Saturday evening belonged to AIM Vasser Sullivan in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class.
IMSA‘s first race back after a five-month hiatus — the IMSA WeatherTech 240 At Daytona — saw the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz at the top of the leaderboard for nearly the entire duration of the two-hour, 40-minute race. In fact, they led 81 of 87 laps.
Telitz kicked off the superior day for the team by starting from the pole position. He initially qualified second behind the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren 720S, but the McLaren faced a penalty when the car could not participate in the reconnaissance lap before the race, promoting the Lexus to P1 on the grid.
Telitz held steady in tricky, slippery conditions and as Hawksworth took over, the No. 14 Lexus held a double-digit lead at times, but that lead waned as the minutes went by.
Who did they face pressure from? Their teammates, Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo in the No. 12 Lexus, who crossed the line 6.915 seconds behind its sister car at the end of the race.
“Aaron was able to get a jump and got a nice gap on the field,” said Hawksworth. “It was great to see the No. 12 car up with us, but by the time I took over after the stop the track was very dry. Not a puddle on the racing line. Then all I had to do was maintain position and maintain the lead and bring it home. Fortunately the Lexus RC F was working really well. I‘m absolutely delighted for myself and the team. Great job to everyone.”
For Townsend Bell, the victory capped off quite the adventurous day. Montecalvo qualified third as Bell actually started his day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to commentate the IndyCar Series race for NBC. After the race, he hopped on a private jet with team owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan to fly down to Daytona to compete. However, the flight experience cabin pressure issues and inclement weather forced them to land in Jacksonville. They completed the hour-and-a-half drive to the World Center of Racing just before the call was made to start engines.
“Frightened is probably accurate,” said Bell of his experience. “We had an issue in the sky, any time the pilot is pulling out the owners manual mid-flight is generally not a good sign. It was one of those things where we could tell even on take-off, your ears, the pressurization was kind of in and out. I could hear the pressurization pump in the back of the plane going. I went up to talk to the pilot and they said ‘We know we are working on it.‘ We had to level off at like 12,000 feet while they worked on it. Then they said we‘re not going to be able to do this, we have to go back to Indy. I said there is no way, after all the effort put into this, that I‘m missing this race.”
It‘s a good thing he didn‘t.
The 1-2 finish for Lexus is the best performance yet for the team which first joined the WeatherTech Championship GTD class in 2019. The manufacturer‘s previous best finish came at the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle Park last year, when the No. 14 Lexus won the race and Bell and Montecalvo finished third in the No. 12 Lexus.
Finishing third was the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Mario Farnbacher and Matthew McMurry.
Next up for the WeatherTech Championship is the Cadillac Grand Prix of Sebring on Saturday, July 18.