AUSTIN, Texas - In what has been an unbelievable 2013 Pirelli World Challenge Season, GMG’s James Sofronas took his third victory of the season during this weekend’s fourth and fifth rounds at Circuit of the Americas.
“Wow, what an incredible day,” stated Sofronas. “Yesterday’s race with Johnny showed we knew we had a good car, and once again luck was on our side today. The key to this entire season has been having a reliable and consistent car in the Audi R8 LMS, and a crew that has been relentless in looking over every detail.
Following a successful test at the brand-new Austin, Texas facility, the entire Global Motorsports Group (GMG) came in to this weekend’s rounds of the championship knowing that they had a team capable of victory. With a series-record seven cars entered by the team, five of them being the Audi R8 LMS, Sofronas never lost a step in pursuit of his first series championship.
Starting Saturday’s fourth round from the second position, James’ No. 14 Mobil 1 / Children’s Tumor Foundation Audi R8 LMS had a fairly quiet race. Falling back during the standing start, a spirited battle between Sofronas and the No. 8 Cadillac of Andy Pilgrim as well as GMG teammate Duncan Ende led to race-leader Johnny O’Connell building a healthy lead over the field.
While Sofronas would comfortably place himself in second during the later stages of the race, the pace of O’Connell’s No. 3 Cadillac was simply too much, with James finishing second; his fourth straight podium.
During today’s fifth round, however, the race would take a significantly different turn. Starting on the front row, the Audi R8 LMS would fall back to third behind the leading Cadillacs. By lap three, the Cadillac of O’Connell would pull to the side with mechanical gremlins.
With Sofronas now in second, the balance over the course of the race for the Audi allowed the No. 14 to gain ground on the now-leading Cadillac of Pilgrim. Over time, the consistency of the No. 14 was simply too much for Pilgrim, with Sofronas taking the lead on lap eight and never looking back.
It would be the third victory in five races for James’ 2013 effort, and the Villa Park, California resident has never been off the podium this season.
For Duncan Ende’s No. 24 STANDD / Merchant Services, Ltd. Audi R8 LMS, a seventh and fifth-place finish were not indicative of the Californian’s overall showing.
After qualifying seventh for Saturday’s round, Ende made immediate work of the field in front of him, eventually finding himself glued to Sofronas’ rear-end during the middle stages of the race. Fighting his teammate hard for a podium position, a late re-start would allow Alex Figge’s No. 9 Volvo to put Ende behind, eventually fading back to seventh in the mix, and literally finishing 0.1 seconds behind Mike Skeen’s No. 2 Corvette in a last lap drag race.
For today’s round, Ende was determined to translate his third starting position into his first career Pirelli World Challenge podium. For much of the race it looked like that would finally materialize. Never losing site of his teammate, Ende pursued Sofronas during the entirety of the race.
Finding himself in third after O’Connell’s retirement, Ende would spend a good deal of the middle portion of the race battling with the Cadillac of Andy Pilgrim, eventually making the pass with less than 10 laps to go. Sitting in second, a late-race caution would put Duncan right behind race leader James Sofronas for a three-lap shootout to the end.
Unfortunately, a punctured left rear tire prior to the caution would create a handful for Ende, eventually leading to Pilgrim passing him on the re-start. Ende would nurse the car home for the final laps, eventually settling for fifth.
“Another crazy weekend, what do I say?” stated Ende. “I was disappointed with Friday’s qualifying, so it was great to come back on Saturday and immediately catch up to James. We didn’t have any mechanical issues and we were finally able to show our ability, but I just caught some bad breaks in traffic and fell back.
Today was another great race, we just slipped at the end with the tire. I was really hoping to race James at the end and finally come home with some hardware, but I went wide to avoid crashing into Andy, and from there I was just trying to nurse the car home. It’s disappointing to miss the podium again, but at least we were in contention all weekend and free of mechanical issues.”
For Alex Welch’s No. 08 Spyder / Lasso Audi R8 LMS, a quiet weekend would net two top-10 finishes for the Colorado resident. On Saturday, Welch would run consistent and trouble free to an eventual ninth-place finish. Running one of the fastest laps in the field, Alex was part of a massive mid-field battle, never putting a scratch on the car in the process.
Looking for another top-10 on Sunday, Welch set his fastest lap of the weekend during the race’s third lap, once again fighting hard with the Corvette of Mike Skeen and the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Tim Pappas, eventually taking sixth.
“I’m pretty happy with the weekend,” stated Welch. “The strength of James’ and Duncan’s runs showed just how good the program is, and with a little less traffic I think we could have the No. 08 right there. It was great to run clean with Tim and Mike, and I think we found a few things that will help us this season. I definitely have my eyes set on a podium at my next race.”
For Bret Curtis, a mixed weekend was on hand for the Westlake Village, California resident. After showing strong during practice, Curtis showed the potential of the No. 32 Spectra Resources Audi R8 LMS by qualifying the car in fifth on Friday.
Unfortunately, the highlights stopped there as Curtis had a difficult race on Saturday. On lap five, an errant Porsche crashed hard in to the No. 32, causing unrepairable damage to Curtis’ vehicle and retiring in 16th place.
Hoping for better results on Sunday, a hard weekend of car repairs by the GMG crew would give Curtis another great car, however unfortunate luck would rear its head again. On the first turn of the race, another incident would cause damage yet again, this time allowing Curtis to continue on, though wounded, to a quiet ninth.
“We definitely could have used a little better luck out here,” stated Curtis. “I was really pumped after Friday. To qualify in fifth we showed our potential, the guys really gave me a good car. Saturday’s incident was really unfortunate. The other driver’s move was nothing I would have expected, and pretty frustrating.
The guys did a great job getting the car turned around. Unfortunately, contact again today before I was out of the first turn kind of ruined any hope of doing well, but at least we were able to get a top-10 out of it. The potential is definitely there for some great results, hopefully it will show soon.”
Running a forgettable weekend was team newcomer Mike Hedlund. Driving the No. 40 Audi R8 LMS, the Woodside, California native showed considerable ability in a car he’d never driven prior to this weekend. Qualifying at a similar time to his teammates, Mike went in to the weekend with high expectations.
However, a series of mechanical problems would prove otherwise. During Saturday’s race, an overheating issue while in sixth place would cause Hedlund to retire, eventually credited with 15th. Twenty-four hours later, the driver would retire again with gearbox issues.
“It definitely wasn’t the weekend we had wanted,” stated Hedlund. “It’s part of racing to have mechanical gremlins like this, hopefully it’s all out of the way now for next time. I really appreciate all the effort that the GMG guys put into the car, and it would have been nice to have had some results. Regardless, I appreciate the opportunity, and wish the team the best for the year!”
Finally, Bill Ziegler’s No. 95 Swisher Racing Pontiac would also have a very mixed weekend in the GTS category. Continuing to develop their machine, a promising series of runs in practice and qualifying were unfortunately marred by mechanical retirements on Saturday and Sunday.
“It definitely wasn’t the weekend we’d hoped for,” stated Ziegler. “Development is a big part of this program, and unfortunately it means you can have weekends like this one. I appreciate all the work that the GMG guys did to get us here, and we’ll get them at Detroit.”
With the team putting a very strong stamp on the Pirelli World Challenge GT Championship, there is little time to relax as the team prepares for the next round in just two weeks. The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix will hold the sixth and seventh rounds of the championship on Saturday, June 1 and Sunday, June 2.
NBC Sports Network will feature television coverage of this weekend’s race at Circuit of the Americas on Sunday, June 16, at 5PM ET.