Rodrigo Baptista will make his second start with the factory M-Sport Bentley team, having been called up to contest next month’s Intercontinental GT Challenge season-ending Kyalami 9 Hour.
The 23-year-old Brazilian, a regular with Bentley customer squad K-PAX Racing, will share the No. 108 Bentley with Steven Kane and Andy Soucek, as part of a reshuffled lineup for the British squad.
M-Sport’s second Bentley will be driven by Jules Gounon, Maxime Soulet and Jordan Pepper.
“Although this will be my first visit to Kyalami, I’m confident,” Baptista said. “I’m doing the work in the simulator and watching onboards, and we are in a unique position here being able to work with Jordan Pepper, one of the few drivers that has experienced the circuit before.
“Coming from a customer team like K-PAX Racing helps a lot because I’m already familiar with the car, and most importantly how it handles.
“We’ve won races and ran in the top five every weekend in the U.S., so I’m positive I can carry that form to Kyalami for the works team.”
According to Bentley’s director of motorsport Paul Williams, the IGTC season finale will help the manufacturer determine possible new driver pairings for 2020.
“I’m looking at next year and seeing what we want to do,” Williams told Sportscar365.
“I want to get more information to decide what to do with drivers next year, but I also want to see how different pairings work out because a lot of it comes down to how the guys bond and work together.
“You see it [in GT World Challenge America], how some pairings work really well.
“We’ll be seeing how we can build on that and watching the guys to see how they gel as a team.
Williams said Bentley “enjoys” having drivers from its customer programs be part of the factory operation on occasions.
K-PAX’s Baptista as well as Callum McLeod and Seb Morris, who have driven for Team Parker Racing in the British GT Championship, were part of M-Sport’s four-car lineup in the Total 24 Hours of Spa this year.
“What we really enjoy at the moment is drivers like Seb Morris coming out of customer racing and being with the works team – he raced for us at Suzuka,” Williams said.
“We are running Baptista in South Africa. For us, it’s a great thing to get the works drivers out of the customer teams. It forges that link between the two.”
“As a small brand – I’m not Audi with 50 to 80 cars out there – I want a small handful of guys who we work closely with.
“That means getting the cross-pollination between the M-Sport works team and K-PAX, and in British GT with the smaller teams.
“This is really where we’re putting our emphasis. It’s about getting a family going.”
Williams said hopes are high for Kyalami, with Bentley still seeking a breakthrough first win in IGTC competition.
“For me, personally, growing up in South Africa, I’d love to do well there,” he said.
“The car is strong, and the team are on fire to try and do it. If you look at the recent races, the guys are on it. We’ve got a good chance there.”