Amidst the plethora of changes leading into the third and fourth rounds of the Fantatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS Championship, K-PAX Racing remained undeterred in its goal of defending the title. The team was a quick study in its few days and limited track time at NOLA Motorsports Park, and under challenging circumstances, K-PAX Racing showed its seemingly limitless potential in creating results. The team scored a one-two finish during Saturday’s opening round and in its track debut.
“We could not have ended that race better,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “Hats off to Michele [Beretta] and Misha [Goikhberg] for putting in a great qualifying effort. They both ran amazing stints and kept us out front. And of course, Andrea [Caldarelli] and Jordan [Pepper] brought it home. It got a little tight at the end after a full-course caution with just few laps to go. Again, congratulations to all the guys and the effort they put in. It’s nice to come away with the points we did.”
K-PAX Racing restructured its program, adhering to the new series regulations change which required that all Pro-level entries must carry one FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) Silver rated driver. This saw the dynamic driver pairing of Pepper and Caldarelli split into the team’s two Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVOs. Goikhberg welcomed Pepper to the No. 3, while Caldarelli and the team introduced Beretta to the No. 1. The revised program was ready to take centerstage for the team’s 25th new series track since 2007.
K-PAX Racing was in traditional form despite its four drivers learning a brand-new course. In Thursday’s first practice session, the No. 1 topped the charts with a 1:34.248. Qualifying Friday morning shared its own bright spots, highlighted by Beretta’s quick leap to the top of the time charts in the first session. Beretta put the No. 1 on pole for the event opener with a time of 1:34.067. Goikhberg also secured podium position to start the third round, earning the third-quickest time of 1:35.258. Fourth round qualifying saw Caldarelli rank sixth (second in class) with a time of 1:33.722, and Pepper close behind in seventh (third in class) with a 1:33.821.
“The tire pressure was good right away, so I knew I had to make a good first lap,” Beretta said. “I tried to improve a little bit in the rest of the run, but it wasn’t possible because the pressure was a little higher. But we secured pole. Unfortunately, it was a little tough for Andrea in the second session. It’s always good when you jump out and see that you made a great lap – clean, with no mistakes.”
Clouds loomed over the track, teasing the possibility of a wet race; however, track conditions remained dry for the running start, which kicked off the series’ first edition at NOLA. Beretta was quick on the throttle – so was Goikhberg, who took over the second spot. K-PAX Racing was one-two almost instantly, before a full-course yellow from an incident in the opening sequence momentarily halted the action.
Goikhberg was quick to defend second in the first corners of the restart, allowing the team’s sister-car to pull away to more than a two-second buffer. The No. 3 was also able to break away to about a 1.5 second gap from third after finding its rhythm. One-third of the way through the 90-minute campaign, Beretta continued to control the race by leading by more than 10 seconds. Goikhberg also created space from the field, steadily holding just under a six-second advantage over third. A battle for third, which resulted in an incident, contributed to the team’s growing margins.
Both K-PAX Racing Huracán GT3 EVOs made an early pit at the window, the No. 1 trading off to Caldarelli and the No. 3 Pepper. Caldarelli managed the 20-second gap his co-driver left him, while Pepper battled through lapped traffic, continuing to keep a charge from third position at bay. The two cars extended their splits until a full-course yellow with about 20 minutes remaining regrouped the field. While the margins were diminished, two lap cars separated the K-PAX Racing cars for the restart. The safety car paced the field until there was roughly four minutes remaining. Complete chaos ensued, with multi-car battles challenging the drivers. Both cars were able to fully break free into the white flag, ultimately finishing on top. K-PAX Racing has started the season with a three-race winning streak.
NOLA Motorsport Park is now the 19th course where the team has recorded a podium performance in its debut and 10th where it was victorious. K-PAX Racing continues the trend, having podiumed at all 25 series tracks it has visited in its history. NOLA is the 23rd North American series course where the team has recorded a win.
Andrea Caldarelli – No. 1 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO (Race 1 – 1st) – “I think we got the maximum out of today. We knew from qualifying that we were not the quickest car out there, but we made a bit of progress in the race. We always have to keep working to improve, because we want to get there – mostly with pace. We used this race as a little bit of a test. Michele [Beretta] did an amazing job to give me a good lead, and then I used the gap to learn a little bit more about the car. But after the safety car [at the end], it was ‘race on’ again. It was a great job by the guys. It’s a really hot weekend, but the guys stayed focused.”
Michele Beretta – No. 1 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO (Race 1 – 1st) – “It was a clean race for us. Even the safety car at the end could not stop us from this one-two result. My stint was good. The pace was there, and we got a gap. Andrea [Caldarelli] did a super stint. I think it was a perfect race – a good result for the team and the championship.”
Jordan Pepper – No. 3 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO (Race 1 – 2nd) – “Today’s job was done by Misha [Goikhberg]. He had an incredible start, and he held his own out there. He raced really well at a good speed, handing me the car in second. We were just controlling the gap to the guys behind. At the restart, I thought I could have a go at Andrea [Caldarelli] on the restart, but I had two back-markers in front of me, so that was a little disappointing of an ending. But second is still good. I lose the championship now that Andrea won, but maybe it goes back and forth. Congratulations to the guys on the one-two.”
Misha Goikhberg – No. 3 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO (Race – 2nd) – “The goal was to at least get ahead of everyone else, and we were able to do that at the start. We had strong pace in the beginning. Unfortunately, I feel like I faded a little more than our sister car. It was tricky to drive at the end for me. We were able to hold off the No. 96 BMW, and from that point on, we really didn’t have a threat from behind.”
Source. K-Pax Racing