Race Weekend Central

Jack Hawksworth on Vasser Sullivan, Ben Barnicoat & a NASCAR One-Off

Jack Hawksworth is currently in his seventh full season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, driving almost exclusively in the GTD class.

He started out with 3GT Racing then moved to what was then AIM Vasser Sullivan when they took over as Lexus’ primary organization in IMSA in 2019. In that time, Hawksworth has 10 class victories and a reputation as one of the fastest GT drivers on the grid.

Hawksworth sat down with Frontstretch‘s Phil Allaway at Lime Rock Park to discuss his Lexus, Vasser Sullivan, his one-off appearance with Joe Gibbs Racing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and more.

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Phil Allaway, Frontstretch: To this point, you and Ben Barnicoat are having an excellent season. You have a couple of wins, and you’re leading the points. What has been the difference this year?

Jack Hawksworth: Toward the middle part of last year, we started picking up momentum. We finished the year with a third, a first, a third and a first. We built the momentum there, then in the offseason, we worked on some of our weaknesses from last year and continued to improve our strengths.

We came back this year, and the first half of the season has been amazing. We’re in a great position right now, but at the same time, we still have some races to go. [Things] can quickly change. We just have to stay focused and keep pushing forward and getting better. I think Jimmy [Vasser] and Sulli have done a great job instilling the right atmosphere in the team, and I think that’s the reason for our success.

Allaway: In your case, you’ve been driving the Lexus here in IMSA since 2017, first with 3GT Racing and now with VasserSullivan. It is pretty much the entire time that the Lexus has been racing. How has the car changed over that period of time?

Hawksworth: The biggest difference today as compared to 2017 is that we run a Bosch ABS system instead of a Continental ABS system. That change happened around 2018. Other than that, the fundamentals of the car are the same since it’s a homologated GT3 car.

The biggest difference [for me] is the team, especially over the last three or four years. We’ve [gotten] to understand how to get the best out of the car with the tools that we have available to us.

The foundation, meaning the car itself, is still the same. The professionalism and the steps we’ve taken as a race team in the last few years are really paying dividends.

Allaway: Vasser Sullivan appears to be an ultra-professional team, but are they laid-back at the same time?

Hawksworth: We’re about business in that we’re here to win and everyone here is working toward that. At the same time, there’s a really good chemistry between the guys, both the No. 12 and the No. 14. Mechanics, engineers, drivers, we all get on really well. We have a good time away from the circuit as well. We have a good laugh.

Team chemistry is great, but when it’s time to go to work, everyone’s focused forward on the job every time we go out.

Allaway: This year, you have Barnicoat as your teammate. Prior to this year, he had been a factory driver with McLaren. What’s it like having Barnicoat as your teammate?

Hawksworth: Ben’s great. We’re both from the same part of the world. I think we have a similar driving style, and we get on really well together. We train together. We have an apartment together in Charlotte.

On the race weekends, I feel that we complement each other really well. He’s a fantastic driver and does some great stuff in the car. I love driving with him. He’s mega.

Allaway: In addition to your IMSA schedule, you are also running an LMP2 car for Algarve Pro Racing in the European Le Mans Series. It’s been a bit of struggle with a couple of eighth-place finishes to this point.

You’re teamed with Tristan Vautier (a veteran prototype racer) and Fred Poordad, who is in his first year in a prototype. How has it been so far?

Hawksworth: It’s been good. [It’s] Fred’s first year in a prototype car, so there’s a big learning curve [for him]. He’s kind of just dipping his toes in and getting better every weekend.

Allaway: You came to sports car racing after racing in the NTT Indycar Series for three years with Bryan Herta Autosport and AJ Foyt Racing with a best finish of third in Houston. What are your best memories of your IndyCar years?

Hawksworth: The podium at Houston was great. I think I was fighting with [Juan Pablo] Montoya at the end of that race, and that’s pretty cool.

Starting on the front row for the [Indianapolis Grand Prix] and leading a bunch of laps was really cool as well. Those were my two highlights.

Allaway: If someone were to come to you with a deal to return to IndyCar, would you entertain it?

Hawksworth: At the moment, I’ve made a commitment to Lexus and Vasser Sullivan, and that’s where my head is at. The only thing I care about is being in the most competitive car and the most competitive team that I can be in. That’s all that really should matter. You can be in whatever series, but if you’re not with the right team, you’re not going to perform. For me, I’m very happy here [at Vasser Sullivan].

Allaway: Speaking of the Lexus RCF GT3, Vasser Sullivan is one of the only teams currently racing the car at the moment. There used to be more teams racing it in Europe, but does not having many other teams running the car at all hurt the Vasser Sullivan effort in IMSA?

Hawksworth: Not really, to be honest. With all the teams in GT, it tends to be very much a team game. You’re focused on yourselves. You could have another car racing in Europe, but that car might be racing on Pirelli tires. The circuits over here are unique.

We’re focused on ourselves, and as you can see over the last three or four years, [the team] has become more competitive. That’s just from the work that’s been going on in the background.

Allaway: When you first come into the series, you were fast right away. But, it was a big adjustment coming from IndyCar. How did you have to adjust your driving style for GT cars?

Hawksworth: The biggest thing with a GT car is that you don’t have as much downforce and a heavier car that rolls a bit more. You have a bit less tire than you would have in an open-wheel series. It’s really trying not to overdrive the car. Bringing the level of aggression down a little bit. Being very smooth, managing the pace and not over-stressing the tires.

I’ve learned a lot driving a GT-car, much like I’ve learned a lot driving in IndyCar. I think that if you’ve driven both, it makes you a more complete driver.

Allaway: Racing in LMP2 now means kind of going back in the opposite direction now.

Hawksworth: The LMP2 car is a lot more similar to an open-wheel car. It was good for me to get into an LMP2 car because coming from the GT car, I think there are things I do here that help me in the LMP2 car now. It’s almost like I’ve gone full circle.

Allaway: You did a one-off appearance in the NASCAR Xfinity Series back in 2019 at Mid-Ohio with Joe Gibbs Racing. How did that come together for you?

Hawksworth: I think it was just good timing, really. I’ve been with Lexus and Toyota for a long time now. It just so happened that there was a seat available in the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs. I got the call maybe the Tuesday before the race weekend then headed [to Mid-Ohio to race].

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The race was an amazing experience. I had a lot of fun. I had a really competitive car and was able to perform well, give a good showing and have some good fights out there. I had a mega time.

Allaway: If you had the opportunity, would you have at it again?

Hawksworth: Definitely. If the stars align and there’s a weekend with an opportunity to go do another race, then I’d absolutely love to go do it. As long as you’re with a good team, you’re going to be somewhere near the front.

At the time of this interview, Hawksworth and Barnicoat led the GTD Pro standings by 86 points. Since then, they have had three second-place finishes and a third-place finish Sunday (Sept. 17) in Indianapolis. Heading into the season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, their points lead is 188 over Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor. The first IMSA title for both Hawksworth and Barnicoat is not guaranteed, but it’s quite close.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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