K-PAX Racing took a dominant 1 – 2 in the opening race of the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge America season at Circuit of the Americas after Maxime Soulet, at the wheel of the team’s #3 Bentley Continental GT3 he shared with Rodrigo Baptista, crossed the line 4.587 seconds ahead of the sister #9 Andy Soucek / Alvaro Parente, the Portugese driver bringing the car home.
Taking the final podium position was the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R in which Scott Hargrove finished over 30 seconds behind the #9, teammate Patrick Long having driven the first stint.
In the Pro-Am category, victory went to the #31 TR3 Racing Ferrari F488 GT3, piloted by Wei Lu and Jeff Segal, Segal taking the chequered flag ahead of Dennis Olsen in the #91 Wright Motorsports Porsche he shared with Anthony Imperato. The #80 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX, piloted by Martin Barkey and Kyle Marcelli, completed the top three in class.
The AM category saw the victory go to Caeser Bacarella and Martin Fuentes driving the #7 Squadra Corse Ferrari with the #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari in second.
Andy Soucek, at the wheel of the #9 K-PAX Racing Bentley, led the field away from the start with Rodrigo Baptista in the sister #3 under a behind in second place. An incident at the Esses after David Askew in the #63 DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 went off on Lap 4 meant that the race was first neutralized behind the Safety Car before being red-flagged after 12 minutes to allow for barrier damage repair. Askew was unhurt in the incident but the #63 car would take no further part in the race and was eventually withdrawn from the weekend as the damage was too extensive to repair.
After nearly 25 minutes under Parc Fermé conditions in the pit-lane, the field restarted behind the Safety Car with the organisers announcing that the scheduled 90-minute race would run for the full duration.
At the restart Soucek in the #9 entry started to pull a small gap to Baptista in the sister #3 car and the two Bentleys between them pulled away from the rest of the field. As the race approached the pit-window, Baptista was over 12 seconds clear of Daniel Morad, running in third position in the #22 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, Baptista being assisted by the pressure being put on Morad by Miguel Molina in the #61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari.
The driver-changes saw the lead swap between the two Bentleys, courtesy of a quick in-lap by Baptista and a conservative out-lap by Alvaro Parente in the #9 Bentley. After Parente’s tyres had come up to temperature the Portugese driver put Soulet under considerable pressure but, being mindful of the team situation and also after team orders, took station in second position to make sure that the second-generation Bentley Continental GT3s took their first victory, and 1 – 2, on American soil.
Maxime Soulet was delighted with the win.
“I knew it was going to be like that because he (Parente) went out one lap earlier so his tyres were already hot,” said Soulet. “I didn’t know I was in front but then I saw the big Bentley lights and then I had to keep him behind and mange the pace at the end. But we had team orders so it was OK.
“First we’ve proved that the car is good. I think we were waiting for the win for the Gen 2 car for almost a year now so we’re more than happy!”
Teammate Rodrigo Baptista was very happy with the first win.
“I want to thank the team – they did a great job with the car. On the first lap, I said to Daniel Morad that I didn’t see him on the outside on the first lap so I pushed a little bit to the outside but then I had a small contact. The car was perfect and we did a great job on the pit stop.”
Winner of the Pro-Am class, Canadian driver Wei Lu, who drove with his teammate and coach Jeff Segal in the #31 TR3 Racing Ferrari had put in a lot of preparation over the winter months and was delighted that it had paid off.
“I had a great team and they gave me a really good car to drive,” said Wei Lu. “The team did the best pit stop ever and my coach is holding my hand trying to make me a better driver because this is the best weekend I could ever hope for. This track was the only track that I had raced at before when I raced here last year so I guess with more seat time it just gets better!”
Teammate Jeff Segal was grateful for TR3 Racing for making the Pro-Am win possible.
“I can’t say enough about these TR3 Racing guys. Everything came together very late but we know what we have with them and the Romanelli family do a great job – their heart is in this and its shows. The car was fantastic but I have to say the start of that day is Wei. Last year he impressed but the transformation over the winter….. we were in the Pro race! It’s unbelievable. I can’t ask for a better co-driver.”
The lights go out for Race Two of the weekend for the Blancpain GT World Challenge America at 14:10 local time.