Team will make its debut in the class from April 28-30 at VIRginia International Raceway
SONOMA, Calif. – Of the 36 entries for the Pirelli World Challenge SprintX opener at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR), the K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 trio will seek its fifth podium finish in three events. But unlike the last two GT events, the SprintX format sees them add three new McLaren GT drivers.
Per the SprintX format, the field will compete on a 60-minute timer with one mandatory driver change. In anticipation of the class’s ten races scheduled throughout the series’ 2017 season, K-PAX Racing signed drivers Ben Barnicoat, Jonny Kane and Michael Lewis. Barnicoat will join the No. 9 car of Alvaro Parente, Kane will team-up with Bryan Sellers in the No. 6 car and Lewis will battle the field with GTA driver Mike Hedlund in the No. 98 car. Hedlund and Lewis will compete in the Pro/Am category.
While Kane and Lewis have previous racing experience in the United States, the Grand Prix of VIR will be Barnicoat’s first competition in sports cars on U.S. soil. As Kane explained, the major difference between closed-courses in the United States to those in Europe is that there is less run-off through the corners – emphasizing precision with every juke of the steering wheel. Kane, 43, brings more than 16 years of sports car racing experience in Europe and the United States to the K-PAX Racing team.
“[VIR is] different from some of the European tracks in that at the edge of the circuit there’s grass,” said Kane about the 17-turn, 3.27-mile course. “There’s no run-off or anything. If you do get a little wide, you pay the penalty for it. But it’s good to have a real challenge. It’s a very enjoyable track to drive on, so I’m really looking forward to the first event to see how we go.”
Barnicoat has considered the nuances and unknowns of a new territory, relying upon instruction from his new teammates. The 20-year-old English young-gun sought guidance in the brief time he spent testing the McLaren 650S GT3 car; he tested at VIR in late-March which may prove to be the ultimate difference-maker for the upcoming doubleheader. Barnicoat said having Parente, the reigning series champion in the GT class, as a sounding board has helped both his confidence and abilities behind the wheel.
“There’s not a day I haven’t spent with Alvaro where I haven’t learned something,” Barnicoat said. “I certainly take a lot from him, and I’m very grateful to have him. In such an early stage in my career he has really helped me, and I think [K-PAX Racing] is a great thing to be a part of.”
Michael Lewis, who competed in the inaugural year of the SprintX class, notably swept both races at Utah Motorsports Campus in the No.98 Calvert Dynamics Porsche 911 GT3 car. He finished third in the pro drivers points championship – just 23 points separating him from the runner-up spot. Lewis, 26, will strive to continue last season’s successes into 2017 with both a new ride and teammate.
“Thank you K-PAX Racing and Mike Hedlund for allowing me to help them in the SprintX format,” Lewis said. “To be teaming up with someone who has a lot of experience in Europe and in prototype cars…it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s kind of a big, happy family with Mike and K-PAX welcoming me and my sponsors like The Smile Generation. We’re one unit – working together to go for a championship.”
The series’ last stop at VIR was in September 2010, when K-PAX Racing emerged as the dominate force by sweeping both races in the GT class. With that, series veteran Randy Pobst clinched an individual series championship and Andy Pilgrim’s victory in the final round solidified a manufacturing title for Volvo – its only North American professional sports car title to date. During qualifying, Pilgrim set the series’ GT track record by clocking a 1:56.086 lap time at 101.407 mph.
The team, series and venue have undergone several changes since a remarkable showing in 2010. K-PAX Racing has transitioned from its pair of Volvo S60 racecars to three McLaren 650S GT3 supercars to debut in a fairly-new class in the series. The SprintX GT class was first introduced in 2016, featuring six rounds of racing at three separate tracks. Prior to the 2014 season, VIR also repaved the track’s full course for the first time since 1999.
For more information about The Grand Prix at VIR, visit world-challenge.com.
Alvaro Parente – No. 9 McLaren 650S – “Ben is very young, extremely talented and quick. I’m excited to do a SprintX race over here because I haven’t done it before. It’s going to be very interesting on what’s going to happen. We were testing there earlier and Ben was driving very fast, recording some great lap times. The car was also working well there. So, I’m looking forward to that race.”
Ben Barnicoat – No. 9 McLaren 650S – “I’m very excited. It’s my very first time racing not only with K-PAX but in the U.S. in cars. The tests there went very well on the back-end of march. Me and Alvaro have already done a race together, and we were very successful. It’s great to be able to work with K-PAX, and I’m excited for VIR.”
Bryan Sellers – No. 6 McLaren 650S – “I’m excited for VIR. It’s back to a little bit more of what I know – having a co-driver, sharing a car and working together. I’m excited to see how it goes. I really like Jonny. We got to spend a little bit of time together at the test we did there, so I’m looking forward to getting back there. Now, I’m really enjoying being a part of the program and the team from being in the car more.”
Jonny Kane – No. 6 McLaren 650S – “The test went very well. I had never been to VIR before, so you’ll take any track time you can before an event. It is very beneficial. It’s just very nice to meet the rest of the team, meet Bryan who I’m going to be sharing the car with and get to know everyone a little bit before you just turn up for the first race event. It was a pretty good day because the testing was good. I really enjoy the circuit, but it’s really challenging. I’m really looking forward to the first event to see how we go.”
Mike Hedlund (Pro/Am Class) – No. 98 McLaren 650S – “For the opening of the SprintX season, I’m not sure anyone really knows what to expect because there is going to be a great influx from last year. I know our team will do well with the pit stops, and I have experience doing them from endurance racing. Michael will be fine with that, and I think that will be one of our strong points. I think we will definitely be strong in the Pro/Am category, and we hope to finish at the top of our class.”
Michael Lewis (Pro/Am Class) – No. 98 McLaren 650S – “Even though there will only be one person in the car, it is very much a team effort. If I’m there to give moral support to Mike, then maybe he’ll be that much more confident to do clean laps and bring home a win. We’re gelling very quickly because I’m willing to learn his style like he is willing to learn mine. We’ll figure out where we are at [VIR], but it should be fun.”
About K-PAX Racing
Since joining the Pirelli World Challenge in 2007, K-PAX Racing has celebrated a total 96 podiums, 39 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.