AUSTIN, Texas – James Sofronas 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 took his first GTS class win of the season.
Motul Polesitter Johnny O’Connell 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 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 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).
In GTS, Lee started from the Motul pole in his No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro, but saw Saturday’s winner, Lawson Aschenbach, move to the lead with his No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro on the start.
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 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 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 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.