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K-PAX RACING RETURNS TO DOMINANCE

It was almost a feeling déjà vu at the conclusion of the 2022 Fanatec GT World Championship America Powered by AWS Championship – almost. While K-PAX Racing celebrated a duplication of the previous season, sweeping the series three major championships, in hindsight it did not come without new challenges. In fact, how the team reacted to this season’s unforeseen adversity casted a much different light upon 2022.

K-PAX Racing reintroduced its Lamborghini Squadra Corse supported program for a second season, revolving its effort around the manufacturer’s Huracán GT3 EVO. Lamborghini factory driver Andrea Caldarelli and three-year team driver Jordan Pepper – the 2021 co-champions – returned to the line-up. Giacomo Altoè, also a Lamborghini factory driver, and Misha Goikhberg initially joined forces in Pro-Am to complete the team’s multi-class chase.

“Coming into this season was the second year of our program with Lamborghini Squadra Corse, so we had both confidence and momentum coming from our experience in 2021,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “It was a great season, and we knew what we had to do to go for championships. Although it was lofty, we felt confident that we could compete for the Drivers’, Manufacturers’ and Team titles and I am glad we were able to deliver those.”

The Sonoma, Calif. based operation enjoyed home-field advantage in the first two rounds of action. Sonoma Raceway had not only been a true testing ground in the team’s 2021 transition to the Huracán GT3 EVO, but also a successful starting point of a new era. The Caldarelli-Pepper power pairing, concluding the 2021 regular season with back-to-back sweeps, extended its streak at Sonoma. This feat was also reminiscent of the 2021 opener, as the team kicked-off the year with back-to-back victories. While Sonoma is especially – and literally – near and dear, the proceeding rounds would be the first major shift and hurdle for the defending champions.

GT World Challenge America made a strategic audible on short notice that welcomed NOLA Motorsports Park to the schedule. The decision challenged the team to prepare for a new course it had yet to experience in North America – a 2020 stop at Indianapolis Motor Speedway being its last debut among the series’ regular circuits. An additional unforeseen change saw an abrupt shuffling of the team’s driver line-up ahead of the team’s track debut. Adhering to the series decision to reclassify its premiere Pro category – requiring one FIA categorized “Silver” licensed driver per entry – the team split Caldarelli and Pepper into its two Huracán GT3 EVOs, as well as invited Lamborghini driver Michele Beretta to the fold to replace Altoè.

Amidst the major changes, including a promotion of the team’s Pro-Am entry, the team’s tenacity shined. Caldarelli and Beretta swept the weekend and went on to do the same in the following rounds at VIRginia International Raceway. Three consecutive team sweeps to open 2022 not only marked the best start the team has had in its history but was also just a piece of a more spectacular accomplishment. K-PAX Racing remained unbeaten through 10 regular season rounds over the span of a 10-month period, as well as an additional round win after the first three hours of the 2021 Indianapolis 8 Hour.

While the following two series events, Watkins Glen International and Road America, tested the team’s fortitude – the longest winning streak in team history snapped – K-PAX Racing created a major effort with Squadra Corse for the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa in-between to contest for one of racing’s most coveted titles on arguably the biggest GT racing stages in the world. The team combined the racing talents of Caldarelli, Pepper and Lamborghini factory driver Marco Mapelli in an Orange1 supported Huracán GT3 EVO. The team battled to an 11th place finish – even leading the race at one point – in the second-largest grid the event has seen in the past two decades. The team has finished the race with all three of its entries in two appearances in the event (2020, 2022).

“The return to the 24 Hours of Spa was a very big effort, and we came into this race with a strengthened relationship with Lamborghini,” Law said. “They were an integral part of this event as was the support from Orange1, and it showed with our performance. Although luck was not totally on our side, we showed how fast we were. We are proud to finish as the top Lamborghini in the race. This is a race we felt we could have won, and it is still on our list of accomplishments to achieve in the coming years.”

K-PAX Racing had celebrated continuous success up until the mid-season stretch, but whether it experienced triumph or defeat, the drivers and team neither basked nor dwelled in it. There was always room for improvement. The team regrouped heading into the penultimate rounds – Sebring International Raceway was a special place for the team, as it clinched all three 2021 titles there with a sweep of the weekend. It was nearly reprised this season, as Caldarelli and Beretta completed the double victory, which was their third in five events as a driver pairing. Caldarelli not only secured the Drivers’ Championship, but also became the wins leader in K-PAX Racing history (17). Simultaneously, K-PAX Racing clinched its fourth Team Championship over the last five seasons.

“Although it may have looked easy, it never is,” Law said. “We had our share of struggles this year but to lock things up at Sebring shows the determination of the drivers, the team and the dedication Jim Haughey has for this sport.”

There was one final title within close reach – the Manufacturers’ Championship. K-PAX Racing had its chance to not only help Lamborghini to its second-straight, but also decide the rest of the order in the drivers’ standings. Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the final stop for the team, as it contended in its third eight-hour endurance race there. Teams participating in the SRO Motorsports Group hosted event, shared by GT World Challenge America and Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli, were able to earn points in each series.

K-PAX Racing expanded its line-up by welcoming Mapelli back to the roster and inviting Lamborghini factory driver Franck Perera to the team. The team was able to finish the race with one of its Huracán GT3 EVOs, powered by Pepper, Goikhberg and Perera. The finish locked-up the team’s second-straight “triple crown” of GT World Challenge America, as it helped Lamborghini to a title. All four regular season drivers also finished at the top of the series’ driver rankings.

In total: Eight wins, 20 podiums and five poles. K-PAX Racing was able to earn pole position in the first four events of the season. It was also able to turn four of those five poles into a race win. In two seasons with Lamborghini, K-PAX Racing has won 19 races and earn 42 podiums – its most successful start with any manufacturer over the first two seasons.

“It is hard to ask for much more than what we achieved this season,” Law said. “Locking up the three championships and adding to the winning K-PAX Racing history is very special. We are looking forward to the new Huracán EVO2 and can’t wait to get 2023 started.”

DRIVER QUOTES

Andrea Caldarelli – No. 1 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO – “I came back after a first great season, so obviously we already had a good relationship. But we had to keep the bar high, so it was never easy. We didn’t change the attitude, the anger to win, compared to the first year. It was a very enjoyable, but it was also a harder second season.

The decision to split-up me and Jordan [Pepper] shuffled everything up, as we used to do car setup together. We were ‘against’ one another, which was bit strange… but at the same time it pushed us to do better. We had struggled to find speed in the middle of the season and that was a very tough moment, until we have found the issue in Sebring.

[RE: Driver Pairing with Michele Beretta]: We already knew each other and spoke the same language, so it was very easy to click from the beginning and we could crack on straight away. So, I was very happy to share the car with Mike. We enjoyed a lot even though we had tough moments.

It was, for me, a very positive second year with the team and we have achieved a lot together. I am very proud as I feel part of the successful K-PAX Racing and Lamborghini relationship since Day 1. Two championships in row are definitely something special.

[RE: Memories from the season]: There are many nice memories from this year, but one that stands out a bit more is definitely when we went play top golf in Indianapolis together. It was very good fun!”

Michele Beretta – No. 1 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO – “Initially, GTWC America was not the plan for my season, but after the first race I found myself in the No. 1 K-PAX Racing Huracán GT3 EVO defending the 2021 Championship title with one of the fastest Lamborghini drivers.

The goal was to win. Together, with Andrea [Caldarelli] and the team, we worked hard – especially mid-season where we were struggling to find some performances. Everyone was committed and motivated, and that’s how we got back up to speed for Sebring and Indy.

Andrea is a great guy to work with, and he is pushing everyone on the team to get the best from the car in every session. I did not know Jordan [Pepper] before this year, but it took very little to get comfortable around the team atmosphere. I enjoyed every moment on-track with these guys – everyone pushed each other to get the best, especially through difficult moments.

I had a fantastic experience, and I have to thank K-PAX Racing and Lamborghini to get me in the best condition to fight for this championship. Unfortunately, we had a bittersweet end with the last race in Indianapolis. I was looking for good results in the eight-hour – it would have been the cherry on top.”

Jordan Pepper – No. 3 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO – “The 2022 season was an interesting one to be honest. A lot of adversity got thrown our way with the change in driver line-ups, but I think how the team reacted is a great testament of the determination by every team member. No matter what was thrown at us and with all the changes that were made throughout the year, it only added to our success. Instead of having a possibility with two cars, we had four drivers fighting for the championship. We ended up clinching one, two, three and four. Overall, it was a great season. My goal going into the championship was to fight for the title again and defend it with Andrea [Caldarelli], but ultimately, we were against each other from the second event. I didn’t get the best of it, as he beat me in the battle. But it was great to have a ‘go’ at it and finish second. It’s something I’m still really proud of. 

K-PAX Racing has been my home now for three years. Every year the relationship gets stronger and the trust has been there from the first day. It’s what you need in a good working relationship. I’m very proud to have delivered some great results for them this year – for Jim [Haughey] and every single team member. A big ‘thank you’ to everyone in the No. 3 crew for all the hard work they put into this. It was difficult at points – a lot of lows when we should have been celebrating highs. But, we never gave up in the end.

The pairing with Misha [Goikhberg] was thrown at us in the beginning, but I understood right away just sharing the drivers’ room with him during the opening event what a hard-working guy he is – and very down to Earth. He took up the sport late, but it doesn’t affect how determined he is. He’s probably one of the hardest working teammates I’ve ever had. I was able to learn from him, even being a professional driver. You learn from his determination. I was also able to share a lot of my knowledge as well, and he has come a long way and has become a lot faster. He improved every step of the way.

It was a long, tough year. But overall, it was a good one. I’m very happy for the whole K-PAX Racing organization, as well as Lamborghini Squadra Corse.”

Misha Goikhberg – No. 3 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO – “I really enjoyed 2022 with K-PAX Racing, and I hope to build on that in the future. We had some difficult moments, but we had definitely grown. For me the challenge was getting used to the Pirelli tire, and the championship was new for me. I really enjoyed the format of the weekends and having two races was a big plus. Working with JP (Jordan Pepper) has been a great pleasure. We found good chemistry and usually wanted the same things from the car. Thank you to everyone at K-PAX Racing, Lamborghini, Jim [Haughey] and Darren [Law] to make all this happen. I’m really happy to help Lamborghini secure the Manufacturers’ Championship.”

Source. K-Pax Racing

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