K-PAX Racing has thrived in its debut appearance in the demanding Total 24 Hours of Spa, finishing 10th and 12th with its pair of Bentley Continental GT3 entries. However, within the team’s impressive result in the twice-round-the-clock race lives a truly storybook effort put forth by the entire crew and roster of drivers.
The race week started off strong with the No. 9 setting the seventh and fourth-quickest times in Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying, respectively. Unfortunately, at the end of the latter session the car developed a misfire which was traced to the fuel pump, resulting in a necessary engine change. The swap meant the team would not only have to skip qualifying and night practice but would start from the tail end of the field in 56th
The No. 3 Bentley qualified 26th, with Jordan Pepper taking the opening stint of the race. He gained five positions in the first two laps, working all the way up to 16th by his first pit stop. Unfortunately, a gearbox issue briefly delayed his release from the stall, and he returned to the race in 36th. Meanwhile in the No. 9, Andy Soucek was a man on a mission, taking the crown of the biggest mover in the opening hour of the race, improving 21 positions in the first 60 minutes and an additional 14 spots before the end of his second stint when he pit from 21st.
“The first two stints were very, very good for me,” said Soucek. “There were very intense battles, and it was difficult to climb up the order because the cars are so close to equal and you need to take risks in order to make moves. I had some good battles out there, some of them were a little bit on the limit I would say, but it was still good to be able to move forward from P56 to P21, while achieving one of the fastest laps of the race to that point. Good pace. I was happy with that double-stint.”
Álvaro Parente and Jules Gounon took over driving duties just after the two-hour mark, shortly before the first rain of the race arrived. Both drivers braved challenging conditions as they pushed forward, eventually swapping to the first drives for Rodrigo Baptista and Maxime Soulet four hours into the event. While a track limits call by the stewards put the No. 9 back to 29th, Soulet was able to take the No. 3 up into the Top-10 shortly after the six-hour mark.
“This was such an amazing race to be a part of,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “We started the event not having the best qualifying effort with one car starting 24th and the other having to start last due to an engine change during qualifying. We knew we had strong cars and we proved that early on. With the 9 car moving up to inside the Top-20 and the 3 car inside the Top-10 it showed the potential we had, from there it was about managing mistakes and staying out of trouble.”
Both K-PAX Bentleys continued to climb up the rankings as the hours ticked on, and by the halfway mark of the race, the No. 3 had climbed all the way up to third, and the No. 9 had moved to 15th.
Just past halfway though, Mother Nature returned to wreak havoc upon the race. A sudden storm hit various sections of the track in cycles, which shuffled the entire field as teams struggled to pit for wet tires in time. Less than 10 cars remained on the lead lap, with the No. 3 in 11th and No. 9 in 18th by the 13th hour.
“This race is famous for difficult conditions and it proved that this weekend,” added Law. “Between rain, cautions, a semi-wet track and some difficulty on a few pit stops it threw everything at us. But I have to commend the drivers, team and Bentley Motorsports for the effort that was put forth.”
The No. 3 was able to return to the lead lap with eight hours to go, but an hour later a penalty relegated the team back to 14th, also falling back off the lead lap. Through continued emergence of both rain and cautions, neither Bentley was afforded time to work back onto the lead lap despite consistently claiming high marks on the speed trap rankings. Gounon finished the No. 3 in 10th, Parente brought the No. 9 home in 12th. Bentley was the only manufacturer to have every single represented entry finish the race.
“We are very proud of how we performed this weekend,” said Law. “The crew prepared the cars well and we didn’t have any mechanical issues, the drivers drove well in difficult conditions, we had a few issues along the way but in the end to take home a 10th and 12th place finish in our first Spa 24, against teams with this much depth, we have to be very proud. We are looking forward to the final GT World Challenge Europe round in a few weeks at Paul Ricard and hope to close out the season strong.”
The Total 24 Hours of Spa also serves as Round 3 of the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli. Pepper, Soulet and Gounon earned 2 points towards the IGTC, keeping them just three points outside of the lead heading into Round 4, the Kyalami 9 Hour.
Andy Soucek – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 12th) – “We just finished, with both cars, the most difficult and challenging GT3 race in the world, the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. I have to say the team has done an incredible job for their first time being here. Everybody, drivers, team members, there were no mistakes. Pace was not ideal in the rainy conditions, but nevertheless we finished with both cars, one in the Top-10 with the 3, and our car was P12, but you have to remember we started last due to an issue in practice, so therefore I’m very, very proud of everyone and I look forward to competing in this great race next year with K-PAX. We’ll try to go for the win because I think we have everything needed to make it possible.
Rodrigo Baptista – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 12th) – “I think we all need to be proud. It’s for sure the biggest GT race and to arrive here for the first time with K-Pax in Europe, first time for the team doing the 24 Hours here, so to finish with both cars in the Top-15, one Top-10 we for sure need to be proud. We always need to win as a racing driver and as a team, but it’s a really good result and we had no problems with the car, so that’s the most important thing. Like always, there’s something to work on, but for the first time here it’s a really good weekend. I think the whole team did a great job and I’m really happy. It’s been a long race, and as always Spa is crazy with the weather, but we finished and had great pace.
Maxime Soulet – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 10th) – “It was a difficult race. We lost a bit of time early and had to climb the field again. The weather obviously didn’t help anything. K-PAX did a great job again. There’s always room for improvement but as the first time in this 24 Hour and finishing in the Top-10, well that’s not too bad. We’ll look at the positives and get back to work to be stronger here next year.
Jules Gounon – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race – 10th) – “These were some of the hardest stints I had to do, with double stinting the tires. It was really difficult, but we made it advantageous to save some pit stops. The weather was unsure most of the time and we just had to go with what happened. Great effort.”
Source. K-PAX Racing/Photo. Drew Gibson