Bold strategy in the opener leads to both GT and GTA pole for event finale
BOWMANVILLE, Ont. – K-PAX Racing strategically looked beyond the fourth round of the Pirelli World Challenge Sprint GT season. In the Castol presents the Victoria Day SpeedFest opener for the series’ top-classes, the team’s two Bentley Continental GT3s recorded the fastest lap times to start on both the GT and GTA pole in the finale.
K-PAX Racing’s decision to prioritize fast lap times during the race was made earlier in the day, when inclement track conditions hindered the pace of the Continental GT3s in qualifying. During Friday’s practice sessions – and in dryer weather – K-PAX Racing was two-hundredths of a second from the fastest lap of the day, and in the final session posted the fastest time of 1:14.874. The crew determined the cars were stronger on a dry course and looked to gaining valuable track position for the finale.
“Today went according to plan,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “It was our strategy from the start of this race to try to put slicks on at an appropriate time. We knew we didn’t have the pace in the wet, and the only way to start up front tomorrow was to put in a good lap. Once the track dried out, it was worth putting slicks on and we proved it today. It’s nice to start P1 and P2 tomorrow.”
The 50-minute race, which was scheduled for 1:55 p.m. (ET), was postponed more than two hours because of intermittent rain and heavy fog. The No. 3 of Rodrigo Baptista started fourth among GTA drivers, and the No. 9 of Álvaro Parente started sixth in the GT class. During the first half of the race, the two drivers maintained their track position while determining the appropriate time to safely switch to Pirelli P Zero sticker tires – normally an unlikely scenario for a Sprint GT race.
“We know tomorrow is going to be dry so, ‘How can we get to the front?’” K-PAX Racing Team Strategist Thomas Blam said. “It’s very difficult to pass here and if you get to the front, normally you’re going to stay there. We just decided that we were going to take a chance and switch to dries to try to get a lap in for tomorrow. That’s what we were able to do for both cars.”
The grid for the event finale is determined by the quickest lap times from the opener. With 20 minutes left in the race, the No. 9 made its pit-stop for the tire change. A couple laps later, the No. 3 followed suit. Within the first five laps thereafter, the two cars recorded the fastest times of the race. Ultimately, Parente recorded a 1:18.900, which was more than six seconds quicker than the fastest lap that was recorded by the pole-sitter. Baptista recorded the second-best lap-time of 1:19.765.
“I thought some other people would have come in for tires, but I think everyone was pretty happy where they were in the race,” said Blam, who has nearly 20 years of racing experience and has been a strategist for the team since 2015. “No one else took our gamble and so, [the fastest lap] was only going to be between the two teammates.”
“But obviously, it’s disappointing that we weren’t doing well in the wet this morning based on where we were yesterday in practice. The one thing we did not want to do is start toward the back again tomorrow, and even though we believe we have a car that can win, if you’re starting mid-pack it’s so hard to pass here that you’re not going to be able to get by the other cars. So, starting in front was key for us for tomorrow.”
The only two cars that made the switch to sticker tires will start in the front-row for Sunday’s finale. Parente is the overall pole-sitter, and Baptista will start beside him in second (top-honors in his class). Blam said it was a riskier move for Baptista, who leads the GTA Points Championship.
“Unfortunately, with all the accidents we’ve had with Álvaro this year, we’re not in any place for a championship like we have been the past three years,” he said. “For us, it’s all about poles, winning races and podiums.”
“It’s a little trickier with Rodrigo because he’s leading the GTA Championship but then again, with the car the way it was on the wets we really weren’t going to be in the position to fight. Now that he’s on the pole for GTA tomorrow, that puts him in a great position to try for a win tomorrow in GTA. Obviously, we are hopeful to also get a win with Álvaro in the overall. We’ll have to get through the first turn and see if we can get going from there but based on the lap times from yesterday, I think we have a good shot at doing well in tomorrow’s race.”
For more information about the Pirelli World Challenge’ at the Castrol presents the Victoria Day SpeedFest at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, visit world-challenge.com.
Álvaro Parente – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race 1 – 6th) – “It was a hard race because we are not super-competitive on the wets. We were struggling the first half and then at the end of the race we realized that it wasn’t going to dry fast enough to get on the slicks. We were just focusing on lap-time and putting a good one together for tomorrow’s race. Thomas and I were discussing when to get on the slicks. If this was an endurance race, the right thing to do would have been to wait another lap or two – like Rodrigo and the No. 3 car did. I felt that if I did the switch a little earlier then I might have had a chance to fight for position later.”
Rodrigo Baptista (GTA) – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 (Race 1 – 4th) – “I think we did well in the race overall. For the first 10 laps of the race we were stuck behind one of the Ferrari’s. There was nothing I could do. But after that, the track started to dry out a little bit, and we changed our tires to dry so we could be faster. We needed a fast lap and it feels good to be there – with Álvaro P1 and me P2. I think the goal tomorrow is to finish first in GTA, but why not stay on the GT podium? I hope to finish there.”