Connect with us

WeatherTech Championship

Lexus GTD Pro Signing Barnicoat “Thriving” in New Environment

Ben Barnicoat relishing the opportunity to tackle factory-backed GT3 program in IMSA…

Photo: Ben Barnicoat media

Ben Barnicoat says he is currently “thriving off” his new environment of a factory GT Pro drive with Vasser Sullivan and Lexus in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Barnicoat joined Lexus ahead of the 2022 season after a four-year stint as a McLaren Automotive factory driver and will make his debut with the luxury automaker in next weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, marking the start of his first full-season IMSA term.

He will team up with Jack Hawksworth in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3, with the pair joined by Kyle Kirkwood for the four Michelin Endurance Cup races.

Barnicoat told Sportscar365 that he had the option to renew his contract with McLaren but ultimately chose to pursue a new opening with Lexus, based on the manufacturer’s Pro-category commitment and the opportunity for a change of scenery.

“I had a great run in Europe last year and I was coming to the end of my contract with McLaren,” said Barnicoat.

“They were quite keen for me to stay and continue, because I was doing a good job there and I was happy. But racing in America is something that I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I started in sports cars. It’s a place I’ve wanted to be.

“When that phone call came, asking if I would be interested in the opportunity, it was something I had to go for and take. It was a little bit of a surprise that it came, but I guess it was just a result of my good form in Europe.

“I’m massively excited to be here. I have a team like Vasser Sullivan who are very good, and with a teammate such as Jack it’s a golden opportunity to come into the series and do a good job, and that’s what I want to do.”

Barnicoat added that Lexus’ approach to the highest tier of North American GT racing was a major driving factor in his decision to sign with the brand.

His McLaren drive last year with JOTA took in the Pro class of Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, which primarily involves customer teams whereas GTD Pro contains more full-factory efforts.

“I think the focus is much more on out-and-out Pro racing,” said Barnicoat.

“McLaren was always very much customer-focused, looking after the customer and maybe focusing more on Pro-Am.

“Whereas here at Lexus and Toyota, they have a big manufacturer effort and just want to put it all into a Pro car and doing as well as they can. It is exactly what I want and it massively motivates me.

“It makes me work harder away from the track, with Jack and the engineers, just to give it our all.

“That’s something I’m thriving off at the minute. I’m really enjoying being a part of this new family. Hopefully I’m going to be a part of that for years to come.

“There’s no way to better yourself than putting yourself with a group of people like that.”

Barnicoat explained that his first contact with Lexus and Vasser Sullivan came courtesy of Hawksworth, who is the longest-serving driver on the RC F GT3 program.

Despite both hailing from nearby cities in the north of England, the two former single-seater drivers haven’t previously raced together, but Barnicoat suggested that they are on course to form a strong partnership.

“It’s quite funny how it’s happened,” he said. “Jack and I had never actually spoke but he was the first guy who rang me and asked me.

“He’s their main guy and the one who’s shooting for the Pro title, so they gave him a bit of power and flexibility over who he wanted in the car.

“He just saw me as a good fit, young and hungry. He was the first one to ring me, but I had never spoken to him before that, even though we’re both British and lived literally 45 minutes to an hour apart from each other.

“So it’s quite strange, but since this opportunity started we’re getting on really well.

“We’re very similar people and have come from similar backgrounds with what we did in karting. So we’re getting on like a house on fire and we’re pushing each other.

“I’m still learning a lot of stuff from Jack, being new to IMSA, but once I get all that knowledge under my belt the plan is that we’re going to continue pushing each other to get better and better.”

Barnicoat made his IMSA debut at Motul Petit Le Mans two months ago driving an Inception Racing McLaren 720S GT3 and has completed two days of testing in the Lexus.

He also visited most of the WeatherTech Championship circuits during a 2017 Pirelli World Challenge spell with K-PAX Racing, but will discover some new venues this year including Mid-Ohio, Long Beach and Road America.

“It was a while ago, so it’s not like it’s fresh in my mind,” said Barnicoat. “But that was one of the reasons why I got the drive: had I not had that [2017] experience, it probably wouldn’t have been so easy.

“It definitely helped me, already having that under my belt.”

European GT3 Drives Remain Possible

Although the ten-round IMSA season will be Barnicoat’s priority in 2022, the 25-year-old is open to competing in one-off sports car races elsewhere during the year.

Lexus’ absence from European GT3 racing opens the possibility for Barnicoat to make appearances in events that do not clash with his North American schedule.

Last month he won the Gulf 12 Hours for a second time driving a Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo run by the 2 Seas Motorsport team.

“That was one thing that I wasn’t allowed to do at McLaren: I could only race McLaren [GT3] cars,” said Barnicoat.

“I got a very special exemption to do Le Mans last year, as it was Brendan Iribe who is the best customer at McLaren. With Lexus, they’re being very good at allowing me to pursue these other opportunities in other series, provided I’m not competing against a Lexus.

“I’ve got a couple of other things in the pipeline, which is great. But my main focus is on this championship and trying to do as well as we can here.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

Click to comment

More in WeatherTech Championship