A Weekend Ride in the Countryside
While the media focuses on three legendary auto races -- the Grand Prix of Monaco, the Indianapolis 500, and the Coca-Cola 600 -- die-hard race fans know that there is a fourth traditional racing event that is an essential part of Memorial Day Weekend. To true sports car enthusiasts, the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Lime Rock has become a holiday tradition with its own unique history.
Nestled in the northwest corner of Connecticut just a stone's throw from the New York and Massachusetts borders, the 1.5-mile, seven-turn road course has hosted some of America's top road racing events since 1957. The Pirelli World Challenge (PWC), featuring modified versions of famous production cars competing in a variety of classes, has been a fixture at the venue for years.
While there are always interesting story lines for the PWC, two in particular stand out for 2018.
Too Fast to Ask for Grey Poupon
Thanks to the high earning power of the titans of Wall Street and the executives of the many corporations based around the Big Apple, residents of the New York metropolitan area have the chance to see some of the most expensive cars in world. It is not unusual to see some marques famous for opulence and luxury -- brands like Rolls Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati and Maybach -- in high end locales such as Greenwich, CT; Scarsdale, NY; and Upper Saddle River, NJ. But it is unusual to see representatives of these brands at high speed in wheel-to-wheel competition.
Perhaps the most unusual competitor in the PWC is the pair of Bentley Continental GT3s campaigned by K-PAX Racing, a long-time entrant in the Pirelli World Challenge which switched to Bentleys for 2018 after several years of campaigning McLarens.
An international quartet of drivers -- Alvaro Parente, Andy Soucek, Rodrigo Baptista and Maxime Soulet -- share the driving duties of the Bentleys, which will be competing in a pair of races on Monday. Though modern aficionados know the British brand for its high speed touring sedans, the Bentley reputation was built through racing (Bentleys dominated the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1924 and in four straight races from 1927-30) this new generation of cars looks to re-establish Bentley as a brand of power and speed.
Photos, above and below: W. Rosenberg www.nyspg.com
The K-PAX entries finished first in the GT SprintX Pro class (with Parente driving) and first in GT SprintX Pro-Am Class (with Baptista) last Sunday in the most recent PWC event at Mosport Park in Canada. On Satruday, Parente -- who won both Monday races at Lime Rock in the 2016 PWC event -- turned in the fastest time to earn pole position for Monday's first GT SprintX race. He will drive the first part of the race in the Blue and Black No. 9 entry and give the controls to co-driver Soucek during the only scheduled pit stop during the 60-minute race.
Above: K-PAX Racing's Bentley GT3s in the garage.
“It’s going to be tough two races on Monday if we continue to have this heat (high 80s),” Parente said. “Strategy will be a key and tire degradation a key too. I keep my fingers crossed that I have a good start and I have a good stint. Save the tires a little bit too. I want to give Andy (Soucek) a good car to run to the finish. We need a good, clean pit stop and a solid car through the races. Qualifying here is one pace and the race is another pace. We want to stay up front all day in the race.” Baptista qualified seventh quickest overall in the Yellow and Black No. 9 entry.
Racing Is the Ultimate Equal Opportunity Sport
The Bentleys are not alone in building new racing reputations. On the weekend when Danica Patrick runs the final race of her career in the Indy 500, two very promising young women are burnishing their racing credentials and displaying their talents in BMW M4 GT4s at this year’s Grand Prix of Lime Rock. Samantha Tan, a 20-year-old driving for ST Racing founded by her father, shares driving responsibilities in the No.38 car with co-driver Nick Wittmer, while 19-year-old Aurora Straus is paired with teammate Jon Miller in the No. 36.
Above Upper: Aurora Straus, Above Lower: Samantha Tan
The two young ladies have remarkably diverse talents. Originally from Gormley, Ontario, Canada, Tan, an accomplished pianist, now studies Economics at the University of California at Irvine where she also pursues a minor in humanities and law. Straus hails from the quaint, Hudson River town of Cold Spring, New York, and has been accepted to Harvard University where she will pursue a double major in mechanical engineering and English. Scheduled to have started at Harvard last fall, Straus postponed her start for one year so that she could pursue her racing. An accomplished musician and singer, she sang the National Anthem at the start of Saturday’s action. When asked how she felt about this honor, Aurora commented, "I'm actually singing the National Anthem Saturday morning at 10:35 which, if anything, is also scary if not scarier than getting behind the wheel of the BMW."
Straus currently stands in 6th place among 35 active drivers overall in the GTS SprintX class of the Pirelli World Challenge followed by Samantha Tan and Nick Wittmer in 7th. Among the amateur class drivers Straus currently leads the field of 22 drivers. Overall, ST Racing holds the 5th place in the overall Teams Championship among 24 active teams. During an interview prior to Friday's practice session, Straus talked about her new initiative, "Girls with Drive", which is a program she's developing in partnership with the Girl Scouts and which she hopes to launch as a non-profit organization in the not to distant future. For Monday's race day at Lime Rock, young girls who participate in the Girl Scouts will get to interact with drivers, learn about their cars and earn a new Girl Scout patch, the "Girls with Drive" patch featuring a BMW in the background. This weekend's event also introduced a new paint scheme on the No. 36 car driven by Straus which she noted was "Tiffany Blue" as she counts among her sponsors Tiffany and Company and Richard Mille. We'll report more about the "Girls with Drive" initiative in the upcoming issue of MetroSports Magazine.
Below: The Richard Mille sponsored Tiffany Blue BMW M4 GT4 of the ST Racing Team driven by Aurora Straus and Jon Miller
Above, Straus and Crew Chief Ben Distaulo discussing strategy before climbing into her BMW M4 GT4.
As they get set for Monday’s Grand Prix of Lime Rock GTS Sprint X race of the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge, the Straus/Miller car will line up 15th on the starting grid while the Tan/Wittmer entry will start in 28th position in the field of 31. There is no racing at the track on Sunday as fans are treated one of the great classic car shows on the East coast. Monday is a race junkie's paradise with four races beginning at 9:55 am. For more information, go to www.limerock.com/memorial-day-weekend. Tickets are still available; the track is a family-friendly natural amphitheater and fans are encouraged to bring blankets and folding chairs to enjoy an old-fashioned, full-day holiday picnic.
Above: Award-winning motorsports journalist, John Chuhran, interviews participants for the upcoming issue of MetroSports Magazine
MetroSports Magazine has previously featured racing at Lime Rock Park along with our coverage of last summer's inagural FIA NYC ePrix(September/October 2017) and had interviewed Aurora Straus in our May/June 2017 issue which featured the anniversary of the 1908 Briarcliff Trophy Race.
Look for in-depth feature stories profiling K-PAX Bentley effort and the plans for these rising female racers in the upcoming issue of MetroSports Magazine.