LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 20, 2013) – James Sofronas, of nearby Villa Park, Calif., took the Motul Pole in exciting fashion for Round Three of the Pirelli World Challenge Championships, the Long Beach Grand Prix Presented by KIA, setting a new track record on his final lap. Alex Figge, of Denver, Colo., qualified second.
As the checkered flag flew on the 20-minute session, Sofronas, in his No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8 was able to navigate the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course in 1:21.087 (87.372mph). Sofronas took the lap record from Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., who clicked off the prior fast lap of 1:21.304 (87.139 mph) in 2012.
“We’ve been testing these cars a lot and on the long runs, with a lot of temp in the tire, and a lot of time these cars get better and better,” Sofronas said. “So, I knew I had one last lap to do it. It was a clear track too, so it was probably the best time to lay it down and no one was out there but me. So, I just pushed as hard as I could and was fortunate enough to just nip it by, I think, a couple hundredths.
“Hats off to the GMG guys, they worked another late night last night, and I couldn’t be any more happy for those guys.”
As time in the session wound down, it looked like clear sailing for Figge, who set his fast lap with about eight minutes left to go in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60. Figge set his fast lap in a backup car after suffering engine damage in Friday’s practice, lowering the track record to 1:21.115 (87.342 mph), which was eventually eclipsed by Sofronas.
“We had to go to the spare car overnight, which is really no big deal,” Figge said, who was able to run the car in practice, immediately preceding qualifying. “They’ve made a big push, thanks to Volvo, and [team owner] Jim Haughey, over the winter. It doesn’t matter, the cars are all interchangeable. But, with any new racecar you want a chance to shake it down. With that red flag [in practice] we were hoping we got enough laps on it to make sure the reliability was there, and it was. It ran very well. Coming street race to street race was nice. We had a good car in St. Pete and, really, just brought that setup here.
“Obviously, we left a lot on the table in that second race at St. Pete. We had an unfortunate parts failure to not grab the win there, at the end. Obviously, I’m looking to make up some points and continue to build toward the end of the season as far as the championship goes. That’s, obviously, the goal, as I’m sure it is, for James, Randy and everyone else, and I think we’re in a good position to do that. Is there a win in our future tomorrow? I’m not totally sure about that, but there’s a nice points-paying position there if everything goes well and the car keeps running.”
Pobst, in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, will start in third place on Sunday, setting a fast time of 1:21.333 (87.108 mph). Pobst had captured the top spot with 10 minutes remaining in the session, pulling into the pits following the lap. His time was then bested by Figge two minutes later, and then Sofronas.
“In practice, the car felt good, we made a minor adjustment,” Pobst said. “In qualifying, I worked really hard to get down to what was the pole at the time, which was quicker than last year. I felt good about that, and about the time I was pulling in, Alex was pulling back out and he put two tenths on me. I thought, ‘Volvos are one-two, and our primary goal is the championship for the manufacturer, for Volvo. That’s what our job is here.’ At the time we were pretty clear of everyone else, especially Alex. I thought, ‘I’m going to sit here. I’m not going back out, skimming the walls to beat my teammate and wear out my tires.’
“So, we’re sitting there just waiting and I saw Duncan Ende, one of James’ teammates, come in with a time right behind me, and I thought ‘uh-oh,’ because I know James, so far, has been a little quicker than Duncan, although Duncan’s a good driver, too. Sure enough, they show the checker and everybody’s starting to put stuff away. I’m asking ‘Has everyone crossed the line yet, has everyone crossed the line yet?’ and sure enough James has the high pressure, good lap at the end.”
Ende, of Los Angeles, posted a quick time of 1:21.542 (87.108 mph), which put the No. 24 STANDD.org/Merchant Services Audi R8 fourth on Sunday’s grid.
Johnny O’Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., was the highest qualified of the Cadillac Racing cars in his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R. O’Connell clocked a fast time of 1:21.742 (86.672 mph), meaning he will line up fifth for Sunday’s race.
Defending race winner Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., will have his work cut out to repeat. Pilgrim piloted his No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R to a seventh-place grid position with a 1:21.963 (86.439 mph).
The final practice, which started at 7:30 a.m. for both the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes, ended five minutes before the GT qualifying session. Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., was the fastest of the GTS cars in the session in the No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX, with a 1:28.529 (80.028 mph).
Mark Wilkins, of Toronto, slotted into second with a 1:29.434 (79.219 mph) in the No. 38 KIA Motors America KIA Optima. Teammate Nic Jonsson, of Bankeryd, Sweden, was third in GTS, with a 1:29.795 (78.889 mph).
The Pirelli World Challenge GTS class will hit the track Sunday for its 20-minute qualifying session at 8:00 a.m. (PDT). The standing start for Round Three of the Pirelli World Challenge is slated for 4:30 p.m. (PDT), with live streaming video at www.world-challengetv.com beginning at 3:55 p.m. (PDT).
SCCA - World Challenge