With two new cars, a new collaboration with another championship-caliber team and one new driver, K-PAX Racing has undergone one of its bigger transformations in its nearly 10-year history in the Pirelli World Challenge.
Meanwhile, Flying Lizard Motorsports is charting its own new direction, by shifting into a new series, aligning a new manufacturer and naming new leadership.
Together, K-PAX Racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports has one of the longer team names in sports car racing, but also has strength in depth rivaled by few in the 40-car GT/GTA field assembled for the season opening Nissan Grand Prix of Texas at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.
The fusion of K-PAX and Flying Lizard – two separate entities – has been a fairly seamless process, according to new Flying Lizard program manager Darren Law.
“If we were bringing in multiple people from both sides it would be tough,” Law told Sportscar365. “But it is literally the entire Flying Lizard program, so that’s pretty straightforward.
“It’s more been a matter of integrating the hierarchy of K-PAX, starting with its owner Jim Haughey, and learning new cars and a bit of a new system. Running World Challenge is a different system than the last decade we have done with IMSA.”
The aforementioned new cars are a pair of brand new McLaren 650S GT3s, which replace the K-PAX team’s McLaren MP4-12Cs.
Three McLaren staff, plus driver Kevin Estre, join the estimated 15 K-PAX/Flying Lizard crew members as part of the overall fusion, Law said.
Both teams are well represented in the crew side. Flying Lizard’s Thomas Blam is the new trackside team manager, with Will Moody (K-PAX) and Steve Conover (Flying Lizard) engineers on the No. 6 and No. 9 cars, respectively.
The program runs out of Flying Lizard’s Sonoma, Calif. headquarters, and operates from K-PAX transporters at the track.
Simple operational tasks, such as ensuring logos and apparel were correct and ordered in time and getting the official new team name determined have been added to the routine off-season program of testing, development and figuring out parts that need to be fixed.
“The toughest thing has been the compressed time schedule,” Law said. “Beyond the real basic stuff, in testing it’s seeing what parts don’t go right and asking what things do we need to change. That’s put us in a real time crunch more than anything.”
Bringing in a driver such as Estre, the McLaren factory ace, has helped aid the transition process as he has been a part of the 650S’s development since the beginning. He replaces Alex Figge, who was in the No. 9 McLaren MP4-12C last year.
Estre tested the 650S in England last summer, but didn’t test as much as others between October and the car’s race debut in the Gulf 12 Hours in Abu Dhabi in December.
The car finished third overall there, and the Frenchman said the car improved quite a bit between the earliest development and the Abu Dhabi race.
Car-to-car, Estre highlighted the points of improvement on the 650S compared to the 12C.
“It’s quite a lot easier to drive,” Estre told Sportscar365. “Under braking, the car is moving a lot less. Then the aero helps us a lot in the fast corners. Those are the two big improvements.
“The gearbox is better and smoother. The car is faster and easier to drive at the same speed.”
Estre isn’t alone in noting the upgrade on the new car. Teammate Robert Thorne in the sister No. 6 car is the K-PAX driving link to 2014, and took the opportunity to praise the increased downforce of the 650S, compared to the 12C.
“It’s made a drastic difference in the feel of the car, front grip, mid-corner,” Thorne told Sportscar365.
“The 12C was not that different from a very good street car. It turned in well but often gave up in the middle, which was our downfall. We had to set it up loose to not understeer.
“McLaren really capitalized on the issues to make the car truly a step above the old one. At a big, fast, flowing track like this, that could be a huge factor.”
Estre looks to shine in his first season of PWC going for overall wins, while Thorne seeks to continue his growth he showed last year, which culminated in a well-judged victory in the season finale at Miller Motorsports Park.
Law and Thorne had the opportunity to work together for the first time under the Flying Lizard team banner at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which both said was great preparation for the rest of the year.
For the moment, the team has incorporated the McLaren orange and black as primary colors of the two 650Ss, rather than going with the traditional K-PAX blue and yellow or traditional Flying Lizard silver and red.
Law said the livery is an ongoing evolution, and could change later this year.
A possible area of concern might be PWC’s standing starts. The launch control proved problematic for the 12Cs a year ago, but was better sorted by the end of the year.
Thorne described the evolution made year-on-year in that department.
“I know McLaren is working on the launch control system to improve upon where we push past where we finished with the 12C last year,” he said.
“With it being a new car, another new transmission and clutch system, there might be some struggling at first to dial things back in. But the more data we can acquire with the launch, the better it will get. I’m sure we’ll get it sorted.”
All three team members though, plus the crew, look ahead to the new relationships and new series with great expectations and optimism.
“We’re not coming into this thinking it will be an easy road,” Law said. “There are a lot of good teams, drivers and people. But it’s a phenomenal opportunity.”