When K-PAX Racing switched to Bentley last season, it brought in a couple of Bentley aces to partner with 2016 GT champion Alvaro Parente and K-PAX GT rookie Rodrigo Baptista for the SprintX races. The same partnerships of Parente and Andy Soucek in the No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 and Baptista and Maxime Soulet in the No. 3 continued as Blancpain GT World Challenge America moved to all SprintX races for 2019. For Parente and Soucek, it’s the continuation of a partnership that began 17 years ago.
“We’ve been sharing duties for many years,” says Soucek. “We raced together in Formula 3 as teammates back in 2001 or 2002, so you can imagine … It’s been 17 years since we started racing alongside each other, so there is a friendship involved. We know each other, so when I look at him I know exactly what he’s thinking and the other way around. I believe in and trust in him 100 percent and I think the other way around as well. He’s super talented, very quick has a lot of experience and therefore I think we both trust each other and it makes our working relationship a lot easier.”
In the intervening years since they were first racing F3 together, Soucek and Parente have been teammates at times and rivals at others. When Soucek joined K-PAX with Bentley last season and they became partners again, there were some struggles. The team was adjusting to a new chassis that was past its prime in anticipation of the new car that debuted this year. K-PAX had some successes in 2018, but there were also a lot of failures and disappointments, and Parente and Soucek had no SprintX wins last season — although Parente had a couple of victories in solo drives. In 2019, it has all changed. The No. 9 duo has two victories and is second in the standings behind defending champs Toni Vilander and Miguel Molina in the R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari.
“We’ve had a really good start to the season, but we’ve been attending tracks that really suited this new car,” says Parente. “The second-generation car is looking stronger. The team learned a bit of it from last year, Last year was a really hard time, with some failures, some crashes and some things we weren’t used to. We’re putting it all together for this season and it’s been really good so far.”
Much of what happened in 2018 can be attributed to luck. In a couple of cases, bad crashes in the first race of the weekend that resulted in destroyed chassis meant no participation in the second. That not only makes for a miserable weekend, but a season that one has to slog through with no shot at a title. But the promise demonstrated with the new partnership with Bentley and the driver pairings predicted good things for the future.
“I think we were always quick and competitive,” asserts Soucek. “It’s just that we didn’t put everything together to finish races. I think the mentality this year was to start and see where we are, but take it easy and try and score as many points as possible. So far we have won two races and we have been on the podium in every single race we’ve done apart from the one we didn’t finish. That’s the way you win a championship — it’s to be consistently on the podium and scoring points. That has been a little bit of the mentality as well. But I don’t think we have changed anything in particular from last year.”
At least not in terms of mindset or procedures. But the new Continental GT3 was a big improvement from the outgoing car, which had a lot of success worldwide but was getting a bit long in the tooth.
“Last year was a pivotal learning year,” Parente ponders. “The cars were very old. The new ones make a huge difference. There’s a big improvement, especially in traction. Brakes are a little better, but the biggest thing I would say is the traction coming out of the corners is a lot more than the old car.”
The Bentley seems to excel at tracks with faster corners and long straights. The two K-PAX cars split victories at Virginia International Raceway, and the No. 9 took victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Sonoma probably wasn’t the Bentley’s best circuit, but Parente and Soucek continued their podium streak. Parente says he is looking forward to the next two tracks on the schedule — Watkins Glen International on Labor Day weekend and Road America three weeks later — for that very reason. Success on those tracks, with only one weekend remaining after, could put Parente and Soucek right into the hunt for a title.