Nestled deep in the rolling hills of the Northern California countryside is home. Sonoma Raceway has been the site and stardom for a lot of K-PAX Racing triumphs over the years, and while the scenic hillside casts a shadow over the course, the team continues to reach new heights toward an even brighter future. The team experienced just that during the opening round of the 2022 Fanatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS season, as it stood tall on the top step of the podium – victorious.
“What a great way to start this season for K-PAX Racing,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “We had a very strong run with the No. 1 car to back-up our championship run last season with Andrea [Caldarelli] and Jordan [Pepper]. We are very proud that we were able to deliver Lamborghini its first professional win worldwide this year.”
GT World Challenge made its second consecutive stop at Sonoma to start the season. K-PAX Racing debuted its partnership with Lamborghini Squadra Corse in 2021, when a seemingly steep learning curve was quickly bridged, resulting in a convincing sweep of the event – virtual perfection, with both the team’s Huracán GT3 EVOs finishing one-two in both rounds. Fast-forward to 2022: K-PAX Racing has used last year’s wisdom and this year’s testing to recreate its success against some of the fiercest GT competition stateside.
Mother Nature gave the team a wide array of track conditions to work through both in pre-season testing and early in the race week – testing mostly in wet conditions but practicing on a dry course. K-PAX Racing enjoyed Thursday’s practice at the top of the timing charts. The No. 1 of Caldarelli and Pepper climbed to the top in both practices, recording a 1:36.241 in the first and rounding-out the day on top with a 1:36.444 in an abbreviated final run.
“We had a lot of tough conditions, but you know, the great thing is that this is our second year with this Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO platform,” Law said. “It was good to be at our home track – a track we know well. Having to go through the various track conditions can be challenging, but it just reaffirms where we are with this program. It showed today.”
Saturday’s qualifying was back under wet conditions, and the team was able to use the valuable data gathered from testing in similar conditions to its advantage, as the No. 1 was again the leader of the pack for the first group in light rain. Pepper put his Huracán GT3 EVO on pole with a 1:48.782, and Caldarelli also qualified on the front-row, second, with a 1:48.958 for Sunday’s finale.
“You never know with red flags, so I gave it everything directly out,” Pepper said. “I put in a good banker (lap-time), and we were quite a way ahead, so we just cruised from there. As the times got closer, I put one more in at the end with about five-minutes to go. We could have improved more, but there was no need to risk it. The car was perfect.
“I love the rain. I thrive in it. I love low-grip and trying to search for it. It keeps you on your toes, and it forces you to really think and go off feeling. It’s like treading on glass a little bit, but I love that feeling.”
K-PAX Racing, set to debut a second Huracán GT3 EVO in the Pro-Am class, also saw its No. 3 car secure a spot toward the top of the grid. Misha Goikhberg qualified second-in-class (fifth overall) with a 1:54.238, and teammate Giacomo Altoè emerged as the class-leader (third overall) with a 1:49.140 in his run. Notably, a series decision made ahead of the opener promoted the No. 3 into the all-Pro class.
“The class change really caught us by surprise,” Law said. “[The series] literally changed our class five minutes before the race. I’m really not sure what the reasoning was behind it. Based on what we’ve read in the rules, I don’t see how they can make this call based off a wet qualifying session in changing conditions. We’re going to speak to them about it. I don’t know if there is anything that can be done, but we were not happy hearing about [their decision] five minutes before the race.”
A break in the clouds and steady sunshine dried the tarmac ahead of the first round, where Pepper led the field into a clean start for the team’s two Huracán GT3 EVOs. The South African GT racing talent was quick to clear nearly a 20-second gap from the field within the first 15-minutes and built his advantage to 30 seconds by the half-hour mark of the 90-minute race length.
Goikhberg maintained fifth throughout his stint and into the pit window – the first K-PAX Racing car to make the drive change for Altoè. Pepper increased his lead to about one-minute in 25 laps before handing the reigns off to Caldarelli for the final leg of the race.
The two team Huracán GT3 EVOs gained ground from their pit-stops – the No. 1 enjoyed nearly a 50-second lead with 30 minutes remaining, and the No. 3 closed the gap down to less than one-second from fourth. In the final 10 minutes, Altoè completed the pass, where he would finish after a strong push for podium position. Caldarelli completed the flag-to-flag finish for the win, and he was also awarded the CrowdStrike Fast Lap with a 1:37.310.
“We have to hand it to Misha Goikhberg and Giacomo Altoè,” Law said. “Those guys had a phenomenal race and almost pulled a podium out of the Pro class.”
Since its series track debut in 2011, K-PAX Racing has won six times in nine appearances. The team has 18 series podiums at its homebase entering this season’s event finale.
Andrea Caldarelli – No. 1 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO (Race 1 – 1st) – “It was a good start to the season, winning the race from pole. We worked hard in the sessions leading into the race, and it was definitely a positive result for the team. We really tried to optimize and finish the job we had started in testing. It was a mega start and stint by Jordan [Pepper], giving me the car with a big gap. It’s good for the points, the team, and it’s great to start off 2022 with a win. Thank you to the guys and Seb (K-PAX Racing Engineer Sebastien Constans), who was following the race from his hotel room – this win is for him. He was a key part of this win.”
Jordan Pepper – No. 1 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO (Race 1 – 1st) – “It was a great start to the year. Half the job was done this morning during qualifying. Starting from pole was really good, so at least I could control the start. I decided to push quite hard in the beginning to build a gap, and I think we got lucky when the field started to fight behind us. I just settled into a great rhythm, and then Andrea [Caldarelli] just closed it at the end. The team did a great pit-stop and everything was perfect. The routine is still there (from 2021). We had a great car today. Thank you to K-PAX Racing, Lamborghini and every single crew member who worked hard over the winter.”
Giacomo Altoè – No. 3 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO (Race 1 – 4th) – “It was quite a fun race, because fighting from the back to gain position was challenging. It was really difficult being so close to the cars up front to try to overtake, but when I got the opportunity, I tried and did it [for fourth position]. Then I tried (for third) because I was quicker, but he defended it well. We can still improve the car, but I’m quite happy with the results.”
Misha Goikhberg – No. 3 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO (Race 1 – 4th) – “I think the biggest adaptation for me was the new tire, because I don’t have a lot of experience with it. I was going into the race a little bit blind, not knowing what to expect. I was surprised. We had good pace in the beginning, but then we dropped off – probably a little more than I would have liked. I think if I did not have as much [tire] degradation, I would have attacked a little harder and potentially made another position or two. We know what we can do to improve that, and we’ll have another crack at it tomorrow.”
Source. K-Pax Racing