K-PAX Racing Stands on Podium in Home State
Fights to third-place finish in California 8 Hours
It was not only the longest race held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (Calif.) on Sunday, but it was also the inaugural Intercontinental GT Challenge race at the track. K-PAX Racing, which has celebrated some of its own milestones in the 2017 season, concluded the year with a hard-fought third-place finish in the California 8 Hours.
The eight-hour endurance race showcased the durability and versatility of a team that predominantly competes in Sprint races – the closest similarity is the Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) Sprint-X category, which uses a two-driver setup in a 60-minute race. Though K-PAX Racing was faced with some adversity having entered in its second-ever endurance race, the team was faced with off-track hardship in the same week. California wildfires have spread throughout Northern California, where K-PAX Racing is based.
“This podium finish was great for us, but a bigger issue at hand – that really hits home for the team – are the fires that have taken a toll in the whole Northern California area,” Program Manager Darren Law said. “In fact, we even had some team members leave early to make sure that things were all right up there. What’s important to us – beyond any of this – is that everyone up there is all right, and we hope we stay clear of any danger. This was a nice distraction and a great finish to take our minds off that.”
Determined to repeat its success at the iconic course from 2016, K-PAX Racing entered three talented drivers in Alvaro Parente, Bryan Sellers and Ben Barnicoat. Parente and Barnicoat have some rapport sharing a ride in 2017, but Sellers was a new addition to the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 car. Their friendships off the track helped the team establish groundwork earlier in the week, ultimately qualifying fifth for the race.
Parente, who started the race, pushed toward the front once the green flag waved the 23-car field down the front straightaway. The highlight of his stint came following a full-course caution in the first 10 minutes of the race. Parente was quick on the gas during the restart, and he managed to pass two cars into second place. Into the day, K-PAX Racing spent most of the race inside the top-five.
“If you want to pass people and go for it, then you have to risk a little bit,” Parente said. “But that one just went well to be honest. It was synchronized and I was sharp on the throttle, but it went well because the leader did not go instantaneously coming out of the last corner. The timing was just right, and I placed the car well. It was good to get P2 in the first hour, but we knew we didn’t have a car to beat the Audi cars today.”
In each of the driver’s first stint, they experienced extreme tire degradation toward the end. The team, already having a conservative strategy in-place, adjusted for the tire wear which helped the them maintain track position throughout the eight hours. They dropped as low as seventh in the race – for a short time – but otherwise maintained a comfy cushion inside the top-five. The three Audi teams, which made-up the top-three for almost the entire race, were travelling at an extremely fast pace. K-PAX Racing made it a point to keep a solid pace throughout the race, waiting for a window of opportunity.
The window opened. In the final hour – with Sellers at the wheel – the No. 11 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT made contact battling for position, forcing the driver to pit. Sellers made his way into third position, where he finished. Sellers was one of three cars on the lead lap.
“Today was a really great day,” Sellers said. “You look at the results on a day like today, taking everything into account such as the pace of other cars and tire degradation, and seeing where we stacked-up. Today, you realize how much of a team effort it was. You don’t finish on a podium in a race like this when you’re down on speed without everybody clicking on all cylinders. That was what made today special.”
Similar to when Barnicoat fought to a podium finish at VIRginia International Raceway earlier this season in PWC SprintX – his first sports car event in America – he podiumed in his first trip to Laguna Seca. Barnicoat said the moment on the podium was not only special because of where he stood, but also for who he was standing with.
“I’m very happy to have been on the podium with Alvaro and Bryan,” Barnicoat said. “They are the best teammates I’ve ever had. It’s great to have them influence me, teach me and guide me while I’ve been here. I couldn’t have had a better ending to the year. It would have been nice to win, but for what we lacked it feels like a win. Like Alvaro said, we just made the best we could of it and gave it all we had. We fought and never gave up. That’s why we ended up on the podium. We kept on digging deep.”
Through the week, the team came together to have a good on-track result. But, Sellers said the week at Laguna Seca was a bigger win from a team perspective. Through all the hardship, K-PAX Racing banded together.
“One of the great things about sports and sporting events is that it allows you to escape what’s really happening for a few hours a day, and I think today was no different,” Sellers said. “It’s a rough time and a lot of people are affected in that area – a lot of people who work in the shop have homes in that area and have family members that were affected. Today’s result does feel good because tomorrow morning they have a go back, but today we were able to come together, fight and get a podium.”
QUOTE FROM PROGRAM MANAGER DARREN LAW – “This was a really hard-fought podium for us and the team performed so well. We didn’t have the ultimate pace to win this race, but through hardwork, good pitstops and great driving, we were able to get to the podium. For us, that’s a great way to finish-out our season, and also finish in the inaugural California 8 Hours at Laguna Seca. We’re really happy with how we performed today, and we’re looking forward to hopefully coming back to this event next year.”
Alvaro Parente – No. 9 McLaren 650S (3rd) – “I think everything else clicked [but the tires] – our strategy and the drivers were in-form. In each of our first stints, we had to understand a little bit more about the tire – not using it too much at the beginning. We found that out quickly. Fundamentally though, K-PAX Racing is a great team. We made all the right calls, the boys did everything they could for the setup. We didn’t have a winning car this time, but finishing on the podium feels really good. We were suffering a little too much at the end of our stints but there’s nothing we really could have done. We went conservative with the setup already, so there was really nothing we could do. Bryan and Ben gave all they had in their stints like I did, and that’s the spirit at K-PAX Racing. We never put our arms down and gave-up. We’re over-determined. Even though we weren’t super-quick, we still gave it everything we had. Winners are the ones who go in the books but for me, we didn’t have a chance at winning but we did good.”
Bryan Sellers – No. 9 McLaren 650S (3rd) – “We knew deep down that we didn’t have enough to do it unless we did everything right. We had a little luck along the way, and that’s what happens. I think we can hold our heads high on a good result, and I’m happy to end the year with a podium, and happy to let Jim [Haughey] sit through the winter on a podium as a way to say, ‘Thanks for a great year from all of us.’”
Ben Barnicoat – No. 9 McLaren 650S (3rd) – “The strategy we followed was pretty much what we planned on the word ‘go.’ Obviously, there were a couple full-course yellows and safety cars that played a part, but we kept on-top of them. Thomas [Blam] did a great job to make sure we took advantage of those. From there on out, the Audi teams were tough. About halfway through the race, we learned how to manage our tires and that allowed us to have a stronger pace. To get third after a great season with K-PAX Racing is an awesome way to end the year.”
About K-PAX Racing
Since joining the Pirelli World Challenge in 2007, K-PAX Racing has celebrated a total 107 podiums, 43 wins and four driver championships, solidifying the team as a continuous championship contender. In 2014, K-PAX Racing expanded its relationship with McLaren GT, bringing two new 2015 McLaren 650S GT3 race cars into competition. The renewed effort kept K-PAX Racing at the forefront of competition, becoming a serious championship contender in the seasons to follow. In 2016, the team expanded to three full season McLaren 650S GT3 race cars, and clinched the Pirelli World Challenge Team, Driver, and Manufacturer Championships.
About McLaren GT
McLaren has been a pioneer and setting benchmarks on the tracks around the world for 50 years, and the latest range of GT racing models based on the road-going McLaren Automotive range is no different. McLaren GT was established in 2011 to develop, build and support all GT race activities. Based in Woking, Surrey at the former home of McLaren Racing, the company is responsible for the design, development and production of the 650S GT3, 570S GT4, and 650S and 570S Sprint models.
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