Vasser Sullivan’s new driver pairing of Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat have developed into fast friends on and off the track, as Lexus takes on the might of the all-factory GT ranks for the first time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Barnicoat joined Lexus in the team’s GTD Pro No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 entry alongside fellow Brit Hawksworth as part of a ramped up effort in the new-for-2022 class.
What began as a phone call last year by longtime Lexus factory driver Hawksworth to Barnicoat, has seen the two bond not only as co-drivers but also as friends.
“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” Hawksworth told Sportscar365.
“At the end of last year when Lexus decided to race GTD Pro, Lexus and Vasser Sullivan were going to need another pro driver.
“I knew TRD and Lexus was looking for a guy that was going to be young and fast, but also had experience and was going to add something to the program.
“Ben fit the bill perfectly. I knew of Ben through karting and knew his name. I never spoke to him, but he was very successful in karting and always heard really good things via word of mouth.
“At the end of last year, what he was doing in GT World Challenge Europe, having gotten a couple of poles and was a standout guy for the manufacturer he was with. It made all the sense in the world, really.
“From my perspective, it’s been good to have somebody come in who has been racing in a different team, with a different manufacturer, who is young, fast.
“For myself and the team it’s gives everybody a little kick because you’ve got someone coming in from a different environment who is bringing new things, new ideas, new ways of looking at stuff and obviously being very quick on the track.
“It’s just added something to the program and that’s what the team was looking to do.”
Hawksworth, who was based in Charlotte for most of the 2020 WeatherTech Championship season amid challenging COVID-19 travel restrictions, has again rented an apartment in North Carolina, which he now shares with Barnicoat as part of the team building activities.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Charlotte, as we’re based there, and TRD being there and everything,” Hawksworth explained.
“We’ve traveled back and forth to England. Ben has been doing his races in Asia, but it’s been quite good because before Daytona and before Sebring we’ve coming out a couple of weeks early, been on the simulator, been training at Toyota’s facility in Charlotte and spending a lot of time together.
“We’ve gone go-karting, motocrossing, almost just doing sort of a team-building thing, really.”
Barnicoat, who has one previous season of racing in North America under his belt, said spending time away from the track with his co-driver has been beneficial in getting up to speed within the Vasser Sullivan and Lexus environment.
“I’ve been with Jack every day,” he said. “We’ve got that routine where we get up, have breakfast, go to the gym or the simulator.
“We’re always doing something. It’s good that it’s together. We’re always pushing each other, whether it’d be in the gym.
“We’re both there to make sure we’re the best we can be for [the races]. It’s just that little extra bit of motivation we need.
“Just doing stuff like karting. I’ve done my karting experience a lot more recently than Jack. I probably helped him a little but when we went to do motocross, I had never done that before and it’s one of Jack’s biggest hobbies.
“Now I’m getting into that. It’s just been great. We’ve been pushing each other and helping each other in all different kind of ways.
“We’re very similar people. I’ve had some great teammates in the past like Rob Bell, Tom Blomqvist but I’ve never really had anyone who I felt quite similar in character with.
“Spending a lot of time with someone as we do in Charlotte, when we’re in the apartment together every day, it never feels like we need [our own space].”
With both drivers similar in age, and with the same goal of achieving results on the track, Hawksworth believes the combination is a perfect fit.
“We are similar people and I think we’re also at very similar stages in our career in many respects where we’ve got a lot of experience, different experience, different times, different places, but we both really want to win,” he said.
“We’re not tied down in any way. Racing is Ben’s life and for me racing is my life, and this is what we’re doing. When you have two people like that working together and pushing each other in the same car, it’s an interesting environment.
“It’s not like one of us is at the back-end of his career, it’s winding down and he’s got a family and all this kind of stuff. We’re both hungry to be successful.
“We’re having a great laugh and a good time but at the same time we’re putting in the work off the track and on the track with the team. It’s good for the both of us to be with someone who is pushing us along.
“The competition is high but we’re here to win and we want to take it to them.
“That’s what I said to Ben when we first spoke on the phone.
“I was like, ‘I personally want someone who is going to come in and push me forward, push the team forward’ and I think that’s what we got, on the driving side and on the team side with Jimmy [Vasser], Sulli [Sullivan], Geoff [Fickling] and everybody.
“There’s a real atmosphere at the minute that’s like… We’ve got to win. We’ve got to make this successful. And I’m enjoying that as well. It’s flat out, whatever we can do to make this successful on the track.”