K-PAX Racing turned its successful GT World Challenge America team into global operation by setting its sights to Europe in 2020. There, the multi-championship winning team stateside would stack its two-car Bentley Continental GT3 program up against some of GT3 racing’s most elite, featuring a season of firsts with an expanded operation simultaneously covering two continents.
K-PAX Racing announced its multi-tiered program ahead of 2020 – a one-car Pro-Am effort to keep one foot in GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS, as well as stepping firmly into endurance racing with SRO’s sister Endurance Cup overseas backed by a two-car, Pro GT3 entry. The 2020 season all-encompassing was much anticipated for the 2019 GT World Challenge America Team Champions, and for its eight drivers proudly waving the K-PAX Racing banner across the world.
While COVID-19 momentarily deterred the team in its new chapter – a season opening 8th-place finish at Circuit of The Americas (Tex.), followed by a quick-trip to France for Official Test Days at Circuit Paul Ricard – pandemic conditions did not prevent the team from safely making its presence known worldwide. K-PAX Racing went on to compete in five events across five countries, earning a top-ten in four races. Notably, each track on the schedule was a new stop for the team, having only tested at Spa-Franchorchamps about one month ahead of the first autumn-edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
“With the COVID virus outbreak coming right at the start of our season, it took away any real opportunity for pre-season testing,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “Even though we were going to race in another country at unknown tracks we know the strengths of this team and the solid performance at each race event this year is a testament to how strong we really are as an organization.”
The team, with its home operation in Sonoma, Calif. and satellite shop in Hellenthal, Germany, was tasked with creating logistical possibilities on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and within about a four-month span, focused on its new all-Pro endeavor in GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS. The team was able to join the stout Endurance Cup field, making its debut at Autodromo di Imola (Italy) in late-July as a part of an abbreviated four-part endurance schedule. There, K-PAX Racing was less than five-tenths of a second off the leader in pre-qualifying, finishing fourth in the session and qualifying its No. 9 inside the top-10. The No. 9 was able to battle into the top-five during the late stages of the four-hour race, proving the team’s strength amongst some of Europe’s most premiere GT teams.
K-PAX Racing was able to cultivate success with its first top-ten result at Nürburgring (Germany) in the second round of Endurance Cup. The team, also welcoming Bentley Factory Driver Alex Buncombe to its roster in place of Álvaro Parente for the event, qualified inside the top-10 of the grid for the second-consecutive race in its debut season. K-PAX Racing crossed the line after six intense hours of series action one position shy of the top-five with the No. 9, proving the team’s ability to produce despite a lack of prior testing. Following a strong showing and less than one month later, K-PAX Racing was not only tasked with another unfamiliar track, but also the logistical challenges with cross-continental competition.
The prestigious Total 24 Hours of Spa (Belgium) was quickly approaching, and K-PAX Racing had the opportunity to test with a revised No. 9 driver line-up of Parente, Rodrigo Baptista and Andy Soucek – while almost concurrently making its first appearance on home soil in the United States since early-March. The Official Spa Test Days allowed the team its first chance of laying Pirelli P-Zero rubber down on a European circuit prior to race week, while the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli (IGTC) Indianapolis 8 Hours offered the No. 7 squad comprised of Bentley Motorsport Factory Drivers – Maxime Soulet, Jordan Pepper and Jules Gounon – to continue its pursuit to a series title, following a statement Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour victory under the manufacturer banner. Notably and in a week’s time, K-PAX Racing was scattered across the globe – with some of its crew sharing duties for both the test days in Belgium and Indianapolis.
The Indianapolis 8 Hour in the “Racing Capital of the World,” was not only the team’s fourth appearance in IGTC in the last five seasons, but also the 24th new racecourse for the team in its history. While the 2020 season could be characterized by unknown challenges, it can also be defined as one of perservearance as the No. 7 entry gave K-PAX Racing its third-consecutive top-10 starting position on the grid. K-PAX Racing devised a calculated, but risky strategy of keeping slicks under its Continental GT3 in the early-stages of the race which experienced increasing rain. The risk carried great reward, as the No. 7 catapulted into the lead, building nearly a one-minute lead on multiple occasions throughout the first half of the race. The team was able to finish 10th, keeping its drivers on top of the IGTC points standings headed into Spa.
The Total 24 Hours of Spa, arguably the most highly-anticipated GT race of the season, saw the two K-PAX Racing Continental GT3s stack high in a field of more nearly 60 total entries. In stunning fashion, the No. 9 overcame a seemingly insurmountable deficit from a 56th-position start, climbing 21 places in the first hour of action. K-PAX Racing continued to climb, not only finishing both of its cars after 525 laps but also crossing its No. 3 across the start-finish in 10th, adding to the team’s string of top-10 finishes among some of the world’s most elite GT competitors.
“Competing at any 24-hour race is a unique challenge in itself and to bring both cars home without any damage and one car finishing in 10th on our first appearance is a phenomenal accomplishment and something we were very proud of,” Law said.
In poetic fashion, the team concluded the 2020 GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup – Circuit Paul Ricard for 1,000-kilometers and to put an exclamation point on the season. Back to the usual line-up – Parente, Pepper and Soucek (No. 9), and Soulet, Baptista and Gounon (No. 3) – K-PAX Racing was able to break into the top-10 for much of the race, ultimately crossing the line in 13th.
“This year had its challenges but we showed that in our first season of racing in Europe we had the pace, we were able compete with the best in the world had the opportunity at podium finishes,” Law said. “We had some unfortunate luck but overall it was a great experience and one we are all very proud of and will consider doing again.
While the 2020 season presented challenges on and off the track, it also made way for major break-throughs and discoveries in the racing world. K-PAX Racing was able to blend worlds – entering up to nine team-branded cars across two SRO-hosted virtual series in simulator racing. Competing on the Assetto Corsa Competizione platform, the team entered two Continental GT3s in the GT Rivals Invitational, where Guy Cosmo and Patrick Byrne were able to continue their season virtually from Circuit of The Americas. Cosmo and Byrne were able to earn two top-10 finishes in eight events.
Simultaneously, K-PAX Racing competed across three categories – Pro, Silver and Am – in the E-Sport GT Series Championship, where it teamed up with SIRIO E-Sports to bring a winning package to its new endeavor. Team drivers Jordan Pepper and Andy Soucek filled the roles for Pro, and in a selection process, Philippe Simard, Tariq Gamil and Alberto Garcia earned the three seats in Silver. Raig and Streve Strehlow were eventually added to the roster, competing in the series amateur ranks, as well as completing a line-up in every division. Including a cameo appearance by former F1 driver Dani Clos, K-PAX Racing earned a victory in the first round, eventually racking-up six top-five and nine top-10 performances across five rounds in each class.
“This year provided a unique opportunity to really give E-Sports a platform to showcase the program on a global level,” Law said. “When the on-track racing was postponed, having the opportunity for our drivers to stay sharp and give the fans some racing to watch was great.”
Álvaro Parente – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “We all knew the value of the team and that we were capable to be competitive wherever we go. It was a big change – more cars on the grid and there’s many factors involved. We had to manage in the best ways, and in the end, we knew we could do the job. It was challenging logistically because it was a bit more and last-minute than what we are used to when it comes to getting the crew over and preparing the cars. The 24 Hours of Spa was one of the most challenging races – the conditions were tricky, the track was wet and it was super dark. But in terms of driving and team effort, we gave it our best even though the result didn’t quite show it. There were some mistakes, but we continued to improve and be competitive. The quality of the team and people here made it possible – from Thomas [Blam], to our engineers and the crew preparing our cars in good condition and with good setups. We had mistakes, but we were there – despite the testing and considering all the challenges. It could have been better, but we were competitive in each race.”
Andy Soucek – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “Looking at the entire year, I think it went good. We were strong, the pace was good, we were competitive and there was a lot to learn. The team adapted quickly with the first race in Imola, running sixth and we had the opportunity to place inside the top-five. That shows real potential of the car and the team, and we were able to have a similar performance at Nürburgring. In Spa, we recovered very well from last, so overall, the pace has been good and we did a very good job at every track. The problem is here, we had a few issues that set us back. But, we were able to recover each time double-stinting the tires.”
Jordan Pepper – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I got that good, positive feeling of excitement when I learned that I was going to be with K-PAX Racing in 2020. The motivation was high, though the pandemic hurt us more than the teams already in Europe. It made it difficult having no testing, and we went into it blind. But, the team was great in adapting with limited track-time and to be right on the money with setup. We showed great speed in qualifying, and in the races we were fighting – the first race in the top-five. We just have to look at the positives, and that we fought right through the season – from sound strategy calls to the level of preparation. When you all work as one, that’s when you perform well, and I felt that – especially at Nürburgring. These guys really had my back, and it made driving the car easy knowing we had that kind of support behind us. While things didn’t quite go to plan, like in Indy, we had some incredible runs, strong pace and struck so much potential. I think we can truly be proud of what we did.”
Rodrigo Baptista – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “GT World Challenge Europe is one of the most difficult championships, and it’s not easy. I think we honestly did a good job. We knew in America that we were quick – always fighting for the win or a podium. When you go to Europe, everything is new. It was going to be tough, but in the first two races we qualified inside the top-10. So, I think we did a great job and it’s because K-PAX Racing has a great team from its crew to its engineers. They all know how to create success, and when you put it all together, I don’t think you can go wrong. The result was not the best, but we always learned. I raced in Europe in 2016, learning a lot, but this season was much more competitive. For me, it was great because we were right there with the competition.”
Maxime Soulet – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “It was a big deal for K-PAX Racing, especially with how the world is now. It made it even more challenging without the testing, but we proved right away that the cars and team were competitive – qualifying in the top-10 in the first round of one of the most competitive series in the world. That was a massive positive, though the race did not go to plan. The team did an amazing job all year discovering every type of new track. Though it was a difficult season for the No. 3, we showed a strong pace all season. Spa especially is never the same and it was even more challenging this season, and it was a difficult situation coming into. But, K-PAX Racing is made up of a bunch of professionals, and though we had some smaller issues, I was proud that we finished and that we finished with a top-10. Considering all the challenges, it was quite the achievement. It’s been all about professionalism and I knew from the first day with the team testing at Sonoma [Raceway] that they were capable of great things and capable of competing in Europe.”
Jules Gounon – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “We definitely had the pace to win throughout the year, and it showed with our qualifying. What made that possible was the preparation of the car. From Charlie [Hayes] to Sebastien [Constans], we paid attention to detail. Small details make big differences, and we looked brand-new each race week. It put a smile on my face coming in to a car that is ready to compete. We did not have the best luck in this highly-competitive series, but K-PAX Racing did amazing and the team put their best effort forth. For a team that did not test against teams that have the ability, the level of preparation was impressive. Our car preparation did not take away from the results, and I’ve been working really well with Seb and Charlie – two of the best relationships I’ve had with a car chief and engineer to get to the next level. The No. 3 team was all working very well together, and this is a team sport so it’s important that we do. We were really great in compromising and creating the best car we could.
Source. K-PAX Racing/Phot. Drew Gibson