K-PAX Racing returned to a track where it swept last season and built on its successes in the ninth round of Blancpain GT World Challenge America action. Watkins Glen International continues to be a staple track for the Bentley Continental GT3, as the team earned a double-podium with the marque’s second-generation model.
The 11-turn, 3.4-mile road course nestled in New York State’s Finger Lakes Region has proven to be a suitable track for the first-generation model (2018) and now its successor, as the team used the course’s long straightaways and fast-corners to its advantage in qualifying. The No. 9 car, wheeled by Álvaro Parente, secured pole position with a 1:43.320. The team’s sister car, fielded by Rodrigo Baptista, qualified third with a 1:43.643.
In qualifying, the No. 9 and No. 3 car were two of four cars to record a time under 1:44.000 for the group. Parente scored the No. 9 team’s fifth podium of the year – at least one at four of the five tracks on the series schedule so far this season. Both cars started first and third on the grid for the 90-minute event opener, giving the team favorable track position before the drop of the green flag.
Parente and Baptista maintained their positions during the opening stint, until the mandatory pit-stop shuffled the running order. Baptista was first to pit in the No. 3, and although having a speedy pit-stop, the team was unable to bridge the gap to second place. The No. 9 was tested by a challenging string of events in the pit window, and the team reentered the track in second position behind the No. 61 entry.
“We were really pleased with qualifying this morning – first and third on the grid,” K-PAX Racing Team Manager Thomas Blam said. “We had a pretty good start and got out to a great lead. Unfortunately, we had a back-marker impede [the No. 9] on our in-lap and lost our lead. Then, a wheel nut got away from us during the pit-stop, so we lost the lead to the R. Ferri Ferrari.”
“But, I have to give it to the crew guys. They have literally been the best on pit road the whole year. They’ve lost less time all year than sometimes other teams do in one event. I know they’ll rebound for the race tomorrow. Andy [Soucek] came out in second and managed the pace with the Ferrari and brought it home. It’s not an ideal result for the championship. We really needed to be ahead of the Ferrari, but as they say, ‘That’s racing.’”
In the closing stint – with Soucek and Max Soulet at the helm – both Continental GT3s managed the pace and in a tightly contested Drivers Championship, opted not to take any risks by challenging for position. The No. 9 and No. 3 finished second and third respectively. Combined, K-PAX Racing has stood on the podium 14 times. The team has finished on the podium at least twice in each of the last five events in the championship.
“Any time you get two cars on the podium, you should be happy,” Blam said. “I know the crew is a little down because anytime you get this late in the season, we really need the points over the R. Ferri car.”
Parente was awarded the Shyft Capital “Quick Shyftr Award” for recording the fastest lap of the race with a 1:44.286.
While all four K-PAX Racing drivers celebrated on the podium, this particular post-race was without its traditional champagne spray. The top-three agreed to not partake in the ceremony in honor of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert, who passed away earlier in the day from injuries sustained from a racing incident at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Soucek gestured to the sky following a brief toast of the champagne bottles.
“It’s a track I know very well, and I have a lot of friends in that community,” Soucek said. “It was a nasty crash, and it was very sad to hear the news. We went into the race with a really weird feeling in the pits of our stomachs. It does not feel great to race, knowing that a guy who did what you do passes away – especially nowadays when the cars are very safe. We decided not to celebrate with champagne in honor of Anthoine and his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
K-PAX Racing will start second and seventh overall on the grid for the 10th round of Blancpain GT World Challenge America action.
“The No. 3 car will start on the front row and hopefully they can get ahead of the R. Ferri car on the start,” Blam said. “The No. 9 will have a little more work cut out for it, but there are a lot of Pro-Am cars ahead of us there. So, Andy will have to be patient, hopefully working his way up to the podium if not better.”
Álvaro Parente – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race 1 – 2nd) – “I had a really good stint – a really, really good stint. I managed it a little in the beginning and in the middle especially. Toward the end, I was giving it my all. It was one of those stints where I felt totally in control, the car was super-quick and everything was going very well. Then, I got caught behind a slower car that I was about to lap. Heading to pit lane, he was going very slow into the last corner. So, all the advantage I gained for my 40-minute stint was gone in 400 meters. It was one of the most frustrating things. The pit-stop went really wrong, and we lost the race on those two key moments. I can’t believe it. But, thank you to Steve [Conover] for giving me and Andy [Soucek] the car we wanted. I still can’t believe we didn’t win this race today – just like that.”
Andy Soucek – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race 1 – 2nd) – “Álvaro [Parente] did a great first stint. There’s no way you could be faster or more consistent than he was. It was one of the best performances I’ve seen by Álvaro in a long time. So, I want to praise that. The car was also very strong for both of us. It’s a shame that he lost so much time from the back-marker headed into the pits, and we had some difficulties on the pit-stop that cost us lead position with the Ferrari.
I was trying my best in the beginning, but they were just managing it to be fair. I don’t want to say I was closing the gap, and I knew I couldn’t catch them because they had better pace than us. Overtaking on this track is very difficult, so I had to settle for second. I decided to back off and play it safe. There are two and a half events left, and anything can still happen. The points gap is not terrible.
Anthoine Hubert passed away today at Spa running Formula 2. It’s a track I know very well and have a lot of friends in that community. It was a nasty crash, and it was very sad to hear the news. We went into the race with a really weird feeling in the pits of our stomachs. It does not feel great to race, knowing that a guy who did what you do passes away – especially nowadays when the cars are very safe. We decided not to celebrate with champagne in honor of Anthoine and his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Rodrigo Baptista – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race 1 – 3rd) – “There was not much we could do from third. My stint was all right, but I think we were a little slower than some of the other cars – especially with the Ferrari separating me and Álvaro [Parente]. Max did a great job during his stint, and K-PAX Racing did a great job as always. Tomorrow we start second with Max [Soulet]. It’s going to be better for sure. The Ferrari has great pace, but we do too. So, it’s going to be close.”
Max Soulet – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race 1 – 3rd) – “First and foremost, my condolences go out to Anthoine Hubert and his family. It was quite difficult – at least for me – to race. But a podium is great. We could not follow the Ferrari, and we gave all that we had. We had to manage tires because we had them cut on the rear. It was a difficult race, but it’s still a podium. It’s still points. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”
Source. K-PAX Racing/Photo. Bob Chapman