K-PAX Racing has one of its toughest challenges yet in its 14 seasons of operation, competing not only in its longest race to date, but also on one of the largest stages in sports car racing worldwide. The team is set to enter its strong two-car Bentley Continental GT3 effort to contend in this year’s unique autumn edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa – keen on continuing its maiden voyage across Europe in the GT World Challenge Powered by AWS Endurance Cup while sharing the electricity the team has brought to fans stateside for more than a decade.
“We are all looking forward to this event,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “The Spa 24 is the biggest GT only endurance event in the world and the competition is extremely tough. We are happy with our performance this season so far in our first year of racing in Europe, the cars have been fast all season and with the experience of our driver line-up, we are looking for good results this weekend. This race is known to have unpredictable weather and now with the date of the event later in the year, it will be a lot colder so tire pressure settings are critical and harder to get correct and there is always a threat of rain which makes strategy calls difficult.”
In the 72nd running of the event – one of the longest-standing stopping points for the highest caliber sports car racing competitors – the team will shuffle its six-driver roster between the No. 3 and No. 9 Continental GT3s. Intercontinental GT Challenge (IGTC) Powered by Pirelli Championship leaders Maxime Soulet, Jules Gounon and Jordan Pepper will share driving duties in the No. 3, while Álvaro Parente, Andy Soucek and Rodrigo Baptista will complete the all-team line-up in the No. 9. The K-PAX Racing driver core brings a wealth of experience to the team’s Spa debut, having made 26 separate appearances since 2013. Soulet, who hails from Nivelles, Belgium, has made six of those appearances and will be back on home soil for this year’s running. Soulet has made the line-up every year in that span but 2014.
“Being at my home race – the biggest race of the year – is going to be something special,” Soulet said. “ I know that all of us working together is going to make something spectacular. The only thing that is unfortunate is that the fans aren’t allowed because it’s the one that all the GT fans have been waiting for. It’s such a shame, so let’s hope 2021 brings something better for them. But for us, we need to focus on this year and bringing in as much points as we can for the championship.”
While the drivers offer expertise in the series’ marquee event, K-PAX Racing has also had representation at the event despite officially making its debut in 2020. As recent as 2019, team engineers and principals accompanied Bentley Motorsport and its expanded effort, which included Baptista receiving his first factory ride under the Bentley banner. While the experience proved to be valuable in finding an optimal base setup for the second-generation Continental GT3, the team was able to expand on its findings during September’s official test days, where the No. 9 made its first laps around the 21-turn, 4.35-mile Belgian circuit. The No. 3 will get its chance early in the race week during testing.
“Our test a few weeks ago was beneficial, we were able to run one car during the official test days which went well and we were able to get a lot of data,” Law said. “It is always desirable to run in the dry to get the most out of the car but it rained on-and-off during the test, so we also gained information on mixed conditions which is very likely for this event.”
K-PAX Racing has increasingly involved its operation in endurance racing since 2016, starting with the IGTC Sepang 12 Hours and since making three additional series appearances in the last four seasons for races of eight hours (Laguna Seca, 2017, 2018; Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 2020). The team has collected a top-10 finish in each, with a podium finish in 2017. The team has went on to compliment its strong IGTC resume in GT World Challenge Endurance Cup in early-September, adding another top-10 from the second round of Endurance Cup after six-hours of intense action at Nürburgring. The team will have a unique opportunity in its first 24 hour event, as this season’s 24 Hours of Spa coincides with the end of Central European Summer Time – clocks will move back by one hour – making the race 25 hours in duration.
“The approach for a 24-hour event is a bit different than the shorter duration races,” Law said. “The first part of the race is all about staying out of trouble and not falling too far behind – you don’t need to lead the event. The racing really starts at sun-up the next day. Although we haven’t raced the Spa 24 specifically, our team has years of experience in long endurance races from all postions within the team from crew to strategy to drivers. The cars are well prepared and we are ready for the challenge.”
Álvaro Parente – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I think we have a very strong driver package. The team has been ‘on it’ doing a really good job, and we’re very motivated. It will be a very challenging race with a lot of night driving, and we have to be mistake-free and get to the end. We will be doing everything possible to have a great race.”
Andy Soucek – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “Spa is the most important race of the year for all of us. I think the 24-hour is one of those races that you want to have in your CV (Curriculum Vitae) as a ‘win,’ and some of us have been very close to achieving that a few times. When Maxime [Soulet] and I were racing together in 2016-2017 especially, we were really close to making that happen. It’s one of the boxes we want to check on our list, and now we are competing in two separate cars, but it’s going to be very challenging this year because it’s so late in the year which will impact the weather. It’s going to be cold and possibly rainy unfortunately, so we expect a very tough 24-hour race with a lot of night-running as well. Now in October, it gets dark very early and it takes awhile for the sun to rise, so there is going to be more night hours than ever before.
I think this edition is going to be 25 hours with the time changing in the middle of the night, so that’s an interesting feature. Obviously to do it without the fans is going to be very different. Every year, the parade and all the atmosphere has been very special. We will definitely miss the fans a lot.
But, it’s the first attempt for K-PAX Racing, and that’s what makes this a very special race. The team has done a great job in the first two rounds at Imola and Nürburgring with very good results and very good pace shown by both cars. I also think we did a very good test a few weeks ago (Spa Official Test Days). The car felt great, but there are a lot of variables out of our control to get the car to the finish line and hopefully with a good result that will transform our season into something very special in the team’s European debut. If there is any race where we want to do well, it’s Spa. Hopefully luck will be with us and that we can deliver a great show and good result. I’m looking forward to sharing the car with Álvaro [Parente] again and Rodrigo [Baptista] for the first time.”
Rodrigo Baptista – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I cannot wait to drive Spa. It’s the biggest GT race of the year, and it always is a very difficult and intense race – especially this year with a lot of driving through the night. But, K-PAX Racing is prepared as they’ve showed every weekend. We have a very competitive line-up, and I’m really happy to share the seat with Álvaro [Parente] and Andy [Soucek].”
Jordan Pepper – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “Spa is the biggest event of the year, and I’m really excited about it and getting revenge from Indy (Indianapolis 8 Hour). We had that one taken away from us which was really frustrating, but we know Spa and the competition is really insane. It’s going to be very tough, and this year it’s going to be even more difficult with the cold weather conditions, the rain that’s probably forecasted, as well as the night time being longer. I think the key for the race is no longer a 24-hour sprint race, but more endurance-style where we just need to survive and be there in the end to fight for the win. We know we have an amazing package with our K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3. The car is great through Spa and myself, Max [Soulet] and Jules [Gounon] really love the place. We just need to stay positive and push for a great result.”
Maxime Soulet – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I’m ready for ‘the big one’ with K-PAX Racing, Jordan [Pepper] and Jules [Gounon]. We’re pumped up more than ever after Indy (Indianapolis 8 Hour), where we showed the pace but we were unfortunately unlucky there. Now, we can try to bring home something good for the team and for us.”
Jules Gounon – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I am so happy to be back again with K-PAX Racing. We were very close to winning in Indy (Indianapolis 8 Hour), but unfortunately we got taken out by a GT4. But I believe, ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’ We are coming into this running, with our feet hitting the ground. We are really hungry to get a big victory for K-PAX Racing, and I feel that this may be the weekend to do it. We are so motivated with Jordan [Pepper], Max [Soulet] and the whole team, and we’re going to give 100 percent commitment to try and get the best result. I’m counting the days and nights leading up to the event, and I really cannot wait to be back with the boys.”
Source. K-PAX Racing/Photo. Drew Gibson