It's been an intense first half of the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge season, with drama and surprises at every turn. And although there's been one dominant force in GT thus far – James Sofronas – he hasn't yet got the class championship locked up with the Cadillacs and Volvos within striking distance.
Sofronas, driver of the No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8 LMS, has benefited more than others from being in the right place at the right time. He was promoted to second in Round 1 at St. Petersburg after a disqualification of the original race winner Ryan Dalziel (Alex Figge was moved to the top step), and in Round 2, he took the lead when Dalziel and Figge's No. 9 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 each had late race issues.
Come Long Beach, it was the same story. Sofronas took the win when both Figge and Johnny O'Connell's No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R retired late in the race. And of all the things for O'Connell to get taken out by, it was a piece of debris that punctured the CTS-V's radiator before his engine finally expired.
The first weekend you could say Sofronas didn't require a bit of luck to finish on the podium came at Circuit of the Americas in May, with a second in Round 4 and a dominant drive to his third win of the season in Round 5. Only at Detroit was the GMG Audi, one of the new GT3-spec cars, unable to secure a victory over the course of the weekend.
Sofronas leads O'Connell by 146 points – “Johnny O” took home his first win of the season at COTA in Round 4 while Andy Pilgrim has yet to win in 2013. There's no doubt the Cadillac contingent will be pushing the rest of the way as they seek to defend their 2012 driver and manufacturer championships.
Pilgrim is locked in a tight battle for third in class with fellow veteran Randy Pobst, Figge's teammate at K-PAX Racing. Pobst took the win at the caution-strewn Round 7 in Detroit and has closed to within 28 of O'Connell for second in the championship.
Realistically any of those four could still win this year's GT title. With more than 100 points available for race wins and a gap of 60 points between a win (140 points) and fifth place (80), Sofronas will need to keep the Audi close enough to the defending and former champions (Cadillac, Volvo) in the field in order to guarantee himself his first championship.
Although all of O'Connell, Pobst and Pilgrim are north of 50, they're still well and truly on top of their games, with their driving ability such that they haven't lost a step at any point. Not to mention, they all already have GT driver titles in the bag.
Spoilers the rest of the way include Figge, Mike Skeen in the CRP Racing Hawk Performance Corvette, Duncan Ende in the second GMG Audi R8 LMS and Tim Pappas in Black Swan Racing's Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3. Pappas has recorded three top-five finishes in the last four races.
In GTS, a plethora of makes and manufacturers have figured into the season thus far. Right now, Jack Baldwin holds an 86-point lead over Mark Wilkins thanks to an incredibly hot start to the season.
Baldwin's stayed consistent with the No. 73 GTSport Racing/Goldcrest Porsche Cayman S, and opened the year with six straight podium finishes. That included a sweep of the St. Petersburg doubleheader. He finished off the podium for the first time in Round 7 at Detroit, ending fifth.
Wilkins' No. 38 Kinetic/Kia Racing Kia Optima excelled at Circuit of The Americas and Detroit, and he vaulted himself into second place with a second at COTA and a win in race one and second in race two in the Motor City.
Perhaps the biggest surprise thus far this year is that the perennially dominant force of GTS, RealTime Racing, has yet to record its first win of 2013. Defending series champion Peter Cunningham though has been consistent and clean as usual in the No. 42 Acura/HPD RealTime Racing Acura TSX with five top-five finishes in seven races. A Round 6 bump by Nic Jonsson in the No. 36 Kinetic/Kia Racing Kia Optima damaged the No. 42 TSX's wheel and ended up costing Cunningham much needed points in the battle for the championship.
Never one to be counted out though, at just less than 200 points back with seven races to go, Cunningham can still capitalize if and when Baldwin hits trouble.
The Camaros, with their braking ability, have also been strong this year. Both Lawson Aschenbach (No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevy Camaro) and Andy Lee (No. 20 Best IT Racing Chevy Camaro) have made trips to victory lane.
But their results have been fairly up-and-down as a whole. Lee's three podium finishes are equaled out on the negative side with three results of 21st or worse; Aschenbach had to make the most out of a lack of straight-line speed in Detroit.
Alec Udell, just 17, has kept Ford in the mix with six top-10 finishes in all six of his starts in the No. 17 Motorsport Development Group Ford Mustang Boss 302R, and Dean Martin scored a win for the Blue Oval in tribute to the late Paul Brown with the No. 50 Mustang Boss 302R in Detroit.
With only three TC and TCB rounds completed thus far, at Austin, it's still a little too early to tell the contenders from the pretenders in these two classes. But from Lime Rock, it's going to be a mad dash of races for the final three months of the year. Each class has 11 races to go in the 14-race schedule. Early odds-on favorites though look to be the dominant Compass360 Racing Hondas in Touring Car and the surprising performance of both Ernie Francis Jr at age 15, and Charlie James as a nationally ranked club racer stepping into the pro ranks in Touring Car B-Spec.