K-PAX Racing has long been recognized for its rigorous attention to detail, and in Sunday’s Intercontinental GT Challenge (IGTC) Powered by Pirelli Indianapolis 8 Hour, the team was able to show how strong its operation is piece-by-piece, putting forth a unified effort that displayed the team’s ability to produce both a winning and resilient program. The team was able to finish in the top-10 of GT3 competitors qualified to earn IGTC points, helping its driver roster continue to fight for the coveted championship.
The team was slated to make its fourth IGTC appearance – three of which resulted in a top-ten with one podium in 2017, but while K-PAX Racing has a wealth of experience in IGTC endurance racing, Indianapolis Motor Speedway presented a new challenge as the 24th U.S. track it has visited since its 2007 inception. In an agreement with Bentley Motorsport, K-PAX Racing absorbed the Liquid-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour winning line-up of Maxime Soulet, Jordan Pepper and Jules Gounon – all who also compete with the team in Europe among two, separate Continental GT3s – to help the trio continue its championship hopes in the second round.
The No. 7 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3 had been the consistent pacesetters of each of its sessions at Indy. It had been the lead car in both Friday’s testing (Pepper, 1:23.035) and practice session (Gounon, 1:23.300). An average qualifying time of 1:23.452 between the team’s three drivers was the third quickest in a 22-car mixed field, giving the team an opportunity to solidify at least a top-ten starting position in the main event. Gounon, who took the honors in the pole shootout, recorded the second-fastest time in the 15-minute session with a 1:23.560, though the team saw its No. 7 Bentley Continental GT3 start 10th on Sunday’s grid following a penalty assessed by series officials from the shootout.
K-PAX Racing rolled its No. 7 Continental GT3 to the fifth row of the grid, 10th overall in a 22-car field comprised of multiple categories. As the field assembled for two formation laps, Mother Nature brought in a wave of moderate rain, which forced much of the field to pit after the first lap to make a tire change from a set of Pirelli slicks to treaded, rain tires. The team opted to hold Pepper out on track, where he impressively finessed the tire to weather mismatch to the top-spot. The team was able to build more than a 25-second lead within the first eight laps, eventually pitting two laps later at around the 30-minute mark when the rain grew heavier, also restricting visibility.
“Overall, the strategy was really well-done — the car was fast, the guys loved it, and up to the third hour we were leading the race with a couple laps on the field,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “[Pepper] did an amazing job and definitely earned his money. It’s so hard to drive slicks on a wet track, but that’s what we expect – these guys are factory drivers and the best in the world. Obviously, we knew he’d do a good job but to be out there on slicks and do what he did was amazing. He put us in a great position.”
The No. 7 reentered the track in seventh position and battled wet conditions through the first hour of action, as well as enduring multiple full-course cautions for incidents scattered around the course. Pepper was able to climb to fourth – improving six spots from the team’s starting position – before making a brief stop nearing the two-hour mark. As teams began to execute their pit strategies, the No. 7 was able to power its way into first for the second time, stretching the legs of its 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine. Pepper held the fastest lap and the only time below 1:31.000 (1:30.838) and created a 50-plus second gap before succumbing to mechanical failure from damage by a GT4 competitor. The damage forced the No. 7 into a spin and eventually into the garage for right-rear suspension repairs.
In a sequence that lasted nearly an hour on the dot – from spin to reentry – K-PAX Racing revived its hopes of not only continuing the race, its fourth IGTC race in five seasons, but also giving its Bentley-Works drivers the chance to gain points in the series’ second round of action. The No. 7 entered the field 20th overall at the four-and-a-half-hour mark, with Gounon at the wheel. Gounon fared well as the rain subsided, giving way to a drier tarmac. He set the second-quickest lap of the field within the first 20 minutes of his stint – nearly two-hundredths shy of the best lap at that time. Gounon notably recorded the best lap of the race later in his campaign with a 1:23.384, and he handed the No. 7 on the cusp of the top-10 in 11th.
“I’m just gutted with what happened, being hit by another car,” Law said. “Obviously, it ruined our race but the guys persevered, worked hard and in the end, the goal here was to keep Max, Jules and Jordan in the points hunt of the Intercontinental GT Challenge Championship. We were able to do that. We’ll leave here with points for those guys, we know we have a great car, and we’re looking forward to Spa.”
“The crew did a great job. It probably took just as long to get it on the tow truck and get it over to the garage as it did for the guys to pull it all apart and repair the suspension damage to send it back out. They know the car very well, worked very hard and there’s a lot of determination there. We knew we had to get it back out to get some points, and that’s what we did.”
Soulet played the “anchor” role for the final two and a half hours of competition, where he quickly completed a pass for 10th among GT3-spec opponents. By successfully breaking into the top-10, all three drivers will earn one point toward the IGTC Drivers’ Championship, adding to the perfect score from the series’ opener at Bathurst. Soulet would continue to fight through the eight GT4 cars separating him from the top of the pack, recovering major ground lost by the incident and one more position in the field. K-PAX Racing finished 10th in class, 17th overall.
Jordan Pepper – No. 7 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 10th) – ““I can’t hide the fact that we are frustrated that we didn’t get the win that we all hoped for, because the whole weekend we were very strong. We had an incredible car right from the get-go, and credit goes to the whole K-PAX Racing crew and to Bentley for the amazing car they built. We’ve taken big steps in it, and it’s showing now by putting it to performance. When you really put everything together, we can hit the ground running straight away. Max [Soulet], Jules [Gounon] and I really adapted to this track well.
We were leading and unfortunately got taken out by a GT4 car with a comfortable lead, and it’s just frustrating because we had the car to win. Jules showed in qualifying in the dry and in the wet we were fast. We were able to open up such an incredible lead because of the strategy of the team, which I have to give them massive credit on that side of it. The pit-stops, strategy… everything was amazing apart from one corner on one lap. It puts a bitter end to the whole situation.
The slicks in the wet were insane. I’ve never had something so sketchy but rewarding at the same time. Everyone was sort of on the scared side, so they all boxed and then we’re leading by a lap — almost a full-minute lead. Unfortunately the rain came harder, so we boxed for wets and dropped down to sixth. Then we drove the car back up to the front — an incredible job again on the strategy side — nursing the same set of tires, and as the track was drying on the wets, we were by far quickest on the track opening up a minute lead again. It was too good to be true. That just shows the potential we have. It sucks because you don’t get too many opportunities to win, and it would have been amazing to back Bathurst up with another win.”
Jules Gounon – No. 7 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 10th) – “The strategy from Scott [Jasmund] and Thomas [Blam] was amazing, and we were able to lead the race by one-minute. It was really amazing. All credits to K-PAX Racing. I’m super proud to be on this team and with Sebastien Constans this weekend — the relationship has been amazing and the car is good. It’s always a pleasure to work with a superstar engineer, and you just need to take the positives from this weekend.”
Maxime Soulet – No. 7 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 10th) – “The team didn’t do any mistakes and ot was just a pity that we came into contact with another car — not even our fault. It was a really disappointing weekend because I think the whole weekend we did a perfect job to be up there all the time. At least we got some points, so that’s not too bad, but we could have had a lot more going into Spa.”
Source. K-PAX Racing/Photo. Bob Chapman