Baptista, Soulet exhibit sophomore strength in World Challenge

Images by Richard S. James

Baptista, Soulet exhibit sophomore strength in World Challenge

SRO America

Baptista, Soulet exhibit sophomore strength in World Challenge

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Last season was a year of big change for both Rodrigo Baptista and Maxime Soulet. For Baptista, it was his first year in GT3 with K-PAX Racing after spending 2017 in GT4 with Flying Lizard Motorsports. It was also the first year for K-PAX working with a new manufacturer, Bentley.

Enter Bentley factory driver Soulet, racing in the U.S. for the first time, although sampling only half of GT World Challenge’s tracks since many of the races were still Sprint affairs where Baptista was the sole star.

For both drivers and team, 2018 was a year of trial. The outgoing Bentley Continental GT3 was long in the tooth, and the chassis K-PAX was racing was especially tired. There was also some bad luck that originated outside of the team’s and drivers’ control.

But there was also success: An overall win at VIRginia International Raceway was notable for the fact that Baptista was rated as an Amateur at the time — which ceased to be the case after that weekend. The win at VIR was followed by a K-PAX 1-2 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Baptista following home teammate Alvaro Parente. In the season finale at Watkins Glen International, Baptista dominated both Sprint races. He ended the year fourth in the standings.

Solid results at the end of the 2018 season meant the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge was eagerly anticipated. With a new Continental GT3 on hand, doubts about competitiveness and reliability were eased; and with a second year together for the more experienced Belgian and rapidly improving 23-year-old Brazilian, good things were expected.

And they have been delivered this year with a pair of wins — the opener at Circuit of The Americas and the second race at VIR –- and five more podium finishes.

K-PAX Bentley teammates Soulet (left) and Baptista celebrate their COTA win.

“It’s only my second year in the U.S., and the tracks here are quite special compared to the European tracks,” says Soulet. “And my second year with the young kid who’s impressed me every race. When we started the year, he needed to learn a little bit. Now I don’t have to tell him anything; he knows what to do. We had a couple of bad races, but that’s motorsport and we can’t do anything about it. Now we see what we can do for the last races.”

Baptista’s performance earned him not only a Le Mans ride in the JMW Ferrari that finished second in GTE-Am, but a gig with M-Sport Team Bentley in the 24 Hours of Spa round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, where the Brazilian impressed Soulet with his integration into the factory team.

Unfortunately, he never got to drive in the race due to an early crash before his stint.

“Last year, when I started — my first year in GT3 — I needed some push,” explains Baptista. “[Soulet] helped me with that and for sure helped me go to the factory team, which was really good and a special opportunity to be there. It’s a factory team, and everything is different. It’s European, completely different than the U.S., but it was a great opportunity.”

Soulet expounds a bit on the difference between European and American racing: While SRO Motorsports Group worldwide has adopted the GT World Challenge moniker, there is definitely a different vibe: “[The U.S. is] a different atmosphere. I love it because it’s a bit more…it’s not relaxed, but it is; I don’t know how to explain that. But it’s a very different approach to racing, and not in a bad way.”

The two drivers work well together with the attitude of mutual benefit instead of what can sometimes be a rivalry between teammates.

“He’s quick and he helps me,” says Baptista. “He’s easy to work with. I think that’s the most important: If I’m quick but he wants to be every time quicker, it doesn’t work. So we are always trying to help each other, and it’s working.

“But I’m trying to be quicker,” he adds with a laugh.

Their relationship has developed into a friendship off track as well: “The only part I’m not happy with is when we go to dinner, because he eats all the appetizers,” jokes Soulet. “We enjoy driving a lot together. We have a special relationship now because I was invited to Brazil at the end of last year for some holidays with my girlfriend, and he came to Belgium a week before Spa. So it’s always nice when we see each other and it’s like having a little brother, because he’s quite a bit younger than me.”

Baptista responds with a smile: “No, you’re quite old!”

“I’m quite old,” Soulet retorts. “But I’m still quick, so it’s fine!”

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