Wins and championships aren't over until they're over, a point James Sofronas could attest to after a heartbreaking defeat in the final round of the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship in Houston.
Holding a narrow lead over championship rival Johnny O'Connell, late race contact would relegate the Global Motorsports Group Audi driver to fifth in Sunday's Foametix Grand Prix of Houston, placing the driver second in the final standings behind Team Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell.
“I'm just really disappointed for the GMG team, Audi, and all the guys here,” said Sofronas. “Coming in with a narrow point lead, we knew that we couldn't take anything for granted. Unfortunately, the contact from one of the Cadillacs inflicted enough damage to completely ruin our chances.
"Everyone really put their heart and soul in to this. It's not the result any of us wanted, but at the same time everyone proved just what a quality team this is.”
Starting from the pole position by virtue of his point lead following a cancelled qualifying session, the No. 14 The Thermal Club / Hoffman Power Weight / Swisher Racing / Mobil 1 Audi R8 LMS was in the prime position for the opening laps.
With the tricky street circuit encountering a heavy downpour throughout the morning, series officials elected to abandon the traditional standing start, and Sofronas took the green flag under a rolling one for safety. On a wet surface, James was in control of the field, and opened up an early gap to the second place No. 3 Cadillac CTS-V.R of O'Connell.
For teammate and Audi factory driver René Rast, however, the day would take a much more challenging beginning. Having to start from the back by virtue of the cancelled qualifying, the young German was on an instant tear to the front in an effort to support his teammate. Unfortunately, as Rast made a pass on Alex Figge's Volvo, a wide run would send the No. 95 in to light contact with the turn three tire barrier on the opening lap. Although he would continue with minimal damage, he would begin the sprint race far down the order.
As the race would unfold, Sofronas held a measured pace over the field behind him. With a car that appeared well suited to the wet, the Villa Park, California resident appeared in contention for his fourth win of the season, until Randy Pobst's Volvo showed tremendous pace in the drying conditions. Utilizing his car's four wheel drive to perfection as he passed the second-place O'Connell, Pobst eventually took the lead over Sofronas.
With James' No. 14 Audi now in second, his championship still appeared in good shape as his main rival, O'Connell, sat behind him in third.
As the track began to dry, however, the changing track conditions were visibly more favorable to the Cadillacs, and the latter stages would bring a massive four-way fight between Sofronas, O'Connell, Rast, and the second Cadillac of Andy Pilgrim.
With O'Connell able to pass Sofronas, the fourth-placed Rene Rast did all he could to keep Andy Pilgrim's machine behind him, but it eventually proved fruitless as Pilgrim would be able to pass the German, and eventually make a daring run on the No. 14. Heading in to turn three with three laps to go, Pilgrim would make heavy contact with James, enough to break the shock, which resulted in a punctured left rear of the Audi, sending James in to the pits for a tire change.
With Sofronas dropping down the order proving enough to destroy any championship hopes, the final nail in the coffin would come when O'Connell took a pass for the lead, securing his championship position regardless of the Audi man's finish. Sofronas would eventually pull in on the white flag lap, with evident left rear damage beyond the punctured tire. It was a bitter pill to swallow at the end of a 2013 season that saw three wins and countless podiums, but nonetheless a well-earned second place.
“It's not what we wanted, but it was well-earned,” continued Sofronas. “It was great racing with Rene. He's a star in the making, and he showed an incredible talent out there all weekend. At the end of the day, we're still here doing what we love, and we have so many big goals for 2014 that we don't have the time to look back with regret. I really appreciate what everyone at The Pirelli World Challenge has done for us, and we look forward to the future.”
While the Pirelli World Challenge season may be over, the work is far from over for everyone at GMG. In addition to more races on the cards in other series, the team has "very big ambitions for 2014, which will be announced over the coming months," team officials said.