As the 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge America Presented by AWS season steamed toward its season opener at Sonoma Raceway, predictions were high that K-PAX Racing, even as it made the switch from Bentley to Lamborghini and returned to racing in America vs. Europe, would dominate. With its squadron of Lamborghini factory drivers punctuated by lone holdover Jordan Pepper, the driving talent was deep and the Huracan GT3 Evo a proven platform.
After the Sonoma weekend, those predictions turned into expectations, and perhaps even declarations that the champions might as well be crowned then and there.
Andrea Caldarelli and Pepper swept the opening weekend in the No. 3 Lamborghini, followed by the No. 6 of Giovanni Venturini and Corey Lewis. That pretty much set the tone for the year.
“There’s always an expectation,” says Pepper, who hails from South Africa. “I think the expectation was set after our Sonoma weekend dominance. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, they’re going to have to finish the championship as soon as possible. It was almost good pressure we carried on our shoulders. I think myself and Andrea were very motivated to execute each weekend perfectly, that was really the goal, to make sure we could improve the package all year, grow as a team and with the brand.”
Before the teams convened at Sonoma, K-PAX was the only team in the newly-revived Pro category. The pairing of two pro drivers had gone on hiatus for a year, and K-PAX raced in GT World Challenge Europe. While the re-introduction of the Pro class initially only attracted K-PAX, two teams originally headed for the Silver category were converted to Pro – Winward Racing and Turner Motorsport. K-PAX didn’t take every win of the season, and Caldarelli/Pepper didn’t claim all of K-PAX’s victories, but certainly more than their share – nine of 13 rounds – as they cruised to a championship claimed before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway finale.
Caldarelli is the senior member of the team as far as Lamborghini is concerned, and came in with a wealth of experience regarding the Huracan platform. With limited testing before the season started, that experience proved critical in the early stages.
“I think the experience I tried to bring was used mostly in the first couple of rounds of the season,” Italian Caldarelli explains. “We didn’t have a lot of winter tests, so my mission given from Lamborghini was to come and try to speed up the process of making the team up to date as soon as possible in terms of car setup and so on. I would say the two days of tests we did at Sonoma at the beginning of the year, the Sonoma race and COTA, I tried to bring with me a package of setups and stuff to hand over to the team. I didn’t know Jordan before, I didn’t know his driving style, but luckily we found each other straight away. We don’t drive very differently, and it worked pretty well from the beginning.”
Of K-PAX’s four drivers, American Lewis was the only one with extensive time on American tracks. For the others, most of the circuits were a fresh departure from the familiar.
“American tracks are very different,” says Pepper. “The grip levels are very different, they’re very bumpy, and a lot of that plays a big factor. Often we were arriving with an idea in mind of what we needed to do with the car and understanding it probably wasn’t the right way. I think it was nice to see how everything got handled. We didn’t have a perfect season because we didn’t win every single race. There were weekends that we struggled. But the way we recovered from those weekends this season I think made the biggest difference. We executed a lot of results on tough weekends.”
For a program that was all-change, with a new car, mostly new drivers, and returning to race in the U.S. after a season in Europe, it was a wildly successful season. Not only did Pepper and Caldarelli win all but four races (three if you count the fact that in the race-within-a race at the Indianapolis 8 Hour, they were going for a strategy to position them to do well in the 8 Hour vs. doing well in the GT World Challenge America race and were not eligible for victory), but Venturini and Lewis won a couple to finish second in the championship. And, with Mirko Bortolotti, Caldarelli and Pepper finished third in the 8 Hour. It bodes well for the future should the team return in similar form.
“I think the team has a young but good relationship with Lamborghini, and I think it’s only going to grow,” says Pepper. “So what we learned this year will be valuable for the future for K-PAX and Lamborghini for sure.”