World Challenge heads west to Long Beach for second weekend of season

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Last year's race at the historic 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit was a thriller.

LONG BEACH, CALIF. – The Pirelli World Challenge Championships heads west to the Streets of Long Beach, Calif. for the second race weekend of the 2014 25th Anniversary season. The Roar By the Shore Presented by Kia is the only race weekend where just one race of competition is scheduled for the series' GT, GT-A and GTS divisions.

That said, the season opener to end the month of March at St. Petersburg, Fla. saw only one race rather than two. Severe weather and limited track time lead to the canceling of Round 1; the originally scheduled Round 2 then saw a 50-minute barn burner of a race, decided late when Tomas Enge in a Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo and Lawson Aschenbach in the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro made the winning passes in GT and GTS.

Last year's race at the historic 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit was a thriller, as both Johnny O'Connell and Alex Figge had late win opportunities fall out of their hands, with James Sofronas picking up the overall spoils in GT. Aschenbach, too, had a come-from-behind win at Long Beach with a late pass of seven-time series champion Peter Cunningham to take Blackdog Speed Shop's first GTS class victory.

With 40 cars spread across three divisions and the drama set to unfold once more at every corner, you can be sure The Roar By the Shore will live up to its race name.

Pirelli World Challenge GT: Sofronas Seeks Home Race Defense

With Enge not racing this weekend due to a prior race commitment, the field in GT is wide open at Long Beach. Sofronas, of Villa Park, Calif., seeks an encore of his 2013 Long Beach win in the No. 14 Spyder/The Thermal Club Audi R8 Ultra for his GMG Racing operation. He finished seventh at St. Petersburg and looks to improve upon that result at his home track.

#14 GMG Audi R8 ultra: James Sofronas
#14 GMG Audi R8 ultra: James Sofronas

Photo by: Martin W. Spetz

He'll have a teammate within the GT ranks for the first time this year, as Andrew Palmer of Chicago, in the No. 21 GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra, has been re-categorized from GT-A following his third place overall finish in St. Petersburg. Palmer starred in his series debut and now will have a chance to compete in the all-professional class for the first time.

The Cadillac Racing pair seeks to get on the board as well. For two-time defending GT class champion Johnny O'Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga., he'll be looking to score his first Pirelli World Challenge Long Beach win in the No. 3 Cadillac CTS-V.R. Teammate Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., led a race-high 26 laps at St. Petersburg in the No. 8 Cadillac CTS-V.R, before finishing second. He won at Long Beach in 2012 and has a chance to take the GT class points lead leaving the weekend.

K-PAX Racing's pair looks for a breakout weekend on the streets. Alex Figge, of Denver, Col., will drive the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 12C GT3 and seeks to improve on finishes of 10th and 13th at Long Beach the last two years. First-year driver Robert Thorne, of Littleton, Col., makes his Long Beach debut in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 12C GT3.

Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., was a fast starter at St. Petersburg in the No. 2 Hawk Performance Nissan GT-R. For the rest of the season the team has made a car change and will be running an Audi R8 Ultra. Skeen will look for an encore podium finish at Long Beach after coming home third in 2013.

Anthony Lazzaro, of Atlanta, Ga., has two past second place finishes in the Formula Atlantic championship (1997, 1999) at Long Beach, albeit on a different course configuration. He'll look to go one better this weekend in the No. 61 Remo Ferri Group – Ferrari of Ontario/Alberta/Maranello Autobody Ferrari 458 Italia GT3; he led two laps and finished fourth at St. Petersburg.

Tomy Drissi, of Los Angeles, Calif., makes his Pirelli World Challenge season debut in the No. 15 The Amazing Spider-Man 2, opens in theaters May 2 Aston Martin GT3 for Drissi Motorsports/TRG. Drissi's best career series finish in 36 prior starts is third in 2007; his best Long Beach finish was a win in the Trans Am series in 2000.

The 11-car GT class field is bolstered by Tim Bergmeister, of Langfeld, Germany in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R, and Mike Hedlund, of Woodside, Calif. in the No. 64 DragonSpeed/ESM Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. Hedlund finished ninth and Bergmeister 10th at St. Petersburg. Both have a single American Le Mans Series start apiece at Long Beach.

Pirelli World Challenge GT-A: Mancuso, Curtis, Pappas lead GT-A runners

After the 11 GT runners, there will be 9 additional GT-A classified drivers for a total of 20 GT cars at Long Beach.

#16 Ferrari Lake Forest Ferrari 458 Italia GT3: Nick Mancuso
#16 Ferrari Lake Forest Ferrari 458 Italia GT3: Nick Mancuso

Photo by: David Yowe

Nick Mancuso, of Chicago, had an excellent St. Petersburg weekend in the No. 16 Ferrari Lake Forest Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. Mancuso finished second in class, fifth overall, after qualifying fastest of GT-A runners in St. Petersburg.

Two others to watch are Bret Curtis, of Austin and Tim Pappas, of Boston, who both have succeeded at this course before. Curtis, driving GMG Racing's No. 32 Spectra Resources/United Steel Supply/Valspar Audi R8 Ultra this weekend, finished a career best fifth here last year. Pappas, in the No. 54 Black River Caviar Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 has a 2011 GTC class victory at Long Beach in the American Le Mans Series.

GMG has two additional cars entered in GT-A. Bill Ziegler of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. is in the No. 95 Swisher Racing/GMG Audi R8 Ultra, with local driver Brent Holden of Newport Coast, Calif. making his first start of 2014 in the No. 44 Audi R8 Ultra.

Series veteran Jeff Courtney, of Milwaukee, Wis., will make his sixth career Long Beach start in the No. 99 Kenda/RecStuff.com Audi R8 Ultra for JCR Motorsports. His best track result is seventh in 2010.

A trio of Long Beach newcomers round out the class. Henrik Hedman, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. races in the Swedish flag liveried blue-and-yellow No. 10 DragonSpeed Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, Michael Mills, of Angleton, Texas is in the No. 41 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R, and Dan Knox, of Pilot Point, Texas, races the No. 80 ACS Manufacturing Inc./Performance SpeedTech SRT Viper GT3-R.

Pirelli World Challenge GTS: Aschenbach, Lee, Baldwin battle set to continue

Jack Baldwin dominated practice and qualifying, Andy Lee dominated the race, and Lawson Aschenbach took the victory after Lee hit traffic at an inopportune time in the GTS class season opener in St. Petersburg. Expect each of the dynamic trio to factor into this weekend's battle for the Long Beach win in the 20-car field.

#20 Best IT/Crown 7 Chevrolet Camaro: Lawson Aschenbach and Andy Lee
#20 Best IT/Crown 7 Chevrolet Camaro: Lawson Aschenbach and Andy Lee

Photo by: David Yowe

Aschenbach, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., took the 2013 Long Beach GTS win and looks for two-in-a-row to open 2014 in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. But it's Lee, of Colorado Springs, Col. in the No. 20 Crown7.com / BestIT Racing Chevrolet Camaro who led the most laps at St. Pete and is the 2013 Long Beach polesitter. He's hungry to win.

Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., took the St. Petersburg pole in the No. 73 RESET-MD/StopTech/Motul Porsche Cayman S and finished third behind the pair of Camaros. Baldwin is a past Long Beach winner in Pirelli World Challenge, in 2012, and looks for his first win of the year this weekend.

All three feature their full-season teammates alongside this weekend. Tony Gaples, of Libertyville, Ill. is in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro and Buz McCall, of Boca Raton, Fla., is in the No. 72 RESET-MD/StopTech/Motul Porsche Cayman S. While these two are Long Beach veterans, rookie Geoff Reeves of Cleveland, Ohio will make his track debut in the No. 40 BestIT/Bondurant School Chevrolet Camaro.

But look for the pair of Kia Racing/Kinetic Motorsports drivers and cars to shine in this, a race that Kia sponsors. Both Mark Wilkins, of Toronto in the No. 38 Kia Motors America Kia Optima and Nic Jonsson, of Buford, Ga., in the No. 36 Kia Motors America Kia Optima look to bounce back from a challenging weekend at St. Petersburg. Wilkins was fifth and Jonsson seventh a year ago at Long Beach. This is a home state race for Kia, based in nearby Irvine, Calif., and additionally for two other GTS teams: TRG-AMR of northern Petaluma, Calif. and Always Evolving Racing of Los Angeles.

TRG-AMR North America looks to improve on finishes of fourth and sixth at Long Beach in 2013, and any of its three drivers could do so this weekend. Nick Esayian will race on home soil; he lives in San Diego and will drive the No. 34 Natural Cures Aston Martin GT4. Drew Regitz, of Denver, Col., continues to improve his speed in the No. 02 TRG-AMR Aston Martin GT4, and rookie Jorge De La Torre, of McAllen, Texas will make his track debut in the No. 04 TRG-AMR Aston Martin GT4.

For Always Evolving, the team continues its 2014 theme of Racing in Honor. David Sterckx, of Brussels, Belgium will race the No. 52 Reach Out Worldwide Ford Mustang Boss 302S and Erik Davis, of Burbank, Calif., will race the No. 75 Reach Out Worldwide Ford Mustang Boss 302S. Both race in tribute with the charity founded by Paul Walker, who along with Always Evolving founder and 2013 Pirelli World Challenge racer Roger Rodas, passed away last year.

Besides Always Evolving, there will be five other Ford Mustang Boss 302s in the field this weekend. Jack Roush Jr., of Livonia, Mich., makes his track debut in the No. 60 ROUSH Road Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302R, and looks to improve on his fifth place in St. Petersburg.

Motorsports Development Group fields two with young gun Alec Udell, of The Woodlands, Texas in the No. 17 Watson Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S, and Mitch Landry, of Lake Charles, La. in the No. 97 VersaCrane/DeepSouth Ford Mustang Boss 302S.

Capaldi Racing has a pair entered for Tony Buffomante, of Naperville, Ill., who finished fourth at St. Petersburg in the No. 33 Capaldi Racing/Ford Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S and also for series veteran Brad Adams, of New Orleans, La. in the No. 96 Voodoo Music Experience/DatDog/Yo MTV Raps Ford Mustang Boss 302S.

A single Nissan and Audi apiece round out the 20-car field. SFR Enterprises' Ric Bushey, of Virginia Beach, Va., posted a solid seventh place in St. Petersburg in the No. 51 Nissan/Motul/SPL/OSGiken/Sparco/Sunoco Nissan 370Z and looks to crack the top five this weekend. Don Istook, of River Oaks, Texas, campaigns the RS Werkes Racing No. 01 Forge Motorsports/Recaro Audi TT RS.

Event/Circuit:

Streets of Long Beach / 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit

Qualifying: Saturday, April 12, 5:15 P.M. PDT/8:15 P.M. EDT

Green Flag: Sunday, April 13, 4:30 P.M. PDT/7:30 P.M. EDT

Race Length: 50 minutes

Television (on NBC Sports Network): Sunday, April 20, 5:30 PM (EDT)

Pirelli World Challenge

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Tags alex figge, audi, cadilac, camaro, ferrari, james sofronas, johnny o'connell, lamborghini, long beach, mclaren, mercedes-benz, scca-pwc

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