Jimmy Vasser and James ‘Sulli’ Sullivan have learned to be “light on their feet” in what’s turned into a challenging travel schedule between their IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and NTT IndyCar Series programs.
Compressed calendars triggered by the nearly four-month pause of racing due to the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in one of the series in action nearly every weekend, or both, as in the case this weekend with the Michelin GT Challenge and 104th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus squad will be seeking its fourth consecutive GT Daytona class victory in Saturday’s race at Virginia International Raceway, while Santino Ferrucci is set to represent Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan at the Brickyard on Sunday.
It’s created yet another logistical challenge for the two co-owners, although helped by IMSA’s decision to move its GT Le Mans/GTD-only race to Saturday instead of directly clashing with the 500.
“The plan right now is that we have ability to have both of us to go to the VIR race on Saturday,” Vasser told Sportscar365.
“We should be wrapped up with all of our race prep meetings and such that would allow us to go on Saturday. But if something comes up then I might stay back and Sulli will go [to VIR] but I think right now we’re pretty confident both of us will be there.”
The VIR/Indy 500 double marks the third weekend so far this year that has seen both series in action, with AVS Autosport driver Townsend Bell set to also pull double between his NBC Sports commentary commitments at Indy and driving the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 alongside Frankie Montecalvo at VIR.
While Vasser and Sullivan were forced to “divide and conquer” during the July 17-19 weekend that saw the WeatherTech Championship at Sebring International Raceway and a double-header IndyCar event at Iowa Speedway, the two, along Bell, successfully made both the IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis and WeatherTech 240 race on Sat. July 4.
It didn’t come without some drama, including their private plane losing air pressure and ultimately getting diverted to Jacksonville, Fla. due to weather in the Daytona Beach, Fla. area.
“The story that people told I think maybe it was a little bit crazier than what actually transpired,” Sullivan admitted.
“There’s a couple people saying, ‘Were you guys afraid for your lives?’ and we kind of laughed and we said, ‘No we were afraid we were going to miss the green flag!'”
“We were totally focused on getting us there and Townsend there to go race.
“The funniest part of the story was when we touched down in Jacksonville for the ‘unintended stop’ we jumped in the [rental] car and sent [IMSA President] John Doonan a text and said, ‘Hey buddy, here’s the deal. We touched down unexpectedly and are going to drive. Can you hold the race for us for a bit?’
“John texted us back and said he had bad news for us. ‘There’s pending weather coming so we’re moving the green flag up by 30 minutes! Vasser put the peddle to the metal there.
“Credit to John. He stuck to the line until the very end; he did not tell us he was joking until we showed up.
“We ended up having a very victorious evening that night in Daytona and had a good laugh with Doonan in victory lane about it.”
Sullivan said the intense travel schedule has worked out so far due to taking a measured approach.
“Logistics is not all that hard,” he said. “It’s just trying to be light on your feet.
“While we are at one event, the other event doesn’t stop. So, your head has to be in both places even though your body can only be in one. That’s the big challenge we’ve found.
“Not because we have this information, but we are expecting another schedule change in either or both series. It wouldn’t be prudent not to expect it at this point, based on how the season has gone.
“If we end up with another clash, as Jimmy said, our first choice is that we’re both there. If that’s not able to happen, we’ll divide and conquer as necessary.”
Vasser, Sullivan in Favor of IndyCar-IMSA Double Header
Sullivan said he and Vasser would be in favor of an IndyCar-IMSA doubleheader weekend this year, following the cancelation of both the Long Beach and Detroit rounds that were due to feature GTD machinery in both WeatherTech Championship races.
IndyCar recently postponed its round at Mid-Ohio to a yet-to-be-determined date, although it’s unclear if the series could join IMSA on it already confirmed Sept. 25-27 weekend.
“We haven’t pushed for it but we’re certainly in favor of it,” said Sullivan. “I think it would be fantastic from a lot of standpoints.
“From a TV perspective, with NBC, there’s a lot of efficiencies there. I think it would be great for those guys, in having our common broadcast partners.
“We were really pumped about Long Beach [this year]. The ability to showcase to our commercial partners our Lexus platform and our IndyCar platform together in one event. That was something we were looking forward to and we were going to be real proud of.
“Being able to do it, whether it’s a place like Mid-Ohio or something along those lines would be fantastic for us to see both series come together.
“I hope there’s an appetite for it.”
Sullivan: Team’s Silver Drivers Key to Recent Success
Both Sullivan and Vasser have credited the team’s recent string of success down to its Silver-rated drivers in Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo, who have put the pair of Lexus RC F GT3s in prime position both in qualifying and the opening stints of the races.
Telitz joined the organization full-time from July’s Daytona race and has claimed a pair of class wins in the No. 14 Lexus alongside Jack Hawksworth, while Montecalvo and Bell were victorious last time out at Road America.
“Getting the driver pairing correct was the big thing for us,” said Sullivan. “Especially in GTD, we’re in a customer class.
“You’ve got to find the right pairing of guys that have the ability to bring the budget and also have the ability to have the raw talent, speed and desire to do it.
“We find ourselves in a great spot there with Teltz and Frankie both as our customer.
“They’ve done a great job qualifying these cars and handing the baton off to Jack and Townsend. I think that’s been a big part of this resurgence of success.
“The reliability of our cars have always been a cornerstone of our success in the past and now you’re starting to see the driver pairing is paying dividends.”