“It’s nice to welcome a new brand like Audi,” Sofronas said. “We do a lot of work with them in the shop on the street tuning side, but to bring them to GMG Racing, it’s just going to be a great season. The Audi is such a great car, it’s built like a tank. I slapped the wall at the beginning of the race, and the car was really loose – but then the car came back to me. The car was really strong at the end, and then I went for it to see if these guys were going to drop the ball in front of me. They didn’t, but there was a lead change and I was waiting to jump.
“We ran out of time. It’s a good way to start, with a podium. This is a championship run, so points are good and there’s another race tomorrow. We’ll be ready to go.”
O’Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., earned a podium in the first race of his title defense after finishing fourth on track. O’Connell chased Dalziel early while he kept Sofronas at bay, until Sofronas earned the position.
O’Connell’s teammate, Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., became the second Cadillac in the top four in Saturday’s race. Pilgrim, driving the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, moved around Pobst and the No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette of Mike Skeen on the lap following the restart.
Pobst and Skeen finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
Baldwin drove the No. 73 Motul/StopTech/Invoice Prep Porsche Cayman S to victory in the GTS class with a turn one pass on polesitter Andy Lee’s No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro on the penultimate lap for his second career Pirelli World Challenge win. That pass also earned Baldwin the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award.
Lee, of Colorado Springs, Co., had a strangle-hold on the GTS class for most of the race. Leading up to the yellow flag, thrown on lap 24, Lee had begun to open a gap over Baldwin and the rest of the GTS field.
“As the race progressed, I could run with Andy, we were both deteriorating at about the same rate,” Baldwin said. “I really don’t think I had anything for him – I was looking for something, but I’m not sure. When we hit that caution, I thought it was going to help him more than it helped me. But when the tires cooled down I felt that grip and that was what I needed. I knew I was going to get one shot at him, and we got it done. My hat’s off to Andy, he races hard, he races clean, he’s a good driver.
“This is great for me. I was born and raised here in Tampa, I’ve raced here before in St. Pete, so this is my actual home town. It’s really great to win here in St. Pete, I love this race and I love this race track.”
Once Baldwin made his move, Lee was able to hold station and take second place.
“I’m OK with [second place],” Lee said. “We had such a long struggle over the off season, just to get this car back together. I can’t thank my guys enough for sticking with me, we were up and down all year. The battle with Jack in the last few laps, how many guys get to do that? If I was going to lose to anybody, I’m just glad it was him.
The No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX of Peter Cunningham finished on the third step of the GTS podium. Cunningham was running fourth on lap 32 when Kevin Gleason’s No. 16 Napleton Porsche Porsche Cayman S dove past Cunningham into Turn One and got into the rear of Lawson Aschenbach’s No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. Aschenbach spun with damage to his rear bumper, elevating Cunningham to his record 113th career podium
“It was hard fought,” Cunningham said. “It was very tight out there, I could have very easily finished fifth but I got some help from a couple of friends and managed to be on the podium.”