James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., led every lap to win the Optima Batteries Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by GameStreamer Sunday, holding off Andy Pilgrim at the finish of the World Challenge Championship Round Nine race. Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., and Ryan Eversley, of Atlanta, Ga., took the GTS and Touring Car class wins, respectively.
Starting first, Sofronas got away cleanly at the start in his No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3, fending off a great start by third-gridded Pilgrim and his No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60. Saturday's winner, Mike Skeen fell back from his second starting position to fifth at the start but was able to work back up to fourth by lap four.
Sofronas led a seven-car train for the first seven laps until Charles Morgan's trip to the gravel brought out the race's first caution.
On the lap-11 restart, Skeen rocketed past both Randy Pobst's No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 and Pilgrim into second as they entered the Keyhole. The move earned Skeen the MTM Special Ops Best Move of the Race and he set his sights on Sofronas. Sofronas weathered an early attack, but built a gap on Skeen's No. 2 Carlisle Companies/Cragar Chevrolet Corvette working through traffic. But, to Sofronas' dismay, a second full-course-caution came out on lap 21, setting up a five-lap dash to the finish.
"I was far more aggressive through traffic this time," Sofronas said. "When the yellow came out, it was one of those 'Are you kidding me?' moments."
On the restart, Pilgrim got a jump on Skeen and moved into second. At the Keyhole, Skeen fell back farther as he began to experience transmission problems in the Corvette. Sofronas had his mirrors full of Pilgrim for the remaining laps and, in the final corner on the final lap, caught a slower Touring Car, allowing Pilgrim to get a run at the finish. In the end, Sofronas beat Pilgrim by 0.151sec to capture his fourth-career win.
He averaged 77.791mph over the course of the 29-lap, 65.481-mile race.
"I feel great on a lot of levels. I want to dedicate this win to my Dad," Sofronas said of his ailing father, George. "To win today meant a lot to me. I thought about him when I was in the car and it kept me going because he never gave up in life and he's just an amazing man. It gave me the inspiration."
Sofronas admitted that traffic was a point of frustration during the race, with all three classes (GT, GTS and Touring Car) sharing the track together in the largest field of the season.
"The worst part was the last turn of the race, and [Robert] Stout was limping through the carousel," Sofronas said. "He was still on the proper race line, and I thought I was going to drill him because I had nowhere to go. It was that or run off in the grass and he just started to veer to the right and I kept my foot in it. All of a sudden, I saw this big Volvo nose that literally filled my entire mirror. I couldn't see anything except this big blue hood. That would have been a tough one to lose, but I think it's poetic justice the way this weekend went. The Volvos got back up front, the GMG guys are running up front where we should be, and everything is great."
Pilgrim's second-place finish equaled his season-best at St. Petersburg. It was a good run for both Volvos, who struggled early in the weekend.
"My car has been a bit of a nightmare this year and we've had four DNFs with mechanical failure," Pilgrim said. "But nobody ever gives up on the K-PAX team. Yesterday's race setup wasn't good at all and we all worked and threw a lot of things at it and yesterday was night-and-day better. The K-Pax guys did a great job."
Following a seventh-place finish on Saturday, point leader Pobst returned to the podium with a third-place finish and extended his points lead when his closest challenger, Kuno Wittmer, tangled with a Touring Car and retired with suspension damage to his No. 13 Dodge Motorsports Dodge Viper.
"The most interesting thing that happened to me in the race was when I was racing with Kuno Wittmer," Pobst said. "He's challenging me for the Championship, and we were going back and forth. I think I was starting to get the better of him when we got his brother [Nick Wittmer] in the Touring Car class. I was passing him in the outside of [the esses], and he ran me right off the road into the grass. Kuno got by and I told the crew there was no way I was going to catch Kuno now without a little help from traffic. Well, sure enough, about three or four laps later I came up and Kuno was spun out and cars were in the gravel and something happened in the traffic.
"As far as I'm concerned, God got him. It was a little bad karma. His pain is our pleasure and it helps us in the Championship. We're happy to be so close to the lead in this race because we're going for the Manufacturers' Championship for Volvo."
"I was in such a cluster at the time and my car didn't have third gear, which is what you use for most of the corners here," Nick Wittmer said. "I moved over to let some of the guys through and kept looking in my mirror and was trying to get out of the way for Randy and Kuno. The next thing I knew, Randy was beside me in the grass. I feel really bad about it. Those guys are fighting for the Championship. I was just trying to get out of the way."
Kuno Wittmer's departure promoted Saturday's third-place finisher Patrick Lindsey, of Santa Barbara, Calif., up to fourth for his sixth-straight top-five finish in the No. 57 Horton/Sloan Securities Porsche 911 GT3.
Jeff Courtney, of Milwaukee, Wis., completed the top five, scoring his season-best finish in the No. 99 Kenda Tire Dodge Viper after starting 10th.
Skeen managed to set the race's fastest lap, a 1:27.422 (92.983mph), but was unable to match his record lap Saturday of 1:27.296.
Pobst now leads Wittmer by 146 points (955 to 809) with just three Rounds remaining in the Championship. Sofronas moved to third despite missing a Round, with 784, followed by Dino Crescentini, who crashed on the opening lap, with 723, and Lindsey, with 711.
Porsche cut into Volvo's Manufacturers' Championship lead with the win, and now trails by just three points, 58 to 55. Dodge sits third, with 39.
After taking the Saturday win flag to flag in his No. 43 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX, Cunningham found himself in a relatively unfamiliar position after the standing start Sunday – in second. Second-starting Ernie Jakubowski, of Oakville, Ontario got the holeshot in his No. 91 Fuchs/CDOC/Forgeline Porsche Cayman S and led the opening 13 laps in the GTS class race.
On lap 14, Cunningham, who had been caught by teammate Nick Esayian's No. 34 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX and was in danger of losing second place, made a bold move past Jakubowski entering Thunder Valley.
"Off the start, the rear drive of the Porsche Cayman got the better of me today," Cunningham said. "Plus, on Saturday, the left lane was blocked with a stalled car but this time it was the right lane. I started to move over to go by but I didn't want to keep moving over and get hit. That allowed the Porsche to get ahead of me. I had a couple of opportunities on the first lap to get by, but I wanted to be patient and not rush into it. But after that he started to figure it out and I couldn't get by. I knew that my car would stay under me and I wanted to just be patient. In Turn 9, he got a little bit sideways and I just shoved it in there and made a clean pass."
The pass not only placed Cunningham into the lead for good, but earned him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race. He also set the race's fastest lap for GTS cars, with a 1:34.712 (85.826mph) en route to his sixth win of the season and record-extending 38th overall.
Jakubowski and Esayian continued the battle for second until the lap-24 restart, when Jakubowski slid wide exiting the Carousel giving the runner-up spot to Esayian.
Ben Corsland, of Salt Lake City, Utah, finished fourth in his No. 25 RPMotorsports Ford Mustang FR500S, the first of a string of four Ford Racing Mustang Challenge cars, including Devin Cates, George Winkler and Richard Colinello.
Cunningham's win extended his points lead over Esayian to 164 (1091 to 927). Acura also clinched its ninth World Challenge Manufacturers' Championship, currently leading Porsche 82 to 19 with three Rounds remaining.
A winner in his debut race on Saturday, Eversley's run to his second-consecutive Touring Car win was no less eventful on Sunday. Starting third in the No. 20 Maxwell Paper Products Mazda RX-8, Eversley fell back to sixth at the start.
Polesitter Jason Saini (No. 03 Team MER/Sparco/SafeRacer MAZDASPEED3), Nick Wittmer's No. 93 HPD/Honda Racing/RealTime Honda Civic Si and second-starting Robb Holland's No. 22 303 Motorsports/Track Pro/Emich VW Volkswagen GTI occupied the top three spots the opening several laps until Wittmer faded with his transmission issues. Eversley had to work past both Scion tCs of Dan Gardner and Robert Stout to join the lead fight, which then waged until lap 12.
On the seventh lap, Holland and Eversley made contact at the exit of the Esses, but both cars were able to continue. Eversley made his move past Saini for the lead on lap 12 and held it for the remainder of the race.
"The competition in this series is fantastic and the racing is just unbelievable," Eversley said. "The standing start today wasn't as good for me as yesterday, I bogged down with the rotary and Nick Wittmer's Honda and a couple of other cars got by me. I was able to fight back to third in a couple of laps and had a great battle with Robb Holland. I gave him a little room and we got into each other a little bit, but it was just hard racing and totally fine. Jason and I had a great battle and I can't wait to see the in-car video of that. We went back and forth down the backstraight and he just out-braked himself and I kind of got in a little too hot, too. I have to thank Maxwell Paper for letting me come drive its Mazda, I had so much fun."
Eversley also set the Touring Car fastest race lap with a 1:38.024 (82.926mph), breaking Eric Meyer's day-old record by 0.055sec.
Holland was able to continue after the contact, but was eventually involved in contact with a GT car that would end his day with suspension damage.
Saini went on to finish second for the second-consecutive day.
Dan Gardner, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., survived early contact with his teammate, Touring Car point leader Robert Stout, to bring his No. 36 DG Spec/Scion/TRD/Lepper & Associates Scion tC home third. Gardner also earned the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start award for advancing six positions on the opening lap.
Series newcomer David Tuaty, of Miami, Fla., finished fourth in his No. 66 TLMUSA.com Honda Civic Si, followed by Charlie Solomon, of Waxahachie, Texas, in the No. 21 Dr. Natasha.com/DC Racing Mazda RX-8.
Solomon earned the Sunoco Hard Charger for advancing a total of 12 positions in the race.
Stout continues to lead the Touring Car Championship, with 959 points, followed by Meyer, with 810, Gardner, with 595, Brett Sandberg, with 572 and Shea Holbrook, with 444. Mazda leapfrogged Volkswagen to take over second place in the Manufacturers' Championship for Touring Car. Scion leads, with 62, followed by Mazda (46), Volkswagen (38) and Honda (33).
Today's race will be broadcast Saturday, Aug. 28 at 4:30 p.m. (Eastern) on Versus.
The World Challenge Championships next travel to VIRginia International Raceway for Rounds 10 and 11, part of the SCCA Pro Racing Sports Car Wars weekend, Sept. 10-12.
Follow World Challenge on Twitter @WCRacing.