AUSTIN, Texas (May 19, 2013) – James Sofronas, of Villa Park, Calif., earned his third Pirelli World Challenge GT win of the 2013 season Sunday, taking the Cadillac Sports Car Challenge at Circuit of the Americas. Andy Lee, of Colorado Springs, Colo., took his first GTS class win of the season.
Motul Polesitter Johnny O’Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., led early, but fell out on lap three with a steering issue, handing the lead to teammate Andy Pilgrim’s No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R. Pilgrim stayed on point until lap eight, when Sofronas put his No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8 into the lead.
“We were really good in the high-speed Esses,” Sofronas said. “He [Pilgrim] was braking into the Esses. I was able to roll into them, and carry momentum without hitting the brakes. So, I was creeping up on him, putting a little pressure on him. We were coming into the last turn in the complex and, next thing I know, he had a little hiccup. I just kept my foot in it, and was able to get around him. I think it was some kind of bobble or a mistake, or his car cut out, but that’s all I needed. My guys gave me splits and I just put my head down.”
From there, Sofronas stretched out his advantage while the battle for second continued, with Sofronas’ teammate, Duncan Ende, taking the spot in his No. 24 STANDD.org/Merchant Services Audi R8. A late-race caution to clean some fluid on the course bunched the field and set up a three-lap sprint to the finish.
Sofronas got away cleanly, but Ende was under attack, with both Pilgrim and Randy Pobst’s No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 moving past by Turn Three. Sofronas stretched his lead to take a 2.007-second victory over Pilgrim, averaging 80.696 mph in the 27-lap, 62.1-mile race.
“It was a team effort,” Sofronas added of his seventh-career win. “With seven cars and 24 crew members, it takes a group effort to pull this off. At this level with guys like Johnny O’Connell and Andy Pilgrim, you can’t make a mistake. Obviously, Johnny had a problem with his suspension, and Andy made one mistake, which is all I needed. I just put my head down once I got the lead.”
Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., earned his third-consecutive podium finish and moved to second in the Championship, behind Sofronas. Pilgrim’s pass on Ende earned him the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race.
“The Cadillac guys made the right adjustments last night and I was able to get a good start,” Pilgrim said. “I was pretty aggressive going into Turn One and managed to get the two Audis that were in front of me on the start. As the race went on, my tires started to get really hot. The Audi R8s are very strong. I really had nothing for James. I am very happy with second today and my third-place yesterday.
“The late yellow really helped me. I was able to cool the tires and make that last run to get second place back. With the new tires, the car got really tail-happy toward the end of the race. I think that is all we really had today. Everyone was really sliding around out there this afternoon.”
After struggling on Saturday more than his fourth-place finish might reflect, Pobst had a solid run to take his second podium finish of the season. His pass of Alex Welch on lap 19 for fourth was deemed the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race.
“I am happy,” Pobst said. “I feel like it was a win. These conditions are tough. Our Volvo did not adapt well to this circuit, too many tight corners for that big girl. The all-wheel-drive is an advantage coming off, but the size and the front weight distribution is a disadvantage going into a turn. Yesterday, in the race, it actually went better than what I expected. Going into today I figured it would be the same. I didn’t think I would have much for the Audis and just planned on keeping my nose clean, and what do you know, the thing was a little better.”
Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., was also able to move around Ende on the penultimate lap, finishing fourth in his No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette. Ende finished fifth.
O’Connell turned a record fastest race lap before retiring on lap three, tripping the clocks at a record 1:33.284 (88.761 mph).
The pair of Camaros were never far apart, but stretched an advantage over the rest of the field, a gap that was erased by the caution period.
On the restart, third-running Nic Jonsson, of Sweden, made a big move to the inside with his No. 36 Kia Motors America Kia Optima. The ensuing contact spun Aschenbach and left Jonsson’s car stranded with damage in Turn One. The incident was named the Kia Turning Point of the Race.
With Aschenbach well back in the field, Lee was able to run to a 1.529-second victory over Canadian Mark Wilkins’ No. 38 Kia Motors America Kia Optima.
It was Lee’s fifth-career Pirelli World Challenge GTS win, and his first of 2013.
“The Kias do such a good job on the restarts, so I knew I was going to need to defend,” Lee said. “I made a move to the inside, and thought I made it pretty clear that I was taking the inside line. I took the line and held steady and I got clipped from behind. I heard [Jonsson] locking up, so I knew something was broken on his car. I started backing up and he kept going, and went into Lawson [Aschenbach]. It’s a shame. I hate for the race to end that way, but we were there the whole race. I just wanted to give Lawson a battle to the last lap.
“The two weeks leading up to this race have been nothing but a mad thrash. All of my guys put their hearts and souls into these cars, and they gave me a car that was good enough to win. I’m not sure how my lap times compare to Lawson’s, but I felt like we were faster, it was just a matter of time.”
Lee turned the race’s fastest lap on lap six, a record 1:40.720 (82.208 mph).
The runner-up finish was the first podium for Wilkins after two-consecutive fifth-place efforts.
“We’ve really been struggling with tires, namely fronts going away,” Wilkins said. “We had that yellow which helped. I knew Jack [Baldwin] was going to give me a good race at the end there. So, I had to push pretty hard and use up the grip that we had left. It’s great for Kia, back on the podium again. A strong second place for the Optima is a great result. We keep plugging away to prove that this Optima can keep pace with these rear-drive and mid-engine cars.”
Jack Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., equaled his Saturday effort in the No. 73 Motul/StopTech/Foametix Porsche Cayman, finishing third.
“I didn’t need that last caution,” Baldwin said. “I think it hurt me more that it hurt everyone else. It gave everyone a chance to cool down, but ultimately, point-wise, it did help me.
“I feel good for Andy [Lee]. He’s had some rough times here, but he’s a great driver. I love racing with him. I had a good race back there with Nic [Jonsson], and then Mark [Wilkins]. Peter [Cunningham] was right in my mirrors the whole time, keeping me really honest. So, it was a good race. I can’t complain.”
Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., finished fourth in his No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX, followed by Alec Udell, of The Woodlands, Texas, in his No. 17 Motorsports Development Ford Mustang Boss 302R.
Ric Bushey, of Virginia Beach, Va., earned two awards in the No. 51 Motul/OS Giken/SPL/Sparco Nissan 370Z; the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start Award for advancing 10 positions on the start and the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing 13 positions overall in the race. Bushey finished 14th in GTS.
Points will be available at www.world-challenge.com shortly.
Sunday’s race will be broadcast June 16 at 5 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network.
The series next travels to Detroit, Mich. for the Cadillac V-Series Challenge at Belle Isle, May 31-June 2.
Sandberg wins in TC as Francis Jr. Completes TCB Sweep at COTA
Brett Sandberg, of Allendale, N.J., and Ernie Francis Jr., of Davie, Fla., scored wins in Round Three of the Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car and Touring Car B-Spec championships at Circuit of The Americas Sunday, part of the series’ Cadillac Sports Car Challenge weekend.
Sandberg, in the No. 70 Ultimate Racing/HPD Honda Civic Si, took home his first Pirelli World Challenge win, pulling out a 5.663-second lead over teammate Ryan Winchester, of Mason City, Iowa. , in the race that averaged 76.908 mph around the 2.3-mile, 20-turn National road course. Sandberg led the second-consecutive all-Compass360 podium in 2013.
“It feels awesome to get the first win,” Sandberg said. “I’ve been in the series a few years now and I’ve been struggling quite a bit. I finally got together with these Compass360 guys and I think we’re in for a good season.
“Traffic was a lot better than yesterday. The TCB guys showed a lot of respect to us today, considering they need to keep that momentum up. I got lucky a few instances in traffic and I was able to get a gap. The car was great from the beginning to the end. If anything, the car got better and better as the race went on. I was really impressed with the guys. They did a great job with the car.
“This is the second-straight day that Compass360 swept the podium and it’s just awesome. I know it means a lot to [team principle] Karl [Thompson]. He’s done it in other series and to be a part of it here is really an honor.”
Saturday’s double winner, Winchester, in the No. 72 Ultimate Racing/HPD Honda Civic Si, got around his teammate, Remo Ruscitti, of Vancouver, B.C., on the penultimate lap of the 23-lap, 52.9-mile race. Winchester felt fortunate for the finish, struggling with handling issues throughout the race
“I got a pretty decent start and I got inside of [Sandberg] going into Turn One,” Winchester said. “I thought I might get him there, but when I didn’t, I knew that was probably my best chance. We missed it a little bit on the setup today. The rear end was too stuck to the track and I had to lift in places where yesterday, I was flat. That costs you time. He [Sandberg} drove a great race and didn’t make any mistakes.
“I was basically settling for third. I don’t know what happened to Remo there. Something happened on the front straight and I got by him. It’s a great weekend for us—two wins and a second and we’ll get out of here with the points lead. But, I’d like to win all of these if I could!”
Following the pass, Ruscitti, in the No. 71 Ultimate Racing/HPD Honda Civic Si, pushed hard to get back around his teammate on the white flag lap, but settled for third, completing the second-consecutive Compass360 podium of the weekend.
“Great result for us in our first weekend in Pirelli World Challenge,” Ruscitti said. “It was a little frustrating when I was getting into the traffic, with some of the cars not letting me by. It was a great race between me and Ryan [Winchester] at the end. We were going two-wide through the shortcut section, which you really shouldn’t be able to do. Overall a good result for the team.”
Jon Miller, of Orlando, Fla., finished fourth, behind the Compass360 trifecta on the podium. Miller, driving the No. 68 Shea Racing Honda Civic Si, crossed the line 26 seconds behind Ruscitti.
Patrick Seguin, of Clarence Creek, Ont., notched his sixth career top-five in Pirelli World Challenge competition, after a fifth-place finish in Round Three in the No. 64 Gear Tie Racing/Fortune Auto Honda Civic Si.
After becoming the youngest winner in series history Saturday, Francis Jr. kept the record-setting streak alive, taking the victory on Sunday in the No. 98 Hydraulic Jeans MAZDA2. Francis Jr., a 15-year-old high school student, set a record that may prove tough to beat, becoming the youngest driver to win three-consecutive races in Pirelli World Challenge. Francis also collected the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race and Kia Turning Point of the Race en route to his win.
“In the beginning, I was battling with the Honda [Lipperini] and trying to keep the pressure on him,” Francis Jr. said. “Once I saw my opportunity to get past, I took it. They started battling behind me and I was able to pull away from them.
“I knew a couple spots where they were slowing me down, when I was behind. I knew that if I could get in front that I wouldn’t have to worry, that I could run faster. I just needed to focus and do my laps.
“For my second-ever pro race, to sweep the weekend is great. It’s been an amazing experience.”
Charlie James, of Joplin, Mo., brought the No. 0 SafeRacer MINI Cooper home in second for his third runner-up finish of the weekend. In one of the closer battles in the race, James got around Robbie Davis, of Dallas, on lap 15. James then passed Lipperini on the next lap, and held off the charging Davis at the line. James also scored the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race.
“It was a different race than the races Saturday,” James said. “It was quite a bit longer and Joel [Lipperini] getting out front kind of stacked up the group and made for a totally different race. Once [Francis] Junior got around and Robbie [Davis] and I were stuck behind Joel the race was over for the win. Joel drives a great race and makes it hard to get past him. That was a challenge throughout the whole race. Robbie and I had a good battle. MINI second and third, we’ll take that.”
Davis, who started fifth, had a good start, making the most of having the inside line into Turn One, getting the nose of his No. 37 MINI USA/MINI Financial Services MINI Cooper into the lead battle. Davis continued his pursuit of the top spot, hounding Francis Jr., then Joel Lipperini, of Pittston, Penn., swapping positions throughout a lap more often than the official position changes at the timing line would suggest.
“Very good battle,” said Davis. “Me and Charlie were biding our time and using the draft as much as we could. Later in the race we were going to start making some moves. Charlie made the first move to get by Joel and then I was able to get by him as well. Thought I might get a chance at Charlie but I just didn’t have enough oomph coming off the last corner. My first World Challenge weekend was a lot of fun. I’m super excited to attend all the races this season.”
Lipperini started second, in the No. 81 Race Labz/Honda/HPD/BEST Brakes Honda Fit, and got the drop on polesitter Francis Jr., taking the lead following the exit of Turn One. Francis Jr. pressured Lipperini hard, until the eventual race winner made it around him, getting a run out of Turn 20 on lap 14. Davis and James were then able to make it around Lipperini, who pushed his Pirelli P-Zeros to the max en route to a four-place result.
Proud father Ernie Francis Sr., of Davie, Fla., joined his son in the top-five for the second time in the weekend. Francis Sr. guided the No. 2 Hydraulic Jeans MAZDA2 to fifth, making up 12 positions from his 17-place grid spot, earning him the Sunoco Hard Charger and Optima Batteries Best Standing Start awards.
Following a pair of wins, Winchester still sits atop the Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car drivers’ points with 405. Sandberg is 59 markers behind, with Ruscitti sitting third after collecting 300 points in three podium finishes.
Francis Jr. has a commanding lead in the drivers’ championship with 440 points, 105 markers ahead of James in second. Davis completes the top-three, with 270 points.
The Cadillac Sports Car Challenge races will be broadcast June 16 at 5 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network.
The Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car and Touring Car B-Spec contingent will next hit the track for an Independence Day weekend tripleheader event, July 4-6 at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn.
SCCA World Challenge