Ben Barnicoat may be mostly unknown around these parts, but he’s almost sure to become a driver of recognition during the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Barnicoat was plucked out of the European GT ranks to run the full WeatherTech Championship GTD PRO season with Jack Hawksworth in the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3. Kyle Kirkwood will join them for the endurance races.
“I was coming off a great 2021 season and was lucky enough to get a call from Lexus,” said Barnicoat, who recently turned 25. “It did come as a surprise, to be honest. I had a very good year and I was hoping people were looking at me.
“For the call to come from America, when I had been racing in Europe, that was a little bit of a surprise. America is the place I’ve always wanted to race and be here fulltime. As soon as that phone call happened, it was an opportunity I didn’t want to let slip.”
Barnicoat started racing go-karts in England when he was 8. He did that for five years before getting his first big break in motorsports.
“When I was 13, I was very fortunate to be picked up by a good sponsor, Racing Steps Foundation, which funded young British drivers who had the ability but not the funds,” he said. “There have been several drivers who have come through that organization, like James Calado, Jack Harvey and Oliver Rowland. The organization took me from British go-kart to international go-kart.
“I was able to do well and prove myself and that took me into single-seaters in Europe. I did two years of Formula Renault, where I won the championship then moved into Formula 3 in 2016. When that program stopped, I started racing GTs.”
Barnicoat spent four years as a factory driver with McLaren and most recently competed in the GT World Challenge Europe, where he earned one pole position last season. He also made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut this year, as well as his first WeatherTech Championship start in an Inception Racing McLaren at the Motul Petit Le Mans.
“We are taking Vasser Sullivan Lexus to the next level and building this bench of exceedingly competitive drivers is the next step to producing the kind of results we expect,” team principals Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan said in a joint statement. “… Ben’s ability and competitiveness in the world of sports cars has proven he belongs with us.”
During his tenure with McLaren, the Chesterfield, England driver played a key role in development of the 720S GT3, finishing second in the car’s debut at the 2020 Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia.
His experience isn’t limited to GT cars, however. Barnicoat has also competed in the European Le Mans Series and finished runner-up in the Asian Le Mans Series racing in the Le Mans Prototype 2 class, earned multiple race wins in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship and the Formula Renault Eurocup.
“It was an easy transition from Formula to sports car racing,” Barnicoat said. “When I drove for McLaren, we had some good results. Saw some highs and lows. I did well enough to earn my place here on the Lexus team. I raced mostly GTs in Europe. I did a brief spell in LMP2 in 2019 when I did the Europe Le Mans and Asian Le Mans series with Carlin Motorsport.”
Barnicoat said the bonus is working with Hawksworth, who has been with the Lexus program since its inception and is entering his fourth season with Vasser Sullivan. Both grew up in the same region of the United Kingdom.
“I’m very happy to be here and have a teammate like Jack Hawksworth – another Brit! – and that works well,” Barnicoat said. “We call ourselves ‘Team Northern England.’ This is an amazing opportunity for me. It’s amazing to see the direction Lexus is going with its motorsport program and to have a teammate like Jack, you can’t ask for more.”