Parente, Barnicoat finish on the podium at VIR
Barnicoat sprays champagne in his first sports car race in the U.S.
The Pirelli World Challenge SprintX class was under the spotlight of the series’ three competing divisions Sunday afternoon at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR). In a class chock-full of prime competition, K-PAX Racing fielded three top-of-the-line cars and six total drivers for The Grand Prix at VIR finale. Of the trio of McLaren 650S GT3 racecars, the No. 9 finished toward the top in the season’s introductory weekend of the class. The car, piloted by Ben Barnicoat and 2016 Series GT Champion Alvaro Parente, recorded a top-5 finish – the team’s fifth top-five finish in three events.
“I’m happy we could turn it around today,” said Parente about the weekend. “I don’t think we had the ultimate pace this weekend, but our engineers did excellent work for our race setup. [The car] was quite a bit better in the race than the rest of the week. We turned it around nicely.”
While the No. 9 car recorded a 2nd place finish in the 60-minute campaign, the No. 6 car of Bryan Sellers and Jonny Kane was not far behind placing 12th overall (11th among Pro drivers). The Pro/Am duo of Mike Hedlund and Michael Lewis finished 18th in the field of 33 teams, ranking 5th among drivers in their division.
The six-pack of drivers endured the 17-turn, 3.27-mile course and its unknowns to start. When the series last visited the raceway in September 2010, K-PAX Racing – which entered two Volvo S60 cars – swept the weekend’s GT races to solidify multiple championships. Seven years later, only one-third of the team’s drivers (Hedlund, Sellers) had prior racing experience at VIR. The SprintX class – introduced by the series in 2016 – was also uncharted territory for all but one driver (Lewis). Despite the odds, it did not deter the team from continuing its solid performances at each of the tracks on the series’ schedule.
The SprintX rules permitted the drivers start in inverse order from Saturday’s competition. Barnicoat was in the seat of the No. 9 first, maintaining a top-five standing up to the 30-minute mark of the race; the race’s first caution waved seconds from the pit window at the 25-minute mark. The mandatory driver change set Parente back to 13th position. He chased the lead up to the 44-minute mark, when he boldly made his way into the runner-up position behind the No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes – AMG GT3 of Ryan Dalziel and Daniel Morad. A yellow-flag in the closing minutes ended the race prematurely, making the drivers’ current positions final.
Barnicoat and Parente have previously competed together in a McLaren 650S GT3. Less than three weeks ago, the duo competed in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series for Strakka Racing. They qualified 13th position on Misano (Italy) the circuit, but had issues similar to the ones the K-PAX Racing team experienced on Saturday.
The team improved on its Saturday afternoon performance. In the opener, a series of mechanical issues plagued the runs of all three cars. The No. 6 and No. 9 car pitted in the opening laps; the No. 6 car had a left-rear flat among other issues, and the No. 9 car suffered body and suspension damage from contact exiting the second turn of the first lap. The No. 98 car fell victim to the track in the later-half of the race. The No. 6, 98 and 9 team finished 16th, 18th and 30th respectively. Hedlund and Lewis finished fifth among Pro/Am drivers.
“I’ve been in a lot of situations that were maybe a little out of my depth,” said Barnicoat, who raced sports cars in the United States for the first time in the event. “You know, this is my first race in America but you can’t let [the outcome] worry you. When you have a cool head, you do what you do best. As soon as I saw the contact and damage, I felt for us. But, these things can hurt you a little more [if you dwell over them]. We just needed to make the best of what happened and focus on [Sunday].”
The venue underwent all sorts of renovations prior to the 2014 season, including a repave for the first time since 1999. When K-PAX swept the event in 2010, it also set the series’ track record in qualifying with a time of 1:56.086. With the renewed surface contributing to on-track performance, the high-performance McLaren GT3 cars bested the track record throughout the week. As early as testing – two days before the first race – the team recorded consistent times that were six seconds quicker than the record. The No. 9 car recorded the quickest race lap of the weekend by the team with a 1:44.845.
The team will travel to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park from May 19-21 for the series’ second consecutive SprintX event. For more information, visit world-challenge.com.
Alvaro Parente – No. 9 McLaren 650S (Race 1 – 30th, Race 2 – 2nd) – “It was our second race together (Ben and I). Things didn’t go well the first day – we broke a track rod and other parts of the suspension. But we definitely turned it around today.”
Ben Barnicoat – No. 9 McLaren 650S (Race 1 – 30th, Race 2 – 2nd) – “I just did what I could to put us in a good position, and fuel-saved – something I’ve never done before. It was tricky. We just worked through it, and it was very good for us. It’s a great track. There were a lot of places where you could push yourself. I’ve really enjoyed my time here, and to finish on the podium makes it a lot better.”
Bryan Sellers – No. 6 McLaren 650S (Race 1 – 16th, Race 2 – 12th) – “It was a difficult race for Jonny and myself. After the first day, we got put in a difficult starting position and it was very difficult to pass. You just can’t get a run on some of these higher-horsepower cars. It made it uneventful for us unfortunately. We’ll reload and see what we have for the next race.”
Jonny Kane – No. 6 McLaren 650S (Race 1 – 16th, Race 2 – 12th) – “The car felt all right today. It was a tough weekend, really – especially with the difficulties we had yesterday, starting in 27th position was going to make for a difficult day. To make it up to 12th at the end of the day is good, but we need to start up front next time.”
Mike Hedlund (Pro/Am Class) – No. 98 McLaren 650S (Race 1 – 5th, Race 2 – 5th) – “My stint was pretty short and uneventful. We had a strange problem with the radio, so I spent the first couple of laps trying to get it to work. But we sorted it out, and we finished under that caution. But the car was good, the team was good, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Michael Lewis (Pro/Am Class) – No. 98 McLaren 650S (Race 1 – 5th, Race 2 – 5th) – “The race was quite nice for stint No. 1 – when I was in the car. I was just trying to get ‘stuck in,’ and not make any mistakes. I just tried to do some clean laps. It wasn’t enough to really pass people, but it was solid enough to let other drivers make mistakes to pass by them. This was really clean race, but it was unfortunate that it ended in yellow.”
About K-PAX Racing
Since joining the Pirelli World Challenge in 2007, K-PAX Racing has celebrated a total 98 podiums, 38 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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