After more than 200 races stateside, K-PAX Racing was able to make its long-awaited SRO GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup debut, entering its two staple Bentley Continental GT3s in a field of nearly 50 cars assembled worldwide in the series’ restart at Imola. The team, proven as a top team in America, showed that it can contend amongst the series’ best globally in the season-opening event – the first stop of its maiden journey across Europe.
We were very pleased with our performance this weekend for the first round of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “Our first attempt at testing in March at Paul Ricard was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we literally have not been in track with these cars this year.”
The California-based team, which expanded its operation to Europe in the leading months ahead of the intended regular season start, was the sole U.S. driven effort in a field represented by 11 different countries, facing logistical challenges which restricted the team from participating in testing prior to race week. Despite the challenges, the crews assigned to each car worked in unison to make headway on a suitable baseline setup, getting their first chance during Thursday’s on-track sessions. In the free practice sessions, K-PAX Racing showed its unwavering dedication to maximizing its on-track performance in short time, notably finishing as the fastest Bentley in the final practice session – the No. 3 second overall and less than two-tenths of a second off the lead car for the best-lap.
K-PAX Racing continued to show its speed into Saturday’s pre-qualifying and qualifying sessions, as the No. 9, driven by new team driver Jordan Pepper, set the pace amongst the field’s Bentley Continental GT3s, recording the fourth-fastest time overall. During the qualifying session, it was the No. 3’s turn: The team was once again the fastest Continental GT3 of the session, earning eighth on the grid while the No. 9 was awarded 14th for the three-hour endurance race on the historic 3.050 mile, 21-turn Italian circuit.
In the opening sequence of the race the No. 3, driven by three-year team driver Rodrigo Baptista, experienced technical difficulties which temporarily sidelined the car for the first three laps of its campaign. In that time, the No. 9 of Jordan Pepper was able to pick up three positions – on the heels of the top-10. The race’s progress was hindered by three full-course yellow caution periods within the first hour of competition, subsequently giving the No. 3 time to re-enter the field during the second stoppage and stay out during the first driver change and third caution to recover ground. The No. 9 made its first driver change, eclipsing into the top-10 into eighth position.
The No. 9 thereon spent the next hour setting a speedy pace around the course, picking up two more positions with Andy Soucek behind the wheel. Soucek battled fiercely throughout his stint, on the heels of the No. 40 entry heading into the final driver change of the race. After about a 30-minute period of searching for enough space to safely complete the pass, Soucek was successful in his overtake for a spot in the top-five before the final driver change.
Soucek passed the wheel off to three-year teammate Álvaro Parente for the final hour of action, who reentered the field in seventh position. Parente battled the No. 100 entry for sixth in the opening laps of his stint, showing an extremely quick pace while looking for his moment. Contact between the No. 100 and the No. 9 car caused the stewards to issue a drive-through penalty, which took the No. 9 from sixth position to ultimately finishing 18th. The No. 3 was able to recover 16 spots from the back of the field to a 30th-place finish.
“To show up at our first race, place cars second and fourth in practice and to be fighting for pole in Q3 shows the level of performance we have,” Law said. “During the race we had some issues – a mechanical issue put the No. 3 car behind at the beginning, and the No. 9 car had a penalty because of contact that also took us back, but we ran as high as fifth. Our pace was good, and the pit stops were fast. All of the drivers did a great job – the engineers produced a good car and the team was well prepared. We realize we still have a lot to learn as the European series is different and very competitive, but I truly believe this the best GT racing in the world and we look forward to the rest of the season.”
The next scheduled stop for K-PAX Racing in the GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup is set to take place at the Nürburgring September 5-6, headlined by six hours of intense series action.
Álvaro Parente – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 18th) – “It was great to be back working with the guys. I’m really happy with the job the boys and the entire team did. Unfortunately, we did have the best result and things didn’t go our way during the race. We will come back stronger, and I’m sure we’ll get the results we deserve.”
Andy Soucek – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 18th) – “A big thank you to the team for giving us the car they gave us, which was quite impressive – not only for qualifying, but also the race. It was really a joy to drive, and the team has worked really hard. Like usual, it’s nice to be working with K-PAX Racing because the car was great, and all the pit-stops went well. On one of them, we had a neighboring car pit at the same time and we were unfortunately blocked, losing seven seconds in our final stint with Álvaro [Parente]. My stint was good fun. I made a move on the Audi first, and made a small mistake battling with the Porsche in the chicane, then patiently waiting 40 minutes for the Porsche to make a mistake, and I took a good shot on the outside. I made a great move there, and it was also fair for [Louis] Deletraz to give me the space that I required to make it happen. All-in-all, I was in fifth position and we were looking good. I think it could have been a top-four performance for us, but that’s how racing goes. Things happen, and we were a bit unfortunate to be in that position at that time in the race. I’m really pleased with how things have been going – with no testing, being able to get into the top-five with a good rhythm. It’s quite unique.”
Jordan Pepper – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 18th) – “Overall, it was a disappointing end to a weekend that was looking so great. I have to give a lot of credit to the boys – not turning a wheel on the car since Vegas last year, roll the cars out with no testing and get them as competitive as they were. We were by far the best Bentleys, and we gave it a good shot. Qualifying wasn’t ideal yesterday, as traffic compromised our qualifying position overall with the averaged qualifying. In Q3, I just didn’t manage to hook up my lap, and it wasn’t the best possible performance. I think to start 14th in a competitive field was still a good place to start.
It was a mega first stint, as I was able to get all the way up into the top-10. We came out in eighth and Andy [Soucek] drove us into fifth. We were really going to undercut the guys, hopefully coming out top-four – it would have been unreal. Unfortunately, we got traffic from a Pro-Am car in the pits, which costed us seven seconds, and that compromised our position. It happens with what happened to Álvaro [Parente]. He always goes for it and takes opportunities, which is what we needed to fight for a podium. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out this time. We weren’t able to give the boys the result they deserved, and they deserved those points today. I really wanted to give K-PAX Racing, Jim [Haughey] and the guys the result they deserved for all their hard work. This is just more motivation heading into Nürburgring, and we know what to expect. We learned a lot this weekend and put it to practice there, and I’m just happy to be driving with K-PAX Racing, Jim and these guys.”
Rodrigo Baptista – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 30th) – “Apart from the beginning of the race, it was a really good weekend. I think the entire team did a great job. It’s not easy to arrive in Europe and compete in the biggest GT3 championship. The car was perfect – everything was perfect. We were a bit disappointed with the race, but it had nothing to do with the team. We started eighth and had a good chance of being top-five. We had good pace and everything. It was overall positive, and we learned a lot.”
Max Soulet – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 30th) – “It was a pretty good start to the weekend. I’m really pleased with how the team handled themselves for their first time in Europe and the progress we made throughout the weekend. Obviously, there is a big learning curve for everyone. I think we saw that in the race with the pit-stop. We knew the first one was going to be tough, but I can’t wait for Nürburgring to show what we have learned.”
Jules Gounon – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 30th) – “K-PAX Racing did a fantastic job in qualifying – to be second was amazing for the first time in this championship. The level is amazing in this championship, so to be up there was unreal. Unfortunately, we had a small issue at the beginning of the race which costed us power, and we lost a few laps. The race was basically over for us, but I was really impressed with K-PAX Racing and how they worked all week long. The team was really on-point with everything, so I’m really pleased and proud to be a part of this team. We win and we lose together, and I hope we bounce back at Nürburgring – stronger.”
Source. K-PAX Racing/Photo. Drew Gibson