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K-PAX Racing, Bentley Make Promising Start in First Year
Team’s 2018 Season Highlighted by Team Title
Over the span of 12 seasons, K-PAX Racing has continued to solidify itself toward the top of the Pirelli World Challenge Championship rankings. But for only the fourth time in more than a decade, the team was tasked with assembling a title-contending team with a new manufacturer. In 2018, K-PAX Racing showed its resiliency in a year full of unknowns – ultimately capturing another team championship to add to its already illustrious resume.
Bring The Thunder
At the conclusion of the 2017 race season, K-PAX Racing was in the market to replace cars that were at the end of their lifespans and began to consider its options from several different parameters – car specifications, manufacturer support and long-term potential being some of many. After a detailed search, K-PAX Racing officially announced its switch to Bentley and as the manufacturer’s only North American customer-works supported team, it fielded the first-generation Bentley Continental GT3 for the 2018 season.
“Part of the reason behind the switch in manufacturers was really the long-term outlook of, ‘Where are we going to be in the next couple years?’” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “Bentley came out on-top in many areas, and they do have a brand-new car that is being developed as we speak. Aside from their performance level and the total commitment they have to us, they have a bright future with the new car coming out.”
With less than two months before the start of the season, time was of the essence. Bentley delivered three Continental GT3s over the course of one month to K-PAX Racing’s base in Sonoma, Calif., where the team swiftly started its preparation for a fast-approaching season debut at St. Petersburg, Fla. Upon receiving its first Continental GT3, the crew stripped it down to the bare-chassis to learn more about its nuances. The model was unique as the only right-hand drive car in the series’ GT3 program – traditional to the British automaker – with less than 30 made worldwide by Bentley.
“Our initial plan was to completely disassemble one in order to understand the car and its various systems,” K-PAX Racing Technical Director Tommy Sadler said. “Any top-level pro team – whatever class they are – would do the kind of work we did.”
“The guys worked until at least midnight the night before the first test. As we were getting the two cars we had prepped, we also received the third car. So, we actually prepped three cars in this time frame. We are not the kind of guys that just work on the cars at the track.”
K-PAX Racing managed to fit a two-day test in an already tight window to the start of the season and brought a two-car effort into the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge season. Throughout the course of the rigorous 19-round schedule (Sprint GT – 9, SprintX – 10), the team compiled 10 wins, 18 podiums and eventually was awarded its second PWC Team Championship in the last three seasons. For its effort through the season, the team was also awarded the 2018 GT Crew of the Year.
“The Bentley Motorsport group has been very supportive in helping us switch our brand. They are very liberal with providing us data, information and any type of support – more so than some of the other manufacturers we’ve worked with. They are very eager to see success.”
To aid the team in its first season with a new manufacturer, Bentley factory drivers Andy Soucek and Max Soulet joined K-PAX Racing in the series’ SprintX category. Both drivers had previously competed together in the same car under the Bentley banner since 2015 and with K-PAX Racing, they competed in two separate cars for the first time. While Soulet had limited racing experience in the states, Soucek made his American racing debut with the team.
“Bentley has great respect for K-PAX Racing, “Soucek said. “America is a great market for Bentley and it’s very important to them to have a first-line team there. I think with K-PAX Racing, we found that partner. The relationship has been immaculate since the first day between us and between the drivers. We’ve all gelled really well, and that’s something you appreciate as a driver – especially when you’re 10,000 kilometers from home. It helps when you have a family every weekend that you can rely on.”
“I’m really thankful that everyone, including Jim [Haughey], Darren [Law] and Thomas [Blam], have been so welcoming to us and appreciative of what we’ve been able to give them in terms of experience. We shared all the knowledge we could, so the team could progress as quickly as possible, and the progress is there.”
Of the five tracks the two raced at throughout the SprintX season, both Soucek and Soulet agreed that VIRginia International Raceway (VIR) was one of their favorite venues. The Alton, Va. road course was the first track the two tested at before racing there in late-April. For Soulet especially, VIR has a special place in his heart as he helped co-drive the No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 to his first American victory out-right and the team’s first overall of the season.
“The best moment is when we won the overall at VIR because I think that showed we were ready,” Soulet said. “I think the results speak for itself. It’s proof that we’re working well together. K-PAX Racing learned the cars very quickly, and I think they were quite happy that we were there to help them having four years of experience in the car. The team showed right away that they were capable of winning.”
Of K-PAX Racing’s 10 victories during the entire season, the combination of Soulet and Rodrigo Baptista accounted for six. The two’s success stemmed from a common goal when they started the season in the amateur ranks of the series: Compete out of class at the pro level. The VIR opener was a testament to both drivers’ capabilities to do just that – so much that In June, Baptista was promoted into the series’ elite ranks.
“The thing is, when you’re a driver, you want to be the best,” Soulet said. “Like Rodrigo started in GTA, but he wanted to win overall since the beginning. We won classes and finished the season with a strong showing in the Pro class. We aimed further and further, and I think we did pretty well.”
Baptista, who formerly raced in the series’ GTS class in 2017, quickly climbed the ladder to the series’ professional ranks during his first full season in GT3 racing. Baptista helped put K-PAX Racing on the fast-track to a Sprint GT Team Championship by earning three wins, five podiums and four poles in five events. In a memorable finish to the Sprint GT season, Baptista swept the Grand Prix of Watkins Glen presented by TM Performance in New York State. Baptista not only started both races on the pole, but he led the field every lap of the weekend to more than a 10-second margin-of-victory at the finish line.
“The 2018 PWC season with K-PAX Racing and Bentley ended with a perfect weekend for me – a pole-position and two race wins at the legendary Watkins Glen,” Baptista said. “I need to thank everyone – from the team members to the PWC organization. This was my very first year competing in the GT3 series in the U.S. and to finish with this kind of momentum is a great thing – even with the promotion from amateur, which I was leading the championship. To begin racing with the Pros, everything went really well, and I think I am now ready for 2019 and to fight for a championship.”
In a challenging third season with K-PAX Racing, 2016 PWC Champion Álvaro Parente showed true grit and will-power to drive the No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 to several podiums in the series’ premiere class. Notably, he returned to championship form on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., where he captured his first podium of the season. There, Parente extended his streak to three-straight years on the podium. Parente continued to show his resiliency at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, winning the event finale in a replacement Continental GT3 flown to the U.S. just three weeks prior.
“It was a tough season this year, especially at the start with the accidents and the extra work the guys had in rebuilding the cars,” Parente said. “It was a bigger effort that Jim and the whole team had to make. I would like to give a big thanks to every single member of the team for making it possible to be on time, racing every weekend – even the races that were looking like would be impossible to attend due to the accidents.”
Parente also secured milestones for both K-PAX Racing and Bentley Motorsport during the Sprint GT season. At Road America (Wis.), Parente simultaneously recorded K-PAX Racing’s 50th win in team history and Bentley Motorsport’s 50th with the first-generation Continental GT3. With his victory at Road America, Parente is on the heels of becoming K-PAX Racing’s most-winningest driver – currently two wins shy of tying three-time series champion Randy Pobst.
Going the Distance
For a second-consecutive season, K-PAX Racing entered the Intercontinental GT Challenge California 8 Hours, which is the longest race hosted at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Parente and Baptista shared the seat of one of the team’s Continental GT3s with former team driver Bryan Sellers.
For the occasion, the No. 9 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3 featured a special one-off livery, commemorating some of the team’s and manufacturer’s successes in their first year together. For a second-consecutive year, K-PAX Racing finished the race – this time completing 302 laps around the legendary road course. K-PAX Racing crossed the finish-line 10th in its class.
“It’s always such a pleasure to be a part of K-PAX Racing,” said Sellers, who competed alongside Parente in 2017. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t do the full-season here. But when I got the call to do the eight-hour, I jumped on it immediately. This is such a first-class operation. Everything that happens here top to bottom is done the right way. Although the results didn’t produce what we wanted, it certainly was not for the lack of effort.”
Álvaro Parente – Bentley Continental GT3 – “We had some strong wins and some good races in some of the Sprint GT rounds, but then some really hard ones in SprintX. We were quick and competitive in a lot of the rounds but unfortunately in some cases could not conclude the weekend with the result we wanted for some reason or another. It was hard but there were a lot of positives and K-PAX Racing once again showed that we are a top team and hungry for results.”
Andy Soucek – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I always try to remain positive – no matter what the outcome of the race is. One thing that I did notice this year is that we grew stronger as a team. It was the team’s first year with Bentley, and everything takes some time to adapt. I think [the relationship] gelled from the beginning and we were immediately competing toward the top. That’s why I think it was such a shame that it didn’t happen the way we wanted. We really showed the pace of the car with our car being on pole twice – at Lime Rock Park and Utah Motorsports Campus. It’s true our pace had been toward the top every weekend qualifying inside the top-three or four. I tried to remain positive by our pace and qualifying, but we had some very unfortunate incidents during the races. I think if a lot of the bad luck and problems were cured, we would’ve been fighting for a championship – no doubt about that. It’s a shame we couldn’t show what we could’ve done – I missed two out of the five races in SprintX – but nothing makes me more motivated to go back next year and try to win a championship.”
Rodrigo Baptista – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I am also happy to contribute on K-PAX Racing to secure the teams’ title. Again, thank you everyone – Jim Haughey, Darren Law, everyone at my management staff, everyone from my crew to the engineering staff including Charlie [Hayes], John [Brenner], Sean [Onan], and Sebastien [Constans]. Also, thank you K-PAX Racing, Bentley, Opti-Coat, Pirelli World Challenge and especially to my family for always supporting me and being by my side.”
Max Soulet – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “Returning to the United States was great as I expected. I knew the American market was strong, and I met a lot of great people – especially Rodrigo [Baptista]. He is a very nice and talented driver who made a lot of progress throughout the year. I’m kind of proud of myself as well. I have quite a bit of experience so the first time we drove together, I knew he was capable of doing great things. I knew it was going to be a great year and that he was going to continue to learn.”
About K-PAX Racing
Based in Sonoma, Calif., K-PAX Racing has celebrated a total 125 podiums, 53 wins, four Driver Championships and three Manufacturer Championships, solidifying the team as a continuous championship contender. In the GT Class K-PAX has fielded Porsche 911 GT3s during the 2007 – 2008 seasons, Volvo S60s during the 2009 – 2013 seasons, McLaren 12C GT3s in 2014 and McLaren 650S GT3s from 2015 – 2017.
About Bentley Motorsport
Bentley Motorsport is based at the Bentley Motors headquarters in Crewe. From there, the operation runs Bentley Team M-Sport, and oversees customer racing operations around the world.
The Continental GT3 is built by the Bentley motorsport team in conjunction with M-Sport. The Bentley Motorsport team is led by Bentley Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush supported by M-Sport’s Chief Engineer, Christian Loriaux.
Bentley Motors’ headquarters in Crewe is home to all of its operations including design, R&D, engineering and production of the company’s four model lines, Continental, Bentayga, Flying Spur and Mulsanne. The combination of fine craftsmanship, using skills that have been handed down through generations, alongside engineering expertise and cutting-edge technology is unique to UK luxury car brands.
Optimum Polymer Technologies, the manufacturer of Opti-Coat, was founded in Memphis, Tenn., on July 1, 2001 by Dr. David Ghodoussi. Prior to this, Dr. Ghodoussi worked for over 12 years as an Organic Chemist overseeing research and development focused in polymers and automotive paint formulations.
For more than a decade, Opti-Coat has been setting the industry standard with their unique coating technologies developing and manufacturing proprietary resins utilizing Silicon Carbide (SiC) chemistry. Opti-Coat’s purpose is to provide clients with a product that is the most durable, innovative and protective coating available.
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