Hawksworth “knew it was going to be a battle” for GTD Pro win at Sebring

Hawksworth started the day on pole in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3, but the day quickly derailed after he was penalized and sent to the rear of the field for inadvertently striking a crew member during his first pit stop.

Although the setback was significant, the three drivers were able to methodically march forward. Hawksworth was handed the keys — and an opportunity for redemption — for the final stint.

The 12th and final caution of IMSA’s once-around-the-clock endurance classic featured an intense battle develop between race leader Daniel Serra in Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 296 GT3, Hawksworth, and the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 GT3.R of Daniel Juncadella. Hawksworth and Juncadella went back and forth for second before the former squeezed by and set sights on Serra.

With 20 minutes remaining, Hawksworth and Serra tangled in a furious battle around the 3.74-mile, 17-turn circuit that featured plenty of gritty contact before the Lexus pulled off a bold move down the inside of the Ferrari into Turn 1 and score a 0.121s victory.

“Yeah, it was. We knew it was going to be a battle,” Hawksworth said.

“These long races, you have to do everything perfectly. Everyone has to do their job absolutely perfectly just to be there to even have a chance at the end. Then you just hope that the cards fall your way. We had a tough day. But the team, we made good steps over the off-season. We wanted to come and show what we could do, right? This has been a proper bounce back.

“(Saturday) everyone was perfect. We had the one obviously drive-through early in the race, a wobble there. Other than that, it was rock solid all day. The guys on pit lane were unbelievable all day. Ben and Kyle were absolute monsters out there. Yeah, we ended up in the fight there at the end. Come out on top. I couldn’t be prouder of everybody. Yeah, the last four hours out there were absolutely nuts.”

The victory was the first for the team since Watkins Glen last July, and the second endurance racing victory for Lexus. For Barnicoat and Hawksworth, the defending GTD Pro champions, this result made it podium finishes in 14 of 17 races dating back Lime Rock Park in July 2022.

While it also was a step after last year’s tough runner-up result at Sebring, the outing provided a boost after suffering an early retirement to start the season in the Daytona 24 Hours in January.

“Yeah, it’s huge,” Barnicoat said. “Obviously huge for the organization. All the Lexus racing guys have been grinding, working so hard, looking for perfection year in, year out. I’ve been lucky to step in the program satellite such a good time.

“First year got Atlanta, Petit Le Mans win, which was incredibly huge. Last year we won Watkins Glen and the championship. Now we ticked off Sebring. Just got Daytona left to go.

“We had a real rough start to this season, but that performance (Saturday) showed why we were champions last year. That was definitely a champion’s comeback and got our season well and truly back on track. We’re looking forward to going from here.”

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Joining Vasser Sullivan and Risi Competizione on the podium was the Iron Lynx group in the No. 19 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2.

Although Juncadella appeared poised for the podium but was knocked out of the race by AO Racing’s Laurens Heinrich in the No. 77 Porsche 911 GT3 R, who was fell from contention after receiving a drive through penalty for his part in the incident.

While there were plenty of hurt feelings after the checkered flag, Hawksworth provided his take on the physicality of the race.

“I mean, everything seemed all right after the race,” Hawksworth said.

“It is what it is. It’s hard racing at the end of the race. You’re racing for the Twelve Hours of Sebring. At the end of the day, we’re racing to win. Nothing beyond the line, if that makes sense. It was rough, hard racing. I got roughed around a bit, lost positions. Other times I won positions.

“Yeah, this is IMSA racing. It’s hard-fought. There’s a bit of rubbish racing, right? This is what we do over here. We come out on top. If people want to cry, they can.”

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