AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus hitting its stride early in 2019
AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus hitting its stride early in 2019
The fusion of new partners operating the Lexus RC F GT3 program in the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, AIM Vasser Sullivan, has already paid dividends. They’re fresh off their second win in a row, with Detroit’s street course following the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
While a previous team developed the Lexus its first two years in the highly competitive IMSA GT Daytona class, it’s been the blend of sports car veterans and longtime IndyCar team partners that have extracted the most from its two cars so far this year.
The AIM component involves the sports car triumvirate of Andrew Bordin, Ian Willis and Keith Willis. James “Sulli” Sullivan and Jimmy Vasser are longtime IndyCar partners and Indianapolis 500-winning co-owners.
Add in the fact three of the four full-season GTD drivers are new to the team this year and it’s been a massively impressive start.
HAWKSWORTH LEADS NO. 14 CHARGE
Jack Hawksworth has finally gotten the monkey off his back after two fast but fruitless seasons in 2017 and 2018 from a results standpoint.
The rapid Englishman secured a class-high four pole positions and five fastest race laps in 2018. However over two seasons and 23 starts in class, he’d never even finished on the podium.
As the one driver who’s stayed with the program this season, the 28-year-old from Bradford noted the improvements for 2019.
“It’s the collaboration of a few different entities, and every single one of them is committed to doing a good job,” Hawksworth said. “Look at last year to this year, we’re doing the job in the pit lane. We haven’t lost a spot in the pits.
“To be honest racing is a lot about getting the basics right. Fundamentally many teams don’t, but we are. We’re extracting more pace from the car too.”
The team opted for two left side MICHELIN® Pilot® Sport GT S8M tires for both its No. 12 and 14 cars on the one pit stop, so they ran the entire race on the same set of right side tires.
“The AVS Lexus crew and Richard did a fantastic job to put me in position to win the race,” he said.
“Tire-wise, it was very interesting race. We only took two tires at the pit stop. The Michelins hung on really well. We could push all race. Two hours on the same set of tires? That’s unheard of racing.”
The other welcome surprise for Hawksworth is his new Silver-rated co-driver Richard Heistand. Heistand has returned to racing after roughly a decade hiatus, and transitioned back into the IMSA paddock after a year in Porsche Supercup in 2018.
“We have a strong Silver driver in Richard,” Hawksworth said. “Richard is doing a great job in qualifying, so he’s getting me the car up front. We haven’t lost a spot in the pits. He’s been solid.”
Like Hawksworth, Heistand has a formula car background first. In his last full season of Formula Atlantic in 2007, he raced against eventual IndyCar drivers such as James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens, JR Hildebrand, Simona de Silvestro and future sports car stars like Jonathan Bomarito and John Edwards.
Heistand’s pole at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course marked his “arrival” of note. That helped to place Hawksworth in position to capitalize and eventually overtake Mario Farnbacher for the win there. Hawksworth also had the built-in advantage of knowing the intricacies of Farnbacher’s abilities, as the two shared a Lexus in a handful of 2018 races.
The 2019 season is anticipated to be the first year where Hawksworth won’t have had a midseason co-driver change, either. That builds continuity and consistency as the No. 14 car works towards achieving either, or perhaps both of, the WeatherTech Championship full-season and WeatherTech Sprint Cup titles.
In 2017, Hawksworth raced with Robert Alon through Lime Rock and then with Scott Pruett from Road America through Road Atlanta. Last year, as noted, Farnbacher either raced alongside or substituted for Hawksworth’s usual co-driver David Heinemeier Hansson on two occasions.
CONSISTENT, STRONG START FOR NO. 12 CAR
The success of the No. 14 car is not meant to overlook the sister No. 12 car, which also has had a very good, consistent start to the season.
With Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo having raced together as co-drivers for several seasons in IMSA, they know each other’s driving styles and performance quite well. Both are back for a full-season campaign in IMSA after limited, often endurance-only runs in recent years.
Bell was particularly adept at adapting to changing circumstances at Detroit last weekend. He was balancing both his Lexus driving commitments in IMSA and his broadcasting work with NBC Sports for the pair of NTT IndyCar Series races.
From the driver’s standpoint, he knew how the track was evolving over the course of the weekend and from the broadcast booth, he saw how it was changing as the Michelin rubber in IMSA would need to interact with other two other brands of rubber from IndyCar and Trans-Am.
That knowledge may have helped him exploit grip where perhaps it didn’t seem possible. After a restart, Bell scythed past Katherine Legge in the fountain section of the track to move up to third place. The pass helped net Bell and Montecalvo their second 2019 podium of the year.
“He got a great start with clean, smart decision making and gave me the perfect car,” Bell said of Montecalvo. “The pit stop was awesome for both cars – the 12 and the 14. Both were super fast and we matched those guys.
“The restart came and I kind of slotted in there and it got a little messy in front of me. Jack (Hawksworth) made a move, checked up the guys for me and I ducked inside that 57 (Katherine Legge) and dropped it down to first gear and got by them.”
Montecalvo added, “I couldn’t be happier. Like I have said before, the more time the AIM Vasser Sullivan team is together, the better we get.”
They also finished second at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, thanks to the efforts of Daytona extras Jeff Segal and Aaron Telitz. Telitz returns next race at Watkins Glen for the third round of the Michelin Endurance Cup in search of delivering the No. 12 car its first win of the year. The 27-year-old Wisconsinite drove very well in the rain at the track to win the Indy Lights season finale there in 2017, so he knows his way around the circuit.
WHERE THEY SIT IN POINTS
Although the Detroit race doesn’t count toward the full-season WeatherTech Championship in GTD, only Sprint Cup, both Lexus pairings have had rock-solid starts to the year.
The “H” car, Hawksworth and Heistand, have gone fifth, 15th, first and first in four races. The Bell/Montecalvo car has ended second, ninth, fifth and third.
This places both cars well up the order in all three GTD standings: full season, Michelin Endurance Cup and WeatherTech Sprint Cup.
The No. 14 car sits third in GTD full season, first in Sprint Cup and seventh in Endurance Cup points.
For the No. 12 car, it sits second full season, fourth in Sprint Cup and fifth in Endurance Cup. Lexus is right in the thick of the Manufacturer’s Championship battle in all three of those as well.
Or, as Bell summarized: “Four races and two podiums (for us), four races and two wins for the 14, so it’s a good start for AIM Vasser Sullivan.”