K-PAX Racing continues its charge toward multiple Blancpain GT World Challenge America Championship crowns at a track where it saw electricity in its first year with Bentley Motorsport. With six rounds remaining in the series schedule, the perennial title-contender will set its sights on Watkins Glen International – with both its second-generation Bentley Continental GT3s making a convincing case for the team’s fifth championship since the team’s successful inaugural 2007 run.
“We feel very good about the upcoming weekend at Watkins Glen,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “Different cars favor different tracks, and this is one that is very good for the Bentley as we saw last season. The first-generation Bentley did well there, and this second-generation car is improved on many levels.”
Rodrigo Baptista, driver of the No. 3, took the weekend by storm in 2018 competing in the series’ former one-driver Sprint format. Baptista, who was a relatively new driver in the series’ GT3 Pro class, led every lap from pole position in the final two rounds of Sprint GT competition of the season. The proven young-talent – who reached the series’ top-ranks from GT4 in less than a two-year span – remembers it as a “dream weekend.”
“Two race wins from pole position and clinching the team’s championship for K-PAX Racing,” said Baptista, recalling his dominant performance. “The car was fast as soon as we unloaded it from the hauler.”
“Free practice went well, and as soon as we put the stickers on, I felt we would be really quick on that track. I know it was my first time over there, but the track is so fast, so pleasant to drive and with the car well-balanced, the time was just there. It looked like my job was easy starting from the pole with a car that fast, but I was qualifying every single lap until I reached a safe distance from second place. Then I just managed my lap times to drive to victory lane.”
K-PAX Racing secured the series’ Sprint GT Team Championship during the weekend and will head into The Glen this season leading the standings by a 16-point margin. To help build a comfortable lead in the team standings, K-PAX Racing had strategically tested at three of the four tracks on the series schedule so far – taking top-honors three times at two of them. During the series’ brief hiatus, the team tested at Watkins Glen with hopes of continuing its success from diligent preparation.
“Once again, Watkins Glen was another track that we tested at before the race,” said Andy Soucek, co-driver of the No. 9. “We were able to do our homework there, and now we know what to run in terms of setup. We had quite a bit different options, and we came up with a solution where the car feels very stable, safe and fast. We’re confident. We should have great pace, and hopefully we can win and close the gap to the leaders in the championship standings – which is the main focus from a driver and team perspective for all of us.”
Through eight rounds of series action, the No. 9 of Soucek and Álvaro Parente trail closely in the Drivers Championship by 14 points (134 points). The No. 3 of Baptista and Max Soulet continue its push from third (110 points) – with both K-PAX Racing Continental GT3s separated by a 24-point margin.
During the series’ break in GT3 action, four key members from K-PAX Racing joined Bentley Motorsport overseas for the renowned Total 24 Hours of Spa – Baptista, Law, Team Strategist Thomas Blam and Team Engineer Sebastien Constans.
“We had the opportunity to go to the 24 Hour of Spa race with M-Sport and the factory program,” Law said. “Several members from our team were on hand and it was great for Rodrigo to get the opportunity to drive for the factory, but everyone is ready to get back to the championship fight. We hope to finish these final races strong in the home-stretch of the season.”
“We are glad to get back to racing after the summer break. In some ways this break was nice because it gave us time to go completely through the cars, do somewhat of a mid-season rebuild, and we completed additional testing that included Watkins Glen. So, we are coming to this race with good data.”
Álvaro Parente – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “Watkins Glen International is a really good track for us and the Bentley. The first-generation car was good as we saw last year, and I think the second-generation car was working very well during the test we did there.
We all prepared for the race weekend as best as possible with the test we did there. We imagine it will be a lot warmer this time of year and could change something a little bit, but we think the asphalt and layout of the track is good for us. So, we’re really looking forward to getting back in the car after such a long break. We are close to the leaders of the championship and all of us – the team, Andy and I – are going to give it all we got to get some very good results in all remaining weekends. We’ll take advantage of Watkins Glen as we know the car will be strong there, and we’ll try and catch the leading Ferrari and get a lot more points than them. Our fingers are crossed. Let’s see what we can do.”
Andy Soucek – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “We’re coming from a track [Sonoma Raceway] that didn’t suit our car very much to a track that suits our car tremendously. It should be a good race for us. We should have great pace, and hopefully we can win and close the gap to the leaders in the championship standings – which is the main focus from a driver and team perspective for all of us. Álvaro knows the track very well, and the first-generation Continental GT3 was very competitive there. So hopefully, this second-generation model will be even more. It’s a mega racetrack – very fast and very challenging. You need to carry a lot of speed out of the corners, and I loved it. When I did my first laps during our test, it was really cool.
You are never comfortable unless you have at least a 50-point gap from second. So, we still have to fight very hard and get the most out of it. I’d say both tracks [Watkins Glen International, Road America] worked good for us last year with Alvaro and Rodrigo doing very well. We hope that our car will be competitive at both tracks – enough to close the gap. Obviously, I prefer to have Watkins Glen and Road America over Sonoma Raceway next. Sonoma was the most difficult one so far this season, but we still made it to the podium. If we can fight for the win in the next two events, then we will definitely be in contention for the championship.”
Rodrigo Baptista – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I think the 2018 car adapted really well with the Watkins Glen track layout as far as traction, gears, setup and general speed. But, the second-generation Continental GT3 is a completely different car [compared to the first-generation model]. So, we’ll see.
We tested at Watkins together, and the lap times were pretty close. This year the competition is really challenging with easily four or five cars that could possibly win races. Our car is fast, my teammate is fast, our team is great, and we have everything to do well. I hope I can repeat the same weekend as I had last year.”
Max Soulet – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I’m looking forward to Watkins Glen because our second-generation Bentley Continental GT3 will be very strong there. I think the team is very prepared having tested there earlier in the season. Rodrigo did a brilliant job there last year, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”
Source. K-PAX Racing/Photo. Bob Chapman