Former Pirelli World Challenge GT champion Alvaro Parente can get used to a change very quickly.
After a successful open-wheel career, Parente jumped into the GT racing and made a name for himself throughout Europe, and even winning the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia.
Two years ago, the Portuguese driver came to North America with K-PAX Racing, and having only raced on one previous track, took the team to six wins and the GT title.
Last year, Parente just missed out on the PWC GT Sprint title but still managed four wins including one in the season-opener on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Now, Parente returns to the St. Pete circuit and is dealing with another change in his career.
After six years driving a McLaren, the 33-year-old seeks his second GT title in three years, having transitioned from a McLaren 650S GT3 to the Bentley Continental GT3.
“I really enjoy the street tracks we are going to this season,” Parente said. “We have a new challenge with the Bentley this year, and we are working hard to start the year off well.
“Some of the tracks on the schedule will be more difficult than others, but we already know some of the challenges ahead for St. Pete. We will give it all we have this year.”
Last year, Parente was sensational in his St. Pete victory, coming from fourth to first by the second lap in the 50-minute sprint race. Using lapped traffic to his advantage, he claimed a 10.135-second win.
“It was so much fun to return to St. Petersburg last year for my second event there,” said Parente. “The start was a little difficult as I didn’t really see the green flag; not exactly the best start. But, on the second lap, I was able to slide under Pierre Kaffer in the No. 4 car in turn one.
“Then Daniel [Mancinelli, pole-sitter] in the Ferrari guarded the inside line entering turn four and I made the outside move. The track surface was a little slippery, but I got to the corner and made the pass. After that, the K-PAX felt very good to the checkered flag.”
Parente has been a master on street circuits since joining PWC, as he understands the difficult street directions and the bumper-to-bumper, wheel-to-wheel racing usually associated with it.
“Last year, I knew that there was some wild stuff happening behind me [on the track] but I focused on the track and keeping my pace,” he explained. “Racing on a street circuit is always tough.
“You can’t make a single mistake at a place like St. Pete or you will be in the wall. So, you must drive hard but at a secure pace. Overall, I was very happy with the win in the opening race of the season. I couldn’t ask for a better start to the season than with a victory.”
Now, with the first-generation Bentley, Parente will have a tough chore to maneuver the tight confines of St. Pete with the larger vehicle.
“The GT class is always a tough battle,” he said. “I expect another hard-fought race in each of the two St. Pete sprints. There are some tough drivers in the field too. Should be an exciting weekend.”