PWC: Parente set for championship fight

PWC: Parente set for championship fight

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PWC: Parente set for championship fight

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After Round 5 of the Pirelli World Challenge was complete on the streets of Long Beach, GT podium finisher Johnny O’Connell was asked to describe his race. His response had little to do with his car, or his performance.

“I gotta tell you, this is my sixth year in the series, and the podium this year at Long Beach, I mean, look at it. You’ve got Patrick Long, who won Le Mans and Alvaro, you guys, do some research on him. I did, and he’s world class. You’re not a factory McLaren driver unless you are GOOD, and he’s so smooth, it was actually crappy being behind you because of how smooth it is you were driving, I was like, man, I’m gonna need a break.”

Parente, a 31-year-old rookie, really hasn’t given the competition much of a respite this season. He has a series-high four wins (including back-to-back at Lime Rock) and just one DNF – his only race to date in which he hasn’t had a top-10 finish. And his four poles are impressive given that he had only competed once in North America – in an A1 GP event at Madza Raceway Laguna Seca – and looks at every track on the schedule through fresh eyes.

“I can’t say enough about the K-PAX team and the McLaren race car this year,” Parente said. “The car is good around the slow and high-speed corners and not as strong on the longer straightaways. But the team has put together a strong operation with the McLaren sports car to give me a chance in each race. It is a very reliable car.

“All of the GT3 cars have one strong suit. Some are good in the corners while others have good straightaway speed. It’s very hard to get the Balance of Performance just right with the so many GT3 makes. I feel that the Pirelli World Challenge has done a good job with it.”

Parente’s résumé includes a 2005 British Formula 3 championship and winning the 2007 Formula Renault 3.5 Series. His team plan at the onset of the season was focused “on how we want to get to learn the tracks as fast as possible and adapt quick” – fitting given his switch from endurance racing.

“Sprint racing is very interesting racing but very hard racing,” he said. “We have 50-minute sprint races and everyone is racing flat out with these GT3 cars. All of the GT cars are so well-balanced. This type of racing brings me back to my single-seater racing and it’s fun. I’m able to set up the car to my liking. You have to compromise the setups in endurance racing.”

Parente is a third-generation racer. His grandfather, uncle and father, Alvaro Sr., all were racers in Portugal, and the junior Parente started go-karting at age seven.

“Motorsports is a big tradition in my family with my grandfather, uncles and my dad all driving,” he said. “So I started young and won regional and national championships in Portugal and the European title once too. Then I wanted to take the direction to Formula One and moved through the single-seaters and won championships there too.”

Parente drove for Super Nova in GP2 in hopes of moving into Formula 1, and he signed as a test driver for Virgin Racing in F1. But in 2011, he became a McLaren factory driver.

“I was working my way towards Formula One but the McLaren factory ride was a great opportunity,” said Parente. “And I’m now in my fifth year with McLaren. I’m very excited to be with K-PAX and racing in North America with Pirelli World Challenge.”

K-PAX’s elder statesman – Colin Thompson is 21 and Austin Cindric just 17 – is setting quite the example. He holds a 64-point championship lead over the veteran long and is 108 points ahead of stalwart Johnny O’Connell. Heading into the latter part of the schedule – and with Laguna Seca on the horizon – Parente’s confidence could carry him all the way to a championship.

“The GT3 level of racing is very tight and very competitive. In recent years, I have raced in endurance competition. Now, it’s just me and my machine against the field.”

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