After debuting the prolific Audi R8 LMS during select races of last year's Pirelli World Challenge, GMG heads into this weekend's season-opening races at St. Petersburg with more entries than anyone else in the series.
Entering the championship with the mid-engined, 5.2L V10 machine, the team will arrive on the Western shores of Florida after spending a combined total of eight days testing, tuning, and refining their current package during the off-season. With four Audi R8 entries, more than any individual team has ever entered for the marque in the U.S., GMG will equal the total number of Audis brought to this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona, where the manufacturer took its first win.
“The Pirelli World Challenge Series has really done an excellent job welcoming the European GT3 cars in to the U.S.,” stated GMG team principal James Sofronas. “Our Audi R8 LMS is a perfect example of that. This car features a number of technological innovations that you simply can't find in any other GT series, and our program will really showcase that. If you look at this year's entry list, there are some great brands on track: Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Porsche, Volvo, Corvette, and more. The series has done an excellent job creating an entrée for all these marques, and I believe the fans will truly enjoy the diversity.”
Playing the role of both team principal and driver, James Sofronas will lead the charge in the No. 14 GMG Audi R8 LMS. Having driven the majority of the 2012 season in the car, the former race-winner heads to this weekend's race with only one goal: a GT Series Championship.
“This season I am 100% focused on the championship,” stated Sofronas. “During the off-season, I've made major efforts to re-focus my balance between running the business and delegating where I can, with the single idea of concentrating as much as I can on driving. I have never done so much testing in my life. We have the team, the car, and the experience to really make a run at it this year. We really want to demonstrate what the Audi is capable of, what the team is capable of, and with the intense competition this year it would be great to make it happen.”
Not to be outdone, Sofronas will have a big challenge in not only his outside competition, but also among his teammates as well.
Returning to the fold for 2013 will be seasoned driver Alex Welch. Welch, from Colorado, will return with GMG after running various campaigns throughout the years. No stranger to sports cars himself, the Colorado-resident has driven in a wealth of categories, including events such as the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Long Beach Grand Prix, and many more. Equally notable to his endurance racing success, Welch actually campaigned his No. 08 Spyder R8 LMS during select NASA events in 2012, where he took victory in his class.
“I've really enjoyed my time with GMG,” stated Welch. “The team has put together a very professional program, and the platform that the Audi R8 provides is incredibly strong. St. Petersburg should make for a very interesting race for all of us, and I'm confident we'll all show well.”
Additionally, GMG will welcome Southern Californian Bret Curtis. Having run with GMG for several years in both World Challenge and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), Curtis returns to the team after trying his hand in the Blancpain Endurance Series in Europe throughout much of the 2012 season. Exchanging his endurance schedule for this year's sprint format, Curtis looks forward to driving his No. 32 Spectra Resources Audi R8 LMS.
“It's great to be back,” said Curtis. “GMG has always provided a great program, and racing stateside will be a welcome change to my travel schedule! My years with GMG were with Porsches, and this is a totally new experience. Driving a mid-engined car is a whole new experience, and one I'm really enjoying. The car is very predictable, very comfortable, and will definitely place us all well for the season. It will be nice to be able to just push hard when the green drops, sprint racing doesn't leave much room for error.”
Rounding out the lineup with be team newcomer, and fellow Southern Californian, Duncan Ende. Hailing from Los Angeles, Ende comes to the team for his first experience in the Pirelli World Challenge Series, but as no stranger to professional competition. Having spent the last six seasons competing in various ranks of Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series, the young Californian has driven everything from Porsche 911 GT3 cars to the highly touted Prototype Challenge vehicles. Having taken multiple victories in the American Le Mans Series, Ende took a close-runner up in the 2011 ALMS GT-Challenge championship, as well as winning Petit Le Mans in 2010. Having taken the first laps in his no. 24 STANDD / Merchant Services / Racer's Roast Audi R8 LMS just a few weeks ago, Ende is looking forward to the series' sprint-race format.
“All of my sports car experience has been based on driving a car to last for several hours,” stated Ende. “This year will be completely different. Everyone pushes hard right until the end, and I'm looking forward to being part of it. The car has been incredible so far. It's very well balanced, very fast, and a real joy to drive. I really appreciate what everyone at GMG has done to make this happen, and I'm really looking forward to a strong first season.”
Completing GMG's lineup for the Grand Prix will be GMG's longest-standing driver (other than owner Sofronas), Bill Ziegler. Driving a Pontiac Solstice in the series' GTS division, the team at GMG has put the car through an extensive series of adjustments and series-legal modifications, including an entirely revamped drivetrain. With 15 years of experience competing in both the World Challenge Series as well as other SCCA categories, Ziegler, from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, will take to the production category in hopes of a strong debut for the no. 95 Swisher Pontiac.
“It's actually been a lot of fun to drive the Solstice around,” stated Ziegler. “The guys at GMG did a great job of getting it race ready, and this is definitely a race-car unlike any other. I actually think we'll surprise a few people with this car, it's been really strong.”
While not attending the St. Petersburg round, the team will actually enter a fifth Audi R8 in subsequent races, featuring Anders Hainer. Originally from Sweden, Hainer is a pronounced veteran of many racing disciplines, beginning his competitive career as downhill skier. Once in sports cars, Hainer's decorated 15-year career has featured everything from multiple SCCA wins, all the way to victories and championships in Grand-Am.