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Bal: Lexus “Earned the Right” to Be in GTD Pro

Lexus Motorsports manager Jeff Bal on manufacturer’s move into GTD Pro competition…

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

Lexus feels that it has “earned the right” to compete in the new GTD Pro class after the groundwork laid with its race-winning GTD program according to the brand’s motorsports manager Jeff Bal.

The luxury automaker is set for a dual-category IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship effort with Vasser Sullivan, and the first full-factory program with the Lexus RC F GT3 in its program history in the new-for-2022 class.

Longtime Lexus factory driver Jack Hawksworth has been joined in the No. 14 Lexus by ex-McLaren ace Ben Barnicoat for the full season, with newly minted NTT IndyCar Series driver Kyle Kirkwood completing the lineup for the Michelin Endurance Cup races.

After five seasons of competition in the Pro-Am-enforced GTD class, Bal said GTD Pro presents another “opportunity” for Lexus to demonstrate its strength in the production-based ranks in IMSA competition.

“There’s a lot of excitement built around the announcement of the new class,” he told Sportscar365.

“I think John [Doonan] and the IMSA team have done an exceptional job bringing as many competitors in as they have.

“It’s probably not something we originally looked at. Obviously we’re racing in the GTD class. It’s the closest to the performance cars we build and sell at our dealerships. 

“It’s one of the few remaining [classes] where we haven’t had a championship earned yet. That’s a big deal for us.

“The GTD Pro class is another opportunity for us to demonstrate the capabilities of the car and the talent of the drivers and the team.

“We’ve really asked a lot of all parties involved to step up and put together a proper pro, factory program with Vasser Sullivan in a very short time.

“The cars are as ready as they can be. I think the talent is there. We don’t really know where we are this weekend. We’ll find out about an hour into the race and see where everyone is.

“But we couldn’t be more excited to be here and have two cars competing in two different classes.”

Bal said the team, led by Jimmy Vasser and James ‘Sulli’ Sullivan, has made new hires specifically for the GTD Pro program, along with an additional engineering support from Toyota Racing Development.

“We’ve got some of the best in the business,” said Bal. “The team has had to bolster up their full-time roster as well.

“The shop is busy 24/7 now and the days of fly-ins, on the Pro car at least, are dwindling. 

“They’ve done an incredible job finding talent and really getting the right people in the right place. We’re excited where we are.”

When asked what it feels like to compete against longtime GT Le Mans factory outfits Corvette Racing and BMW Team RLL, Bal said he feels Lexus’ pedigree in recent seasons has helped solidify its position to take the fight to the longstanding factory outfits.

“They started racing cars and became luxury brands 75-plus years ago,” he said. “We started as the finest luxury automobile and we’re going back to connect the story. 

“I think we’ve earned the right to be here now. Knowing that we can compete and we do belong here, both in GTD Pro and the GTD class, it’s going to be really fun to watch how we do.”

Vasser Sullivan will continue to campaign the No. 12 Lexus in the GTD class, with the revised lineup of Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo for the season, which will give the North Carolina-based organization a chance to fight for victories in two classes.

Bal said the immediate focus remains with Vasser Sullivan, although has hinted that could expand with the arrival of its next-generation GT3 car, which is targeted to debut in 2024.

“Honestly if we had more inventory right now… Obviously the RC F has been around for a few years now,” he said. “We’d probably have a few more cars on track if we could.

“We know we have people interested but right now we’re focused on what we’re doing with Jimmy and Sulli and the team with the cars we have.

“I think as we look into the future and the next generation. It’s out there. We saw the Tokyo Salon [with the Toyota GR GT3 Concept]. There’s a lot of excitement around that. 

“Quite frankly, without the success these guys have had with us, from 2019, 2020 and 2021, we might not be talking about a new car.

“The team and IMSA have really helped us get the attention of sports car racing and also the attention of our executives to consider a value add for us to sell more cars. 

“It’s really exciting.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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