Kyle Busch has credited longtime Lexus driver Jack Hawksworth as his “biggest help and supporter” in getting the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion acclimated to the world of sports car racing.
Busch is set for his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut in this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, driving the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 alongside Hawksworth and co-drivers Parker Chase and Michael de Quesada.
With only one previous sports car racing start to his credit, coming in the Grand-Am July race at Daytona in 2008 at the wheel of a Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus-powered Riley DP, Busch said he’s been sinking his teeth into this latest opportunity with the goal of having a competitive shot of the GT Daytona class win.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully being a bit faster this time around,” he said. “I’ve got some great help from the team. Everyone at AIM Vasser Sullivan has done a great job of welcoming me in and making me feel a part of the team.
“Jack and my other teammates have done a fantastic job to get me accustomed to what this form of racing is and what it entails.”
While Busch turned his first laps in the Lexus during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 pre-season test earlier this month, his first experience with the program came a few weeks earlier in TRD’s simulator in Salisbury, N.C., where he was joined by Hawksworth.
“That was a great learning tool and I came out of that with a good baseline for being able to come here and have a better understanding of what to expect,” Busch said.
“If I didn’t have that, I would have been completely lost.
“Jack’s been my biggest help and supporter. He’s obviously talented as well, too. I’ve talked to him a few times on the phone. But having him hands-on with us at the test and then being my teammate… [has been helpful].”
Hawksworth, who has been a key part of the Lexus GT3 program since 2016, said he’s been able to leverage his previous stock car experience from racing in last year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio to help Busch in his transition.
“Obviously Kyle has got a lot of talent and is very successful in NASCAR, so it’s not a case of teaching him how to drive,” Hawksworth told Sportscar365.
“He knows how to do that very, very well. It’s more just a case of helping translate the skills he already has driving in NASCAR to a slightly more high performance vehicle in terms of the amount of downforce it produces and terms of electronics and things on the car.
“I think what’s been helpful, since I did the Xfinity Series race with Joe Gibbs I have a good idea on how the [NASCAR] car feels and the driving style from that.
“He’s doing the opposite. I know what you have to do in NASCAR to be quick on a road course and get the most of the vehicle.
“I’ve been basically trying to help him adapt to this new style of driving and knowing that he’ll be comfortable.”
Busch: IMSA Racing Requires Different Driving Style
Braking and traffic management have been two of the biggest differences Busch has been coming to grips with, particularly with the significantly lighter Lexus equipped with ABS per GT3 regulations.
He also noted a difference in driver etiquette between the two forms of racing after a close encounter at the Roar.
“One time going into Turn 3, there was a faster GTLM car that threw it in on the bottom,” Busch explained. “I was just going to roll on the second lane on the outside and kept washing out.
“I had to swerve to get out of the way because I wasn’t sure if I was going to get body slammed or not.
“I learned from Jack that correct road course driver etiquette is do not ever be on the outside of another guy because they’ll just force you off.
“There’s a lot of driver camaraderie [in NASCAR] in side to side but not front-to-rear and this is opposite [in IMSA].
“It’s interesting moments like that that are going to play out the whole time in the race where you have instances where you’re faster than the guy in front of you and just barely, because it’s a class car, and you’re trying to pass that car and trying to make the timing on when and where you want to make that move.
“But you’ve got these other guys that are coming and blowing your doors off in some of these corners that you basically have to forfeit and lose a lot of time in doing those things.
“If it gets down to the final four hours, I’d imagine Jack’s going to be driving so it’s going to be his responsibility to go make up those spots or whatever needs to happen.”
Rolex 24 Victory Would “Mean A lot”
Busch said claiming the GTD class win this weekend would come as a significant achievement in his career, although is not taking the task lightly.
“It would mean a lot,” Busch said. “I didn’t come here to completely have fun. I want to be able to go out there and win for Lexus and AVS.
“I want to be able to put on a good show for the fans that show up here and also for the NASCAR community, too.
“I know my brother’s been out here before, I know [Jimmie] Johnson’s done it, [Jeff] Gordon’s done it. So definitely a lot of guys have had their taste of the Rolex 24 and this my chance to be able to do that.
“I just hope that we can keep it all on the racetrack for the whole race and have a shot at the end.”