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HAWKSWORTH: A Busy Start to the Season

AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth files his first Sportscar365 column of year after Rolex 24, Sebring test…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

January started with a really busy couple of weeks as it always does, with the Roar test session at Daytona coming so soon after the new year. I flew from the UK on New Year’s Day, so it was a really early start to the season.

We had a pretty good Roar test. It was the first time working with Kyle (Busch) and first time with Parker (Chase) and Michael (de Quesada) in an on-track environment.

We also had a new engineer in Geoff Fickling on the 14 side of the garage, but someone I’d worked with in the past in both Star Mazda and Indy Lights. He is a great addition to our engineering lineup and I was delighted that the team was able to bring him aboard.

We also had a new data acquisition engineer in Daniel Yachnin, so all of the core guys on the 14 Lexus from an engineering and driving perspective were all brand new. That was fun, but it was also challenging.

A lot of people, new names and different personalities that we needed to gel together in a short space of time.

The main focus of the Roar for us was getting everybody up to speed in terms of getting everybody comfortable with the car, speaking the same language, understanding what each driver wants and understanding the driver to engineer vocabulary and how all of that was going to play out going into the race weekend.

We had quite a smooth Roar and the Lexus RC F GT3s were really reliable. We didn’t have any issues which allowed us to run and get plenty of laps in. We were not the fastest car, but we were certainly not the slowest car either.

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

It’s always difficult to tell at the Roar where you are, but we felt okay about it. We thought we would probably be around the mid-pack area when we came back for the race.

Between the Roar and the race, we had a day on the simulator with my teammates. Just trying to continue to familiarize ourselves with the track and spend more time working together. Then, we headed back two weeks later for the main event.

During the race weekend, we missed most of practice because unfortunately in the second practice when Michael went onto the track — he didn’t do anything wrong — he was just building up to speed, but I guess the curbs at the bus stop were bigger than they had been at the Roar and it damaged the oil pump and we lost oil pressure so we had to pit and do an engine change.

We missed most of the practice that day, but the guys did a fantastic job to get the engine changed.

Unfortunately, we also missed qualifying so that meant we would start the Rolex 24 from the back of the grid. But, with a 24-hour race, it’s not really a big issue so we were not particularly worried about the starting position.

Practice on Friday was really the first time we started honing in on the driver changes and things like that.

Myself, Michael and Parker had done them in the past, but it was Kyle’s first time doing live driver changes on pit lane. He was able to adapt to that quickly and I thought we had pretty solid pit stops and driver changes all the way through the race, which was a positive.

Saturday was race day. We had a busy morning with appearances, the driver meeting, an autograph session and last-minute preparation for the race.

We spent most of the race on and off the lead lap. We lost a little bit of time early, but we got the yellow and got back on the lead lap. We ended up going a lap down a little bit later in the evening, but then a caution came out again and we got back onto the lead lap. We were in the game and in the mix, especially at night.

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Our Lexus RC F GT3 was pretty competitive and we were running some pretty good lap times. Unfortunately, we probably pushed the brakes a little bit too long into the race and that cost us some time during the pit stop when we did our brake change as we ended up losing multiple laps. That was kind of the ending of our race competitively at that point.

From there on, we just kept battling and used the remainder of the race to get some more time in the car for the newer guys and used it as a bit of a test session. We tried to get to the end and stay out of trouble and pick up on our competitors misfortunes.

In the end, we brought home a ninth-place position and get some good points for the championship.

I was happy and relieved to leave Daytona with a finish and come out of there with some points even though it wasn’t the end result we would’ve hoped.

Whenever you get to the end of a 24-hour race, it’s always a success story in itself even though it might not feel like it is. 24 hours is such a long period of time.

So much can happen, so much is thrown at you and it’s so easy to fall short and not make it to the end of the race.

The Lexus didn’t even have a scratch on it. The car was in very, very good condition at the end of the race so that was a testament to the guys who I shared the car with in terms of keeping it clean and looking after the equipment.

Obviously, the car itself was extremely reliable, which we’ve come to expect now with the Lexus RC F GT3.

The AVS guys did a great job looking after the car and a great job preparing the car. It was a shame we couldn’t get the result, but it was nice to see both AVS cars running strong for the majority of the race.

Photo: Lexus Racing/Sideline Sports Photography

Having Kyle in the car for the Rolex was a lot of fun and I think he enjoyed sampling a different style of racing to what he’s used to. I thought he did a really solid job in the car. All race he kept it clean — his driver changes were good, his stops were good, and I thought his pace was competitive.

He was easy to work with. He wanted to learn, he wanted to understand the car, he wanted to understand the series and the intricacies of the driving style and how to get the most out of the car.

It was a pleasure to work with him and a pleasure to have him in the car and he certainly demonstrated why he has been so successful for so many years in NASCAR.

Both Michael and Parker put together very strong races as well and despite perhaps being the two youngest drivers in the field they never put a wheel wrong all race.

I think for our race team and the brand it was great to have Kyle there, it brought a lot of attention on the Lexus and on AIM VASSER SULLIVAN and it brought a new set of eyes into our world.

Hopefully a few of the Rowdy fans will stick with us for the rest of the season!

Next up is Sebring and we’ve already been preparing as drivers, and the guys are up in Toronto at the AVS race shop getting the cars ready and turning everything around.

After Daytona, the cars have to have a full rebuild with gearboxes and things like that all needing to be replaced and replenished.

There’s a lot of work to be done to get ready for the Twelve Hours of Sebring, which is notorious for being just as hard as the 24 hours of Daytona.

Photo: Scott LePage/IMSA

We tested at Sebring last week, which gave us a chance to get everything dialed in ahead of the race in terms of setup and things like that. We worked on refining the car a little bit and got everybody up to speed in terms of the guys who have not driven the Lexus there in the past.

The guys on the 12 side all know each other and all have experience. We have two talented guys with Parker and Michael, so we took some time just to get them used to the track in the car there.

I really like racing at Sebring. Everyone loves Daytona because of the significance of it being the season opener and you get the watch as the big prize and that’s such a cool thing. But, in terms of the actual race itself, Sebring is probably more enjoyable for the driver.

The challenge of it. The circuit is a lot more technical.

There are 17 corners and all of the corners are very different. A bumpy surface in places and smooth surface in other places.

From a drivers perspective, it’s quite fun especially when the beginning of the year is focused on one track only. To get away and get to a new track and one in which is as exciting to drive at as is Sebring is a lot of fun.

I’m looking forward to getting back to the track in a few weeks for the race!

Jack Hawksworth (@JackHawkRace ‏) drives the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

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