The Texas showdown features a new race format
AUSTIN, Tex. – K-PAX Racing and Bentley had a tremendous start to the season at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) last year – one defined by a celebratory class win. Rodrigo Baptista and Max Soulet, who drove the No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 to the checkers in the series’ SprintX opener in the Pro/Am class, helped the team earn its first victory with the British-marque – the first of the many successes K-PAX Racing would see over the course of the season.
“It was a step forward,” Soulet said. “When you win your first race there is always something special about it – especially when joining a new team with a new lineup. We made a big step forward here last season.”
K-PAX Racing will return to the iconic 3.4-mile road course – which features a 133-foot climb into its signature first turn – for the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge America season-opener (March 1-3). This time, it will make its debut in Bentley’s second-generation Continental GT3. The team is currently the only team campaigning the Bentley Continental GT3 full-time in North America this season with both cars competing in the Pro/Pro class.
“We are very excited to get the 2019 season underway,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “Consistency in a program is important, and we have all of our current crew returning. We are continuing and growing our relationship with Bentley Motorsport and it is always nice to start the new year with a proven driver lineup. Although the series has changed the racing format, we look forward to the challenge and feel this will be a step forward for everyone involved.”
K-PAX Racing underwent some final preparations prior to the start of race week with a multi-day test at the track. There, the drivers – all who are returning from last season – were able to get reacquainted with the track and learn the course with the second-generation model. Soulet and fellow Bentley factory driver Andy Soucek are making their second-ever appearance at COTA. Soucek made his American racing debut there last season.
“We completed 170 laps with our car which is a lot considering it’s only two test days,” Soucek said. “We could test a lot of options setup-wise. The car behaved well, and I’m very satisfied with the final results. There were many things setup-wise that we changed to improve the performance of the car.”
Different from last season will be the new race format introduced by Blancpain GT World Challenge America. Instead of the 60-minute time limit on the races – formerly the two-driver SprintX class – the team will endure 90 minutes of fierce competition.
“I think the fact that the series changed the format slightly – from 60 to 90 minutes – it’s going to make things more challenging for the drivers and teams,” Soucek said. “But, it’s definitely a positive change for the championship.”
“For us, we’re always there to try and win. Realistically, we will be in contention to win, and we’ll try to get the most out of the first event of the season. It’s important to gain as many points as possible to start the year – to leave on a high. We will look to at least get on the podium, but the level of competition is higher because the field is bigger. So, just by adding some good lineups and cars, we’ll have more competition which will make our lives more difficult. But I think the other teams would say the same thing. There is no room for eight or nine cars on the podium, so we will have to be perfect this weekend.”
Joining Soucek is four-year team driver Álvaro Parente, who has competed at COTA since first signing with K-PAX Racing in 2016. After two top-five finishes for the pair last season in the No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3, Parente said they are motivated to “come back stronger for a better result.”
“We’re doing everything possible to come back for a good result,” Parente said. “I’m feeling quite comfortable with the second-generation model – with all the upgrades and improvements. I am more in control of the car and its more in my hands, which is very positive. We’re still learning in terms of setup, and we’re continuing to work in those aspects.”
“The guys are very motivated. It’s quite a year for us and for our relationship with Bentley. This year, we really want to get those wins fight for the championship. We’re ready.”
Álvaro Parente – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “We have the two factory drivers with us, Andy [Soucek] and Max [Soulet], back with us. My teammate Andy knows the car very well and is a big help when it comes to setups. It gives us the opportunity to learn these cars quicker. We’re anxious to start the championship next weekend at Circuit of The Americas.
More time in the car is good, but it changes a lot. We have to be careful with some areas that may have not been an issue before – like saving tires between stints and there are a lot more factors in the pits where you could gain or lose time. Everyone has to be ‘on it’ to have a good race. I’m looking forward to this new format.”
Andy Soucek – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “It seems to be quite positive on how the team and car work in its early stages. I think the year [Bentley] spent in Europe racing the car all over the world – to get everything sorted, competitive and reliable – paid off. Now, it feels like we can go to a new track, do a couple hours testing and move forward quicker than before.
I just try to give the team as much feedback as I can to set the car up, because in every race the circumstances are different. For example, you can’t compare Bathurst to COTA because each track has completely different tarmacs, different temperatures, but that’s also the great thing about motorsports. You never stop learning, and honestly the team has done a very good job at that since these cars were delivered. I just try to give my best feedback so we can move forward quicker, but I am also learning about these cars and how they are on the U.S. tracks.”
Rodrigo Baptista – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “I am looking forward to the first race weekend of the season. Finally, it’s here. After our test at COTA, I think we can be very competitive. Let’s see how the competition goes – there are a lot more cars confirmed – but I think we will have a strong lineup for the first event. I am well-aligned with Maxime Soulet drive-wise and looking to do a good job for K-PAX Racing and Bentley Motorsport.
We had two extremely positive test days here in Austin. There were zero problems with the car, and we collected a lot of information and data. We’ve tried some different setups on the very first day and it paid off. The car is fast and responded great with every change we made.”
Max Soulet – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “Rodrigo [Baptista] and I are in a different class – the Pro Class – but we proved during last season that we were quick in this class. We made a lot of progress on the car last week during testing, and we’re well-prepared for this race week.
If you want to move forward, you have to work together. Rodrigo and I are doing that well with the team and through those two days of testing last week. It was two really good days where we tested plenty of different things, and I think we have a good base to start the week.”