Sofronas/Welch Duo Drives Audi to PWC GTS SprintX Pro-Am Title, Staveley Secures GTS SprintX Am Crown at Home Track
Teenager Gottsacker Makes Spirited Charge to Runner-up Spot with late wins
GRANTSVILLE, Utah – For veteran racer James Sofronas, racing has been a passion and a business with his successful GMG Racing organization. But the 49-year-old driver from Villa Park, Calif., thought he might concentrate on the business side more than the driving in recent years.
However, the personable New York native hasn’t enjoyed success behind the wheel as much as he has in 2017 and 2018. He captured two Pirelli World Challenge series championships (GTA and GT SprintX Pro-Am classes) and recorded 11 race wins in his No. 14 GMG Racing sports car.
After a career performance in 2017, Sofronas thought of hanging up his racing helmet and handling the business aspects of his operation. But Sofronas had a change of mind in 2018.
“It’s interesting but I asked my family (wife Nargis and children Chloe and Jensen) if they wanted me to stop racing as a driver,” said Sofronas. “But the kids said they liked seeing ‘daddy’ race and I wanted to do it more as a fun event. So, I asked my buddy, Alex Welch (of Evergreen, Colo.), if he wanted to race in SprintX with me. Alex said ‘yes’ and the rest is history.”
That history for Sofronas was scoring another Pirelli World Challenge title with Welch in the No. 14 GMG Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4, taking the GTS SprintX Pro-Am crown. The Audi pair won 60-minute races at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) and VIRginia International Raceway and made consistent finishes in the other eight races in the ten-event tour.
But it wasn’t easy for Sofronas and Welch, as the title run went right down to the wire in the season finale last week at Utah Motorsports Campus. In fact, it was Welch driving a superb last few laps to win the championship, 176-173, over 19-year-old Harry Gottsacker.
“James and I have known each other a long time and we have raced together a long time too,” said Welch. “When the new Audi R8 LMS GT4 came out this year, we felt it would be a good car against such a strong lineup in the GTS division. We have always said that we wanted to race against the best out there. This year’s GTS SprintX series was so competitive. The GMG team put together an excellent car and, with the Pirelli tires, we had a very good combination. It was bittersweet this weekend as it didn’t go as we wanted. It was not an easy task.
“On Saturday, we were having difficulty with the car overheating. So, it came down to the last race of the year and we had to get to the finish to claim the championship. Things got a little crazy on the radio during the race. We had made some calculations before the race, but we were still working it out as the race went on. We figured Harry (Gottsacker) will be at the front in both races, and the race got pretty wild in the last few laps. I just had to drive the lap of my life at the end and it worked out. We won by three points. The Utah track is similar to the elevation near my home in Colorado, so you could say this is my second home track. It feels great to win the championship despite some of the challenges during the weekend.”
For Sofronas, the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge season has been sweeter for him, his family and his team.
“It was a tough weekend for us at Utah, to be honest,” he said. “We knew the Audi was going to have some heating issues with the triple digit heat and the elevation at Utah. We had to dig deep. I had to drive off line in some areas and make some really strange corners and apexes to keep the car cool. But looking back at everything, this is where we wanted to be, with an Audi and with GMG Racing and racing with my buddy, Alex. This is what makes it more fun.
“These championships aren’t going to come around at this age (turning 50 next month). Overall, we didn’t need any help and Alex drove hard to earn that spot and clinch the championship with a great last lap drive. He really wanted this title and he put in an incredible effort for it. Last year was very nice for those GT championships, but this championship is so gratifying. The new program, a larger field, tough competition and the support from Audi and there to top it off racing with my buddy, Alex. I couldn’t ask for a better year of racing.”
Sofronas also leads the GTS Overall and GTS Sprint point standings heading to the historic Watkins Glen International on Aug. 31-Sept. 2.
Gottsacker, the 19-year-old Eagle Scout from San Antonio, Tex., applied the pressure to the Sofronas/Welch combination late in the championship with two overall wins and two runner-up finishes in the last four GTS SprintX contests including a victory in the final race.
Driving the No. 69 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4, Gottsacker recorded two wins, three seconds and three pole positions in a “breakout” campaign for the former world karting champion. His impressive GTS SprintX title quest fell short by just three points in Pro-Am.
Third in the GTS SprintX standings was the strong lineup of Ian James and Matt Keegan in the No. 50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT4 with two overall wins, three second places and one pole position followed by COTA race winner Jade Buford in the No. 55 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4, five-time PWC champion Lawson Aschenbach and veteran Andy Pilgrim in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R and GTX SprintX Am champion Drew Staveley in the No. 12 Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55.
Staveley, who burst on the PWC scene a year ago at Utah with a second-place overall finish, was the driver to beat in the Am division from the start with his potent Ginetta G55, and the Salt Lake City, Utah, racer scored an overall GTS SprintX win (Lime Rock Park) and three Am class victories to claim the Am title. He is also battling for the GTS Sprint Am class crown.
“To win a championship is huge, said Staveley. “We had to build up the team from a little operation to a bigger team and it was a chore. Sometimes we have four cars on a weekend and there are a lot of challenges that go with that effort. We were trying to get the little Ginettas to get a good lap time and run with the bigger cars like the Camaros, Mustangs, Audis, Panoz, BMWs and others. It wasn’t easy. But we put together a solid season to run for the GTS Am classes and this is the first of those championships. It was great to have the crew with all of their family and friends that weekend at Utah Motorsports Campus. Over 100 people were there rooting for the team. It was a huge success to win the title. We thank them for their support.”
Harvard-bound Aurora Straus of Cold Spring, N.Y., drove her No. 36 ST Racing BMW M4 GT4 sports car to the second-place spot in the Am standings after the ten-race series. Straus won GTS SprintX Am races with co-drivers Al Carter (COTA) and Jon Miller (VIR) as well as recording seconds at COTA and Portland International Raceway.
Third in the GTS SprintX Am category was the BMW team of Toby Grahovec and Chris Ohmacht in the No. 92 ETF Global/CAO/Classic BMW BMW M4 GT4, who collected two wins in 2018, followed by another two-time race winner Preston Calvert in the No. 51 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT4 and Randy Mueller in the No. 3 Epic Motorsports BMW M4 GT4.
The GTS SprintX champions will be honored at the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge Season Celebration and Awards Ceremony on Dec. 5, 2018 in Indianapolis.
The 2018 Pirelli World Challenge road racing series will be completed at the legendary Watkins Glen International circuit on Aug. 31-Sept. 2 with the final doubleheader weekend of the 2018 GT Sprint (50-minute, one-driver), GTS Sprint 50-minute, one-driver) and Touring Car (40-minute, one-driver) classes. The GT and GTS Overall, GT Sprint and GTS Sprint championships will be up for grabs as well as the TCR, TC and TCA class titles.
FINAL GTS SPRINTX POINT STANDINGS
|GTS-X ProAm Class (Wins)|
|1||James Sofronas / Alex Welch (2)||176|
|2||Harry Gottsacker (2)||173|
|3||Ian James / Matt Keegan (2)||158|
|4||Jake Buford (1)||144|
|5||Lawson Aschenbach / Andy Pilgrim (0)||135|
|GTS-X Am Class (Wins)|
|1||Drew Staveley (3)||205|
|2||Aurora Straus (2)||175|
|3||Toby Grahovec / Chris Ohmacht (2)||170|
|4||Preston Calvert (2)||152|
|5||Randy Mueller (1)||138|