Electricity was felt through the air as long-time series contender K-PAX Racing embarked on the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge America season with the all-new second-generation Bentley Continental GT3. In a season of unknowns – hosting the model’s maiden voyage through North America under a new series’ format – the team broke ground on new beginnings, as well as continued its success as back-to-back team champions.
The 2018 GT Crew of the Year first got its hands on the second-generation model during last season’s Intercontinental GT World Challenge California 8 Hours at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Calif.), where it first got to see the M-Sport fielded car – its stateside debut – in action alongside the team’s first-generation model. Following the race, the first of two Continental GT3s was delivered to the K-PAX Racing shop, ready to be prepared for a new chapter in the team’s illustrious history.
“We worked closely with Bentley to gain an understanding of the new car,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “During the California 8 Hours weekend, we embedded one engineer and one mechanic with the M-Sport team to work with them and learn about the car. We also had M-Sport come to our shop after the race and go through the cars with us. So, we had a good head start to the season.”
The team thereon headed into a 14-race season under a new series format, which featured 90-minutes of multi-driver action – sharing similar characteristics of the series’ former SprintX class. In its second year with Bentley, K-PAX Racing preserved its driver line-ups – 2016 Series Champion Álvaro Parente and Andy Soucek fielding the No. 9, and Rodrigo Baptista and Maxime Soulet returning to the No. 3.
“I hadn’t raced in the U.S., so the team didn’t know me well in the beginning,” said Parente, reminiscing to his first year under the team banner in 2016. “They didn’t know what I was capable of doing on the track and coming in, it was more like, ‘Let’s see what he can do,’ as opposed to in Europe where everyone knew what I could do. It was exciting too on that aspect, but as soon as I showed my professionalism and skill, the team was behind me flat-out. I felt that change a lot. The guys really appreciate what you’re doing when you’re making a big effort, and they’ve seen that in me. I love that, and I’ve felt that.”
“I don’t look at [the record] that much. I just look at doing the best I can each race week. If it happens, then great. It means it was a good bet for Jim [Haughey] and a good one for me. It means we had the right combination. I’m always excited to come out here and race with such a great group. It has such a great history, and Jim has had a successful run so far. I’m very proud that I have represented K-PAX Racing well with victories and podiums.”
In a tightly-contested points battle across the board, K-PAX Racing was awarded the team championship – making it three team titles in four years. The team has also been crowned in each of its first two seasons with Bentley. The championship marks the first for the second-generation Continental GT3 worldwide.
While K-PAX Racing continued to build its legacy in the U.S., members from the team also had the opportunity to help M-Sport build theirs across the pond. In July, the team took part in the 71st running of the 24 Hours of Spa under the Bentley banner. In an expanded effort by Bentley, Baptista hopped into the seat for his first factory ride with the manufacturer, with Law, Thomas Blam and Sebastien Constans on-site assisting with race strategy and engineering. After the conclusion of the America series, Baptista returned to M-Sport for the Kyalami 9 Hour in South Africa.
“I am looking forward to continue working with Bentley,” Baptista said. “I feel very honored and pleased to use their brand on my race suit and race clothes. It’s been a great relationship, and I hope to stay with them for many other races and seasons, always searching for the best results possible.”
Álvaro Parente – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “It was a very successful year in terms of consistency — for both the No. 9 and No. 3 car. The comradery was great because we continued to work well together, which produces great results. Our ambition was to win the driver’s championship with the second-generation car, and though we finished second — with two races that costed us — we did everything right. If we took it to the last rounds, we probably would have won it. But, it’s life and we gave it our all. We were on the podium in every event — if not winning — and we were competitive. We know the quality of this team and its drivers. We came home with a team championship and leaving this season as the most winningest driver in team history has to mean something, right?
[The record] is special — even more special when the relationship has been great throughout these four years. I’ve been giving everything I have like the team has over the years. When you work so hard and have great talent around you, it’s going to work out well. It’s a shame we didn’t have a second driver’s title, but the results are very good.
Bentley has helped us every step of the way and when they see a team with the capacity for winning races, it’s super important and encouraging. There has been so much effort from all ends to bring home wins and championships.
(RE: Sharing driving duties with Andy Soucek): “We’ve known each other since karting and we’re good friends on and off the track. Working together professionally, it’s been really good. I think we check off a lot of boxes together between setup and speed. Putting it all together, we make a very strong combination. We’re very competitive, and we’re always trying to get quicker as a pair. We knew our goals this year, and we were confident this year — always with the mindset of becoming champions. We did everything we could, which produced great results even though we fell short. But, the mindset was always there and we helped each other through each other’s challenges — whether it was data or learning a track. It had worked out very well.
We had quite a few memories, but Vegas was super good. We did the perfect job to be honest. The whole week went very well and we dominated. That memory will stick with me. VIRginia International Raceway was also a good one having both poles and a victory, and I think we had the ability to win both races.”
Andy Soucek – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “Out of 14 races, we ended up on the podium 12 times. We also had four wins and seven poles, which to me is a very good season when you look at the consistency, the pace and the fact that we had no mistakes. We were a bit unlucky is two races, but had we not been, I think we would have been in the conversation for a driver championship as well heading into the season finale in Vegas. It was a bit of a shame there, but I am proud and happy with the result — especially from a team perspective winning the championship there.
I think the team championship was very important, and I think it’s fair to say that we did the best job out of all of the other teams. The crew did really good pit-stops — something they had practiced a lot, and they knew they needed to work hard at them because the time window was quite tight. The car was very good at every racetrack. We knew there were a few race tracks — Sonoma for example — that would not suite our car. But despite that, we were still able to get the best results with what we had. That speaks to how good of a job the engineers did. We did the best job possible, though Ferrari did an outstanding job as well by finishing all the races, which is something that you don’t expect. I think under normal circumstances, we would have won the drivers championship. There was just one car that did a slightly better job than us. After a difficult season in 2018 and to accomplish what we had this year, it showed that we are a true title contender.
As a factory driver, I‘ve been extremely impressed since the first year with how good of a job K-PAX Racing does. The relationship has got better and better, and Paul Williams and Brian Gush at the time I’m sure were really pleased having a customer team like this one. For us at Bentley, we want winning customer teams from around the world. Being a part of K-PAX Racing, the success from this year showed that a customer team is capable of so much.
(RE: Sharing driving duties with Álvaro Parente): Álvaro and I have been dear friends since we were karting together — we were like 12-13 years old at the time. It’s a very long-term relationship — teammates in Formula 3 and even rivals, and teammates again in GT in 2014. We’ve always been crossing paths, and I’ve always respected him and thought highly of him. He is certainly one of the best GT drivers in the world. He adapted quick to the Bentley, and with his experience, I wouldn’t have expected any less. He’s a very good qualifier and consistent racer — aggressive but safe. I think we made a very good driver pairing. I’m very technical and methodical, and he is a true winner — a ‘killer’s mentality.’ Together, I think we backed each other well when we most needed it, and we’ve always done well communicating to produce the best results. We’ve always complimented each other and had each other’s back. It has proven to work, and we’re a strong team in any championship.”
Rodrigo Baptista – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “The very first race win this year at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) with the second-generation car is my fondest memory. COTA has been a really nice track to me, and I won at least one race every year since my GT4 days at that track. It was the very first victory worldwide for the second-generation car. That one I can’t forget about.
It was a good season, we started really strong but one mistake here and there ended with our championship possibilities, but overall we were always in the top-three, always fighting for the victories and always racing hard. But at the same time, we were supporting our sister car from mid-season on.
(RE: The second-generation Bentley Continental GT3): It’s a completely new car in comparison with the second-generation car. In the first-generation model, there is a ton of power but not much handling – especially in slow corners. With the second-generation car, it’s totally different. It’s a proper race car and its construction shows it. I feel comfortable driving it. The car is really good at almost every track, and we showed it by clinching pole positions, race wins and fastest laps.”
Max Soulet – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I was quite happy for us – the team, Rodrigo [Baptista] and I – to win the first race with the second-generation [Continental GT3]. That was quite special.
The year overall was pretty sweet. We had ups and downs with a couple of mistakes here and there. But there was nothing ever ‘that bad.’ We had a great season. K-PAX Racing has done a brilliant job with Bentley the last two seasons, and I’ve enjoyed every moment that I’ve been in the car. I’ve enjoyed every moment with Rodrigo. The kid is still on his learning curve, but he’s progressing every time he gets in the car. It’s quite an achievement for me as well, being with him since 2018 and watching him progress like he deserves to be.
There is no secret in testing – you need to go testing if you want to succeed. We did that this season with K-PAX Racing. It showed every time we got to a track where we had tested earlier in the season. We were fast, and we knew what to expect. We did quite a bit of work testing with K-PAX Racing, and it set the tone for the entire season.
I think all the circuits we ran this year were amazing, and I love racing in America because I feel it’s still ‘old-fashioned’ where the driver can still make the difference. I enjoyed every moment on the track with the Bentley at most of the tracks on the schedule.”
Source. K-PAX Racing/Photo. Gavin Baker