Behind The Scenes With Lexus Racing: A New Team Faces A Steep Learning Curve

More on Lexus Racing's changes for this season

No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 race car at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC F GT3 | WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca

Last year, Lexus switched to an all-new team for the 2019 IMSA (International Motorsports Association) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. Taking up the reins of managing a two-car RC F GT3 campaign is AIM Vasser Sullivan, led by IndyCar-winning team owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan and former Grand-Am champions AIM Autosport. With a new team at the helm and faced with the restrictions imposed by the balance of performance rules (IMSA’s handicapping system) results could have fared a lot worse.

No. 14 Lexus RC F GT at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
No. 14 AVS Racing Lexus RC F GT entering the corkscrew at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca

After parting ways with 3GT Racing, who had fielded the RC F GT3 race cars for two years starting in 2017, Lexus forged ahead with renewed energy and high hopes. Change was inevitable. Legendary racer, Scott Pruett, ceded his role as lead driver to Jack Hawksworth. New drivers were brought in to pilot the No. 14 and No. 12 race cars.

In its first year campaigning two RC F GT3 cars, AVS turned out some great results in 2019. Lexus locked down second place in the manufacturer’s GTD Sprint Cup Championship thanks to steady results by the No. 14 RC F GT3 driven by Jack Hawksworth and Richard Heistand and the No. 12 car piloted by Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo.  In the title WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Lexus sits in fourth place before heading to the final endurance race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta this weekend.

Racing is a demanding sport and sorting out all the small details has its challenges. Especially, when you think about communication and logistics that involve team management, four drivers, two support crews, statisticians, and dialing in two race cars to the nuances of every track. However, AVS managed to keep its head above water and found its rhythm by the fourth race. At Mid-Ohio, Hawksworth and Heistand took home a big win and followed-up with another first-place finish at Detroit’s Raceway at Belle Isle Park. The team of Bell and Montecalvo proved their mettle with three podium finishes in their first season driving together.

In ten races, both RC F GT3 cars combined to earn two wins, five podium finishes and nine top-five spots in ten races this year. Drivers Bell and Montecalvo secured sixth place in the WeatherTech SC Championship GTD class. Hawksworth and Heistand are one point behind in seventh place. Notably, competition in the GTD class is tight with only 17 points separating second and sixth place

So far, AVS has done an excellent job in its freshman year campaigning two Lexus RC F GT3 cars. But what will the 2020 race season look like when the season opener gets the green flag at Daytona’s 24-hour endurance race?

Looking beyond the Lexus IMSA program, the brand is also represented in multiple GT3 championships around the world, including the Blancpain GT Series in Europe and the Super GT series.

Photo credit: Norman Woo and Derek Mau

No. 14 AVS Lexus RC F GT3 IMSA race car
No. 14 AVS Racing Lexus RC F GT3 IMSA SportsCar Championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca