AIM Vasser Sullivan team co-owner Keith Willis says the team is reaping the rewards of a strong investment in its technical department during the off-season that has seen the addition of ex-IndyCar engineer Geoff Fickling to the fold.
After taking over the Lexus GT Daytona class program and campaigning the cars last year, Willis said the team identified a need for an additional engineer to help spread out the workload.
When it came time to make the decision on the hire, their old junior open-wheel rival Fickling’s name promptly came up and got a swift vote of confidence from AVS driver Jack Hawksworth.
“AIM Autosport is sort of an owner/operator with myself and my brother Ian and Andrew [Bordin], so we wear too many hats,” Willis told Sportscar365.
“Coming into this year we could see it was just too much to take on.
“Ian decided that he’d be point man as a technical director and then we had to look around for another engineer.
“With Jack [Hawksworth]’s assistance — and we knew Geoff by name — he went to the top of the list right away. Fortunately, he was available. It’s worked very well. We’re very happy.
“Geoff’s from the same background as ourselves. We competed in the junior formulas, so it’s been kind of full circle.
“When it comes to the junior formulas, you have to have that rivalry but at the end of the day you’re a group. You hear the same names, so we had mutual respect.”
The early returns on the investment have been strong.
The AVS No. 14 Lexus team leads the GTD championship with two races to go, and the team’s brace of Lexus RC F GT3 entries have tallied four class wins and seven podiums through the first nine rounds of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
In addition, Hawksworth, Aaron Telitz, the No. 14 AVS team and Lexus will clinch the WeatherTech Sprint Cup Championship at the green flag in Sunday’s round at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with the way the points stand now.
“It’s about having more minds involved,” said Willis. “We have our partners at Lexus, they’re phenomenal in the technical support that they give us. Now we can absorb more and more of it with Geoff’s help.”
“With Geoff coming in especially from outside the sports car world, he looks at things a little differently so that’s been a big difference as well. It’s made the car go faster.
“We’ve focused on detail. With Lexus, that’s been the biggest influence for technical support with the small details. That’s where the evolution of the program is getting better.
“The next step is to keep focusing more on each micro detail. With the car, it’s been great. There’s small, little changes we can make.
Fickling Reunited With Hawksworth
With Ian Willis moving into the new overarching technical director role, Keith shifted from the No. 14 to No. 12 Lexus during the off-season, allowing for Fickling to be reunited with Hawksworth in the No. 14 car.
He was instrumental in the early phases of Hawksworth’s North American career, engineering him to a championship in the junior single seater ranks.
During their two years together on the Road to Indy, the two formed a strong bond that has been rekindled this year in the IMSA paddock.
“We were both a lot younger back then, but his first year here in the States was his second year in cars,” said Fickling. “He was two years out of karts.”
“I worked with him in Star Mazda when he won his championship which was a make or break championship for his career.”
“We’d have conversations about working together again but it hadn’t been realistic. Luckily this opportunity came up and it’s been a lot of fun so far.”
“After not working with him for seven years or so, to come back and see how professional he’s become, how mature, how big of a leader he is on this team and for Lexus, it’s really neat to see.”
“He’s taught me more this year than I’ve taught him! It’s come full circle.”
Fickling said that there was a lot to learn after a career spent in open-wheel racing, but he added that the challenge has been an enjoyable one.”
“I think the list of differences is bigger than the list of similarities!” he said.
“The way the races are run, the rules are different, the cars don’t have front wings, there’s fenders, there’s more than one driver to rotate through the car in all the different sessions, pit stops are slower, fuel times are a lot longer and strategy is a lot more complex over here.”
“You have more flexibility to open up windows and do other things race-strategy wise. It’s been a lot of fun from my point of view.”
“And also, returning to tracks that I hadn’t been to in probably over a decade. The schedule is a lot of fun.”