The North Carolina-based team has its Grand Touring programs in the championship chase in both classes of the category after the first two races of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
In this team’s case, consistency is a byproduct of teamwork.
“There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” said Ben Barnicoat, who co-drives the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 with Jack Hawksworth in the GT Daytona PRO (GTD PRO) class for the second straight season. “We’re very fortunate to have a lot of good people involved in the organization and we’ve been able to keep that consistent through my time since I started on the (No.) 14 side. I’ve had the exact same mechanics and engineers since I started. They’re all great people who are very good at their jobs. That’s produced such a great team atmosphere.”
That atmosphere is the root of the team’s early consistency and success in 2023. The No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, with full-time drivers Frankie Montecalvo and Aaron Telitz and endurance specialists Parker Thompson and Kyle Kirkwood, finished fifth in GTD in the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 29 and fifth again in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on March 18. The No. 12 is fourth in GTD points heading to the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15.
The No. 14 Lexus, with full-timers Barnicoat and Hawksworth joined by Mike Conway at Daytona and Kirkwood at Sebring, has recorded GTD PRO finishes of third (Daytona) and second (Sebring) to sit second in the class standings.
Success starts with the basics: rolling off the transporter mechanically sound, timely pit stops and driver changes, consistent strategy calls and minimizing mistakes.
“The simple things are sometimes the hardest things,” Hawksworth said. “If you look at this team over the last year or two, we’ve honed in on getting the basics right. … They may not be the most exciting things sometimes, but they’re the things that are going to get you into the top three or top five at the end of these races.”
The foundation for the basics starts at the top. Co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan have been partners for 12 years, starting where Vasser made his name – Indy cars – and morphing into a fulltime competitor in the WeatherTech Championship with Lexus in 2019.
“I feel that we’re very fortunate to have a good collective group of people,” Barnicoat said. “Jimmy and Sulli are both very, very good at giving us everything we need as a team. If Jack or I feel like we need a certain thing to make it work better, they’re both extra supportive. Jimmy’s been there. He knows what it takes.”
The primary credit for the chemistry and consistency, though, goes to the team’s engineers and mechanics, including Geoff Fickling, race engineer on the No. 14, his chief mechanic, Travis Morgan, and Chris Andrews and Jesse Goldin, race engineer and chief mechanic, respectively, on the No. 12 Lexus.
“As a team, consistency is something we’ve focused on across both cars,” Hawksworth said. “We want to be there every single weekend, putting ourselves in position so that at the end of the race we have a shot. If the car isn’t fast enough at the end, we’ll come away with whatever we can. If it’s a fourth-place car, hopefully we’ll end up with a third. The target is just to be there all the time.”
From the drivers’ perspectives, the two Vasser Sullivan entries don’t exist – or succeed – without each other.
“Aaron and Frankie are both great drivers,” Barnicoat said. “Whatever they learn only helps us improve, and what we learn only helps them improve. That’s the same for the mechanics and engineers. Being in different classes does help us to some extent, but there’s zero rivalry between the 12 and 14. If the 12 has a good day and wins, all of us guys on the 14 car are happy for them.”
The team’s goal before each race weekend is the same: get the best results possible. In other words, use teamwork to find consistency.
“Sometimes you’re not going to have the fastest car and it’s going to be something about the track not suiting your car,” Hawksworth said. “But if you come out of that race with a result that’s better than your pace, that’s what’s going to make the difference.
“We’re still chasing that championship, still trying to put all the ingredients together. We’re getting closer. We’re just working away, race by race and session by session. That’s our mentality this year.”