Following an intense battle that saw everything from side-by-side racing to late-race changes of fortune, GMG’s James Sofronas would deliver the prodigious Audi R8 LMS its first victory in the Pirelli World Challenge Series.
“I am really, really proud of this entire team,” stated Sofronas. “We’ve been working hard on this program throughout the off-season and the results really showed this weekend. Many of the guys were actually at the track until 5:00AM to get us all on the track today, and it’s that kind of commitment that put us where we are. Audi Sport Customer Racing has been great to work with, and they really came through for us this weekend. The car was absolutely fantastic. We knew the key to winning would be to really manage the Pirelli’s, and as the race wore on it proved perfectly.”
Starting from the pole position as a result of taking the fastest lap in yesterday’s first round, Sofronas found himself caught out during the race’s standing start. With many of the competitors around him having well-tuned launch control systems, the GMG Team Principal would head into the tricky first turn in fifth position. Knowing that tire management would be a decisive factor, Sofronas repeated his efforts from yesterday by simply managing a stable race and taking his opportunities as they came.
Climbing from fifth to fourth, Sofronas would engage in a several lap battle with the no. 6 Volvo of Randy Pobst, eventually making his pass in Turn 10. With Sofronas now in third and poised for his second podium of the weekend, luck and attrition would play a vital role in the subsequent laps. As Sofronas began to reel in the leading no. 9 Volvo of Alex Figge and no. 46 Porsche of Ryan Dalziel, the frequent traffic of the slower GTS cars would catch Dalziel out with 12 laps to go. As Dalziel, originally from Scotland, chased down the leader, a daring move inside of a lapped car would result in contact cutting a left-front tire in the process. Dalziel would have to pit, eventually finishing sixth. With Sofronas now up to second, luck would play its part with only five laps to go, as Figge slowed with a mechanical issue and placed the no. 14 GMG/Children’s Tumor Foundation Audi R8 LMS in first place. With only minutes to go, the Newport Beach resident knew all he had to do was survive to the end, which became a challenge as a hard charging Randy Pobst was pushing hard from behind. With fading brakes and well-used tires, Sofronas would take the win for the second time in his career.
GMG’s Sofronas leaves the track as the new GT-category points leader
“By the end I was managing my tires, managing my brakes, and just trying to hold on,” stated Sofronas. “Randy raced incredibly clean at the end, and it’s great to bring this home for everyone involved.”
Not to be outdone, GMG’s Duncan Ende took an incredibly impressive seventh in today’s round, which is particularly noteworthy considering where he started. Having to retire midway through yesterday’s first round, the Los Angeles native was forced to switch engines overnight, a feat not easily accomplished given the 16-hour turnaround between races. With Audi Sport Customer Racing supplying the team with a brand new engine, the GMG crew stayed up all night, literally, to get his no. 24 Merchant Services / STANDD Audi R8 LMS up and running. The crew was at-track until 5:30AM, essentially taking a quick break to shower and c hange before coming back to the track the same morning.
Being forced to switch engines, Ende was required to start at the back of the field. When the green flag fell, Ende drove an impressive come-from-behind race. Used to running endurance events, where preserving equipment is at a premium, Ende drove the race masterfully. Driving with a perfect balance of aggression and patience, Ende made work of the field in front of him throughout the run, gaining nine positions in the process, never putting a dent on the car, and earning the day’s series-awarded Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race award.
“We weren’t sure what to expect coming in to this morning,” stated Ende. “Yesterday’s failure was a real blow, but the guys rebounded incredibly. GMG’s commitment to making this program work really showed through last night, these guys are rock stars! I’m glad I was able to make that effort worthwhile. When a group like that stays up all night, you want to deliver as good a result as you can, and we did just that today. Obviously I’m hoping for a much smoother weekend in Long Beach, but if we can take these type of results in the season opener with the problems we had, it bodes well for the next race and beyond.”
Finishing ninth on the day was Alex Welch, who ran his second top-10 on the weekend. Welch, who had finished seventh during the first round in his no. 08 Spyder / Lasso Audi R8 LMS, overcame early race difficulties to rebound and fight hard during the second half of the race. With an early onset of electronic difficulties, Welch, who started 10th, would actually drop back several spots during the opening laps as he sorted out his car problems. With quick thinking by the GMG crew, Welch was well under way as the race neared the halfway point, and the Colorado-native was in hot pursuit of the field in front of him. Gaining multiple spots as he pursued his competitors, Welch would lock in to another great battle with the no. 54 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Tim Pappas, the two once again racing cleanly. Welch would eventually take the checkered flag in ninth, capping off a strong weekend.
“I’m pretty happy,” stated Welch. “We had our challenges today, but everything really turned around and in the end I was able to race. It seemed like I found the no. 54 during both races, but he raced me clean each time, and that makes this whole thing very enjoyable. I have to thank GMG for a great car, and a really great start to the year.”
For Bret Curtis, from Santa Barbara, another on-track incident would curtail his second consecutive race, but luckily with less dire results this time around. As the no. 32 Spectra Resources Audi engaged in a race-long battle with Tomy Drissi’s no. 4 Corvette, contact between the two would cut down Curtis’s right-rear tire, forcing him in to the pits, but luckily for nothing more than a tire change and some minor cosmetic repair. Curtis would finish 12th.
“It’s definitely disappointing to have another incident today, but hopefully we got all the bad luck out now,” stated Curtis. “Tomy and I were locked in throughout much of the race, and it’s unfortunate that we ultimately ended up tangling. We would have had a better result, but at the same time the guys did a great job to keep me on the track and with good points.”
With a winning car, another able to gain more positions than anyone in the GT class, a third car in the top-10, and all cars seeing the checkered flag, GMG is headed to next month’s Grand Prix of Long Beach with strong momentum.
“Long Beach is our home race, and it’s without a doubt the one we want to show well at,” stated Sofronas. “Not only is it the home race for Bret Curtis, Duncan Ende, as well as myself, but we’ll have many of our customers and sponsors in support of us. Most notably, we’re looking forward to hosting several guests from both the Children’s Tumor Foundation and STANDD. We met several children from CTF this weekend, and they provide just that little extra incentive to push hard. To see their faces and know how much it means to see “their car” on track is very special, and it hit me a lot harder than I expected this weekend. Similarly, STANDD sends a great message to prevent distracted driving, and we look forward to using the forum of our series at Long Beach to promote their cause, as well as host their founder Diveeta Thompson.”
- GMG Racing