The IMSA round at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has proven to be a “great opportunity” for Lexus to have event sponsorship and additional activation according to its North American motorsports manager Jeff Bal.
The luxury automaker has taken over as the event’s title sponsor, which is now known as the Lexus Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio.
With the 2.258-mile circuit having hosted some of the Lexus RC F GT3 program’s key milestones, including its first WeatherTech SportsCar Championship win, Bal said increasing interest from local dealerships and Lexus owners made Mid-Ohio the perfect event to ramp up its involvement.
“This is a first for us and a great opportunity,” Bal told Sportscar365. “Between the first program win in 2018 and then a big accomplishment and step forward in 2019 with AIM Vasser Sullivan, we’ve been fortunate to have some really good results here.
“We’re looking forward to getting back out this year. We had some misfortune last year with the car not being able to finish for the 14 team, but the 12 car stepped up and had a great run and put Lexus back on the [podium] with Zach [Veach] and Frankie [Montecalvo].
“The team’s always well-prepared for this race. They show up and have the track figured out and have always found a way to be close to the front. We hope to do the same thing this weekend.”
Bal explained that the event sponsorship comes from a group of Ohio Lexus dealers that have been strong advocates for the program from the early days and wanted increased activation around the event.
“Our goal from day one has been to connect performance to the brand. We’ve focused our efforts to have a class-leading fan experience throughout the race weekend,” he said.
“If the team can put the car on the podium, we intend to make sure our guests and racegoers have a similar experience off track as well.
“Engaging our dealers and guests with the sport and the team builds advocacy. Doing so in new ways and creating new fans of the program and the series is a win for Lexus and for IMSA.
“It’s continued to gain momentum. We’ve got more and more fans. Every race we show up at, we see more Vasser Sullivan gear, more Lexus Racing gear around the paddock and the campsites.
“A group of our dealers in Ohio had asked to do more at this race event because of the increased interest from their guests and associates wanting to be more involved.
“This grew from a little hospitality trailer out in the corner by the Carousel to now track sponsorship that’s supported by the Lexus dealers here in Ohio.
“We’ll have a suite full of dealers in addition to a hospitality trailer full of fans, owners and guests.
“I’d really like to thank our dealers and our fans for supporting the program and wanting to do more by bringing a title sponsorship to Mid-Ohio. Hopefully the team can deliver a win for them.”
Nearly 400 guests are expected this weekend, which will see the manufacturer bring out its hospitality unit for fans and owners, along with a dedicated hospitality suite for Lexus dealers.
The Lexus owners parade, which debuted at Mid-Ohio last year, will also return with an expected 75 high-performance production cars taking to the track pre-race, while its display at the manufacturer’s midway will feature models such as the newly launched Lexus LX 600, NX 350 F SPORT, and IS 500 F SPORT Performance Launch Edition along with other performance products.
“The interest and awareness of the Lexus Racing program continues to gain momentum. We’re seeing many guests and dealers come out to cheer on the team and root for Lexus. We’ve arrived at a point where we reach capacity at almost every race and have to turn guests away or find alternative experiences for them,” Bal said.
“We never like to say no to anybody but it’s a sign that there’s growing interest in the program. Even our dealer body — 244 Lexus dealers nationwide – we get text messages from many of them. They are in the loop of what’s going on throughout each race weekend.
“All of these things lined up and made this the right opportunity for us to put our best foot forward and continue to support IMSA and the brand. Our dealers and customers see the success on track and they’re excited knowing these results can help lead to even more performance products for our showrooms in the near future.”
Vasser Sullivan Aiming for Double Podium in GTD With Second Entry
Bal said the decision to bring a second Lexus for the GTD class this weekend, featuring Jack Hawksworth and Richard Heistand, came with the team’s interest in running a second car in GTD as well as Lexus’ increased event activation in mind.
The No. 17 entry will line up alongside Vasser Sullivan’s season-long No. 12 entry with Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo.
“Up until this year when we made the decision to put one car in [GTD] Pro and in GTD, we always had two entries, and our fans want to see that again this weekend,” he said.
“We’ve got Ben [Barnicoat] and Jack off to a great start in the 14 in the PRO class, and Jack having so much success with this car and the program, we had an opportunity to have a car and put another entry in and bring No. 17 into the rotation.
“Why not run them? Why not get laps and give Lexus an opportunity to have another strong finish with one of two GTDs. It would be great to have a double podium, anything can happen; we’re just excited to have two entries running.
“Rather than have a car sit idle for the title sponsor weekend, the team approached us and decided to bring two out. These guys are going to come out and give it a go.”