The 2020 GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup season was one that initially begged patience to K-PAX Racing following an early-departure from Circuit Paul Ricard in March amid travel bans imposed under a global pandemic. The team, having three top-10 finishes to its credit since in the series, was able to make its return back to South France Sunday, making tracks at its fourth European track this season to a 13th-place finish – putting an exclamation point on a unique season of perseverance and hard work in the team’s challenging debut season.
While the team had been unable to partake in the series’ first official test days at the 15-turn, 5.791-kilometer (3.59-mile) as the only American-based operation, K-PAX Racing continued to bring a competitive package into an abbreviated season and into the final round of Endurance Cup, as seen in the last three rounds – two which the team had seen its first-ever track-time during race week. Despite a similar situation at Paul Ricard, the team was able to carry a mid-pack pace to the six-hour, 1,000-km feature event.
“We came into this weekend a bit behind as far as data was concerned,” K-PAX Racing Program Manager Darren Law said. “We had to leave during the test earlier in the year when the pandemic broke out. Despite the lack of testing, we really had good pace and the drivers really like the cars. We had a competitive package and it showed but we just had some tough luck during the race that put us back in the field.”
K-PAX Racing was able to qualify its two Bentley Continental GT3s in a respectable starting position for the race, as the No. 9 earned the 14th spot with a combined qualifying average of 1:54.560 and the No. 3 close behind in 16th with 1:54.622 in a 40-car field. A high-point in qualifying arrived in the first group of qualifying (of three), when Jordan Pepper eclipsed the top-10 in his performance with a 1:54.361 – the top 10 qualifiers separated by nearly four-tenths of a second.
Pepper continued his strong surge in Sunday’s race, starting in the No. 9. Within the first hour, the South African talent was able to climb into the top-10 to 7th carrying a strong pace; the No. 9 set its quickest lap of the hour on its 10th lap of 1:55.624, which was nearly two-tenths off the fastest lap of the race so far. While the No. 9 established its quick pace to the top of the grid, the No. 3 of Rodrigo Baptista had a more challenging opening sequence, crossing the line in 37th in the first hour cycle.
Both K-PAX Racing Continental GT3s made their first routine pit-stop around the hour mark, and the No. 9 rejoined the field in 11th with Pepper set to finish his stint as strong as he started it. The team began investigating an engine-related issue with the No. 3 during the stop, later withdrawing the car from competition. Pepper, as the race’s lead-Bentley throughout his stint, went on to recover to ninth before a full-course yellow transitioned the race into its third hour. Pepper was able to hand the car off to Álvaro Parente, and in a massive shuffle of the field under caution, the No. 9 broke into the top-five and into fourth position.
K-PAX Racing served a drive-through penalty about halfway through the third hour, setting the No. 9 back into 21st. Parente was able to climb four positions to 17th within about 15 minutes after the minor setback, and went on to improve four more positions to the three-hour mark. Parente was able to eclipse the top-10 in the final hour of his stint, before passing the car off to Andy Soucek for the final two hour legs of the 2020 Endurance Cup season.
K-PAX Racing devised a strategy that proved to work through the No. 9 campaign, double-stinting tires in Parente and Soucek’s run – which gave the team the opportunity to gain ground. It made for quicker pit-stops, and in the final driver change, Soucek took the wheel inside of the top-10. Soucek was able to maintain a steady pace in the race’s final two hours, ultimately finishing the car in 13th.
“Because of our drive through we were quite far down in the field, we really had to work hard to make up positions and be aggressive with our strategy,” Law said. “We opted to do double stints on the tires to save time on the stops and it worked well. The cars didn’t have much tire degradation, so we were able to take advantage of this and gained several positions. It has been a great season and it was unfortunate we didn’t get the finishes we felt we should have based on the performance of the cars and team. We are undecided on what we will do for the 2021 season but coming back to this series is high on our priority list.”
Álvaro Parente – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “Jordan [Pepper] did a really great qualifying, and I think I missed a little bit there, but I was able to put a banker in that had us starting close up to the top-10. Jordan was on it, and unfortunately at that first chicane, he had to avoid an accident and went wide, costing us a drive-through. It happens, but that costed us a lot of time. But on my stint, I was just trying to recover ground and try to make some spots. We tried a strategy – double-stinting the tires – that worked, so that’s valuable information for the future. My stop to Andy [Soucek] was good – we didn’t change tires again. That was really quick.
We learned that there cannot be any mistakes do have a good result, and we made a few of them. At the end, it was not the result we wanted, but we learned a lot and we were competitive. Once again, thank you to the team and we’ll hopefully come back stronger.”
Andy Soucek – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “Looking at the entire year, I think it went good. We were strong, the pace was good, we were competitive and there was a lot to learn. The team adapted quickly with the first race in Imola, running sixth and we had the opportunity to place inside the top-five. That shows real potential of the car and the team, and we were able to have a similar performance at Nürburgring. In Spa, we recovered very well from last, so overall, the pace has been good and we did a very good job at every track. The problem is here, we had a few issues that set us back. But, we were able to recover each time double-stinting the tires.”
Jordan Pepper – No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 – “It was a tricky first lap, and I had to avoid a few collisions headed into the first turn, which forced me to cut the track. I reentered according to where I thought I was – by the car that started 15th. I thought I gave the places back but we were given a drive-through an hour and a half later, and that put us on the back-foot. It’s a bit tough. We had the pace to compete for a top-five. I have to say congratulations to K-PAX Racing and all the boys. It’s been an amazing effort traveling from America to Europe during these crazy times. It’s been an incredible effort, an amazing opportunity and I can’t wait for more. Let’s use this momentum to fight for something great next season.”
Rodrigo Baptista – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “We did not have a good season and one we were expecting. The whole team did a great job getting to Europe and we showed we had the speed. We were always fighting, and it’s a shame that we could not put it all together. The race week didn’t start off as well, we still had a great car for qualifying, and I had a good start until I got spun on the third lap. I was just trying to recover. It was just bad luck, but I hope we can keep fighting next year. We have showed that we can compete, and now we just need a bit of luck. If you don’t have a little luck in racing, things can happen just like that.”
Maxime Soulet – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “The weekend didn’t go to plan. It was a difficult start and a difficult year – we deserved a lot more with the team working so hard. I hope we can come back stronger and get what we deserve.”
Jules Gounon – No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3 – “It was very disappointing yesterday, but we’ve shown great speed – just unable to pull a good result out of it. I would like to thank K-PAX Racing and all the guys on car No. 3 for their hard work all year long. Charlie [Hayes], our chief mechanic, has been amazing all year long tuning the car, and this is one of the best relationships I’ve ever had with an engineer in Sebastien [Constans]. I really enjoy working with him, and Scott [Jasmund] and Thomas [Blam] strategy-wise. All of them have been amazing, and thank you Jim [Haughey] for putting this amazing effort together for Europe and Darren [Law] for his trust. Hopefully we will be back next year.”
Source. K-PAX Racing/Photo. Drew Gibson