Most people consider getting a promotion a good thing. Sometimes, though, it’s a mixed blessing. Ask Rodrigo Baptista, who was moved to the Pirelli World Challenge GT ranks from GTA, joining the pro drivers.
“It’s a difficult situation,” says Baptista. “My goal for this year was to win the GTA championship, so I lost this opportunity; but it’s good to be with the GT guys, the pro drivers. I lost the [GTA] championship, but I win because I know I can drive with the pro guys.”
The Brazilian, who now makes his home in Miami, has proven that last point. In April, he and Maxime Soulet scored an overall victory at VIRginia International Raceway in the No. 3 Bentley Continental GT3, and he’s ahead of his K-PAX Racing teammate, 2016 PWC GT champion Alvaro Parente, in the GT points, sitting fifth overall to Parente’s sixth. At Road America, his first weekend removed from the amateur division, he had a solid weekend, although he noted that he likely would have won GTA on both days, too.
GT3 isn’t new to Baptista this season. He competed in the Blancpain Endurance Series in Europe in 2016 with the WRT Audi team. Last year he won the Porsche GT3 Cup championship in Brazil with seven wins in 10 races, and at the same time he raced the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR in the PWC GTS class. His four victories in GTS helped him learn the tracks World Challenge races on along with the American style of racing.
“GT4 helped me a lot with the tracks and the team and to know how U.S. racing works, because it is completely different compared to Europe and Brazil,” he explained. “[There] you can push the guy off; if I am on the outside, the guy can push me off the track. But here in the U.S., you have to leave space. And they have some different kinds of rules with the yellow flags. But the tracks here in the U.S. are old-school tracks, and with the GT4 I learned them.”
He also had the advantage of drawing on Parente’s experience. With Parente hailing form Portugal, they share a language. Now as a full teammate to the champ, along with Bentley works drivers Soulet and Andy Soucek, Baptista has been able to grow as a racer. He needed just a small adjustment to re-acclimate to the extra oomph the Bentley Continental GT3 delivers.
“I think the hardest thing [to adjust to] was the power, because the power on the GT3 is almost twice the GT4. It’s a big difference. On the GT3 the ABS and traction control works much better than the GT4, The GT4 is almost a street car for the track, and the GT3 is a proper racecar, so it’s completely different,” he says.
But because he already knew the team and knows the tracks, it wasn’t a long period of transition. From the first test at the team’s home base at Sonoma Raceway, Baptista says he was comfortable and quick in a handful of laps.
With two SprintX weekends and one Sprint weekend left in the season — a total of six races — Baptista doesn’t have much time left to make up ground, and while fourth-place Daniel Morad isn’t a giant leap, it’s a pretty a big jump to the top three of Toni Vilander, Scott Hargrove and Michael Christensen.
But a top five in his first season of GT at this point is a fairly impressive feat, especially considering K-PAX had as much adjustment to the Bentley as Baptista did. Both Baptista and Parente have come on strong as the season has worn on; while there is little chance either will be in the hunt for the championship, it will be interesting to see where they go from here.