LONG BEACH, Calif. - In yet another wild round of the Pirelli World Challenge, GMG’s James Sofronas came away from yesterday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with his second consecutive victory of the season.
“Wow, I am the luckiest guy in the world,” stated Sofronas. “I never want to see bad luck take anyone out, but at the same time it was a huge coup for us to win at our home track. We probably didn’t have the fastest car, but somehow Lady Luck gifted us another one today.”
As the green flag fell for the series’ signature standing start, Sofronas’ no. 14 Mobil 1 / Children’s Tumor Foundation Audi R8 LMS had a solid run headed in to the first turn, but was no match for the Volvo S60 and Cadillac CTS-V.R entries, who have spent several seasons refining their ability to launch from a standstill.
With the field settling in to its pace for the opening laps, Sofronas was in a familiar top-five position behind the leading no. 9 Volvo of Alex Figge and no. 3 Cadillac of Johnny O’Connell.
As the race progressed, Sofronas established a comfortable pace in third, however the Audi did not appear to have anything for the two leaders in front of him. The race nearing the end, Sofronas appeared to simply settle in to a third-place run, opting to preserve the car and focus on valuable championship points.
However, with four laps to go, the race would take a chaotic turn. Headed in to the first corner, a major mechanical failure on the rear end of race leader Alex Figge would send the no. 9 Volvo in to a dramatic spin down the corner’s escape road. With GTS driver Andy Lee incurring an unrelated accident simultaneously, the race would fall under caution.
With Figge out, Johnny O’Connell assumed the lead, with Sofronas now in second. A significant amount of track cleanup would be required and it was expected that the race would stay under caution until the end, thereby gifting O’Connell the victory.
With the Cadillac team on the cusp of their first victory in the 2013 season, a bizarre change of fortune would occur. As Figge’s Volvo suffered from its rear-end failure, pieces of debris from the car punctured the trailing Cadillac’s radiator, meaning O’Connell was losing water fast as his car circled during the final caution laps.
With Sofronas not allowed to pass under caution, the Californian simply had to spend the final laps watching a smoking O’Connell limp his way to the finish.
However, with only a half-lap left, O’Connell’s engine finally gave up entirely, with the Cadillac driver being left with no choice but to pull over and get out of his retired car.
Sofronas would cruise home to victory in the final five corners, literally taking the lead on the last lap, and under caution.
Furthering his championship point lead, Sofronas took his fifth career victory and second at Long Beach.
“I absolutely hate it for Johnny and Alex, they were both the class of the field,” stated Sofronas. “However, everyone at the team deserved this. The guys put a lot of time in to making a great appearance at our home race, and we couldn’t have had a better result. We have such great momentum for Austin, but first I want to enjoy today with my family.”
Also finishing in the same position he started was Los Angeles-native Duncan Ende. However, much like Sofronas, Ende’s path to finishing where he qualified was not exactly easy.
When the race started for Ende’s no. 24 Merchant Services Ltd. / STANDD Audi R8 LMS, a mechanical issue at the start would slow the car significantly for the opening lap. Driving with a handicap that essentially held back the cars overall speed, Ende found himself languishing at the back of the field by time he approached his second lap.
By time his second lap began, the issue had cleared itself, forcing Ende to once again fight his way from behind. Ende made impressive work of the field in front of him, steadily gaining position lap-by-lap, eventually finding his way to fourth at the finish.
“That was probably the hardest I’ve ever driven to finish where I started,” stated Ende, who took his first-ever Long Beach podium yesterday during his race in the American Le Mans Series.
“We had a bit of an issue at the start and that really held me back, but luckily the issue cleared itself out. We had quite a few little hiccups during the course of the race, but somehow our good luck matched our bad to finish where we started. We’re one step closer to a podium, and I think the race in Austin should suit us well.”
Also taking his first top-five of the season, Bret Curtis would represent well for his home race. After being penalized for a rules violation at the start, Curtis joined Ende in making a brilliant come-from-behind drive in his no. 32 Spectra Resources / United Steel Supply Audi R8 LMS to finish fifth.
“The car next to me began to lurch forward during the standing start, and it tricked me in to doing the same,” stated Curtis. “As soon as I realized the race hadn’t started I immediately stopped the car, but it was too late. Once the race got going, I was actually happy with everything. We ran some really fast times, and chipped away at everyone in front of us. A top-five after all of that is a great finish, so I’m pretty happy.”
Rounding out the team’s GT entries were drivers Brent Holden and Alex Welch. Holden had his career best finish in the Pirelli World Challenge, driving a steady and fairly quiet race to put his no. 44 machine in seventh. Welch was well-positioned to take a top-five, if not better, before a gearbox issue would relegate the Colorado-native to 12th.
For the team’s lone GTS driver, Bill Ziegler, another error free run would net the Floridian a 14th place finish. Driving the no. 95 Swisher Pontiac Solstice, Ziegler’s primary goal was to continue with the car’s development and have a solid run.
“It was a pretty steady race for us,” stated Ziegler. “With the yellows we learned a lot about how the car is with tire cycles. If we’d had a couple more laps I think we could have had a couple of the guys ahead of us, but we’ve definitely progressed with the program.”
While there is some celebration within the entire GMG organization, the party can’t last for long as they prepare for their next round just a few weeks away. Shipping out to the brand new Circuit of the Americas facility in Austin, Texas, the entire Pirelli World Challenge paddock is set for an exciting new venue in partnership with the Australian V8 Supercars series.
Television highlights of today’s victory at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach can be seen on Sunday, May 5, at 2:00PM on NBC Sports Network.
The series fourth and fifth rounds at Circuit of the Americas will take place on May 18 and 19.
Global Motorsports Group