The 20-year-old embarks on his first American tour with K-PAX Racing

SONOMA, Calif. – It was a playful series of jabs – one to the shoulder and then one to the kidney. Alvaro Parente then put his arm around his co-driver Ben Barnicoat, and congratulated him on a job well done. Parente and Barnicoat were the one-two punch of the K-PAX Racing No. 9 team to finish 2nd at the Pirelli World Challenge SprintX opener at VIRginia International Raceway.

For K-PAX Racing, a podium finish is quite the norm as it was the team’s 97th podium finish since the team first joined the series in 2007. For Barnicoat, a 20-year-old driver from Chesterfield, England, this podium was not only a first for him with the team but also in the United States. The team’s first campaign at VIR since 2010 was notably Barnicoat’s sports car debut in the states.

Despite being the youngest of the team’s six drivers, Barnicoat adds a wealth of raw talent to an experienced group. Barnicoat has a diverse racing background. From when he was nine years-old, he competed in karting and won multiple championships. In 2015, Barnicoat claimed the Kart Masters GP Trophy in both the Senior Rotax and X30 class, becoming the first driver to take two Kart Masters Championships in one day.

He segued into single-seaters in the same year, debuting in the Protyre Formula Renault Autumn Cup with Fortec Racing. Barnicoat said the McLaren 650S GT3 sports cars are much different – having only joined the McLaren GT Driver Academy in early 2017 – but leans upon Parente and the other drivers for advice. Parente took notice of this, and under his wing the two embarked on the new step in Barnicoat’s young career.

“I think [Barnicoat] is adjusting well,” said Parente after qualifying 9th in the Pro/Pro Class on the 17-turn, 3.27-mile course. “He is a talented, young boy and he’s a very fast driver. We’re not exactly where we want to be, but he’s doing a good job. We’re working well together and we want the [setup] quite similar. He’s had some good ideas, but we’ll only see how well it goes when the racing starts.”

In the first round, all three K-PAX cars suffered various levels of damage from the on-track action with the No. 9 car of Parente/Barnicoat losing several laps for repairs. As result, they finished 13th in the GT Pro/Pro Class. Even so, Barnicoat was not discouraged; in fact, he was motivated to change the outcome in the finale.

“Of course it was a big step in my career – my first race in America,” Barnicoat said. “There’s a lot of opportunities stateside so it’s important that I do a good job. Unfortunately, it was a tough day for us. Circumstances didn’t allow me and the team to shine. I felt like I did the best I could in all the scenarios. It’s not the first time I’ve been challenged. You can’t let that worry you. I have been rattled – especially when you’re anxious – but you just need to stay relaxed and focused.”

Barnicoat said the biggest difficulty throughout the week was adjusting to the competition level. He used the practice sessions before the weekend to get a feel for how strong those were around him. The silver lining to the first round was that the No. 9 recorded the sixth fastest lap time of the race with a 1:45.067, earning the duo the sixth spot for the start of the finale.

In nearly 30 minutes behind the wheel, Barnicoat climbed to fifth position. Thereon, after the team picked up a spot on pit road with an excellent driver change resulting on the No. 9 re-entering the race in 4th, Parente made the surge to a second-place. Barnicoat said the greatest challenge during the race was toward the end of his stint, when he needed to preserve fuel. That was a first for him. As for teaming-up with Parente for the first of five Sprint X events: the two had raced once before in early-April for the Blancpain GT Sprint Series. Like K-PAX, the two shared a McLaren 650S GT3 car for Strakka Racing in Europe.

“For me, I am extremely young compared to the McLaren GT drivers and every driver really,” Barnicoat said. “So, at an early stage in my career I’m grateful to have Alvaro as a guide, and I certainly take a lot from him. There’s not a day I haven’t spent with Alvaro where I haven’t learned something. After seeing the great success that the team had with Alvaro Parente in the series last year, I see this as a great opportunity for me to be joining the team, and I will be giving it everything I have to replicate that success with them this season.”

The Pirelli World Challenge SprintX season will resume May 19-21 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. For more information, visit world-challenge.com.


About K-PAX Racing
Since joining the Pirelli World Challenge in 2007, K-PAX Racing has celebrated a total 97 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.