Sofronas wins SPEED GT finale; Davis is champion
James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., captured his second SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT Championship Presented by Toyo Tires win of the season, taking the checkered flag at the Applied Computer Solutions Monterey Sports Car Championship Presented by Bondurant. Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., and Eric Curran, of Easthampton, Mass., completed the podium at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Finishing fourth, Brandon Davis, of Huntington Beach, Calif., claimed his first World Challenge GT Championship. Sofronas' victory handed the SPEED World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine to Porsche.
Almost as soon as the start lights flickered off to begin the 2009 World Challenge GT Finale, the yellow flags came out and the pace car was deployed, so that workers could remove Dino Crescentini's No. 4 StopTech/GMG Porsche 911 GT3 from the sand in Turn Three. On the ensuing lap five restart, second-starting Sofronas was sandwiched between the No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions/SunMicro Ford Mustang GT of Davis and the No. 3 Applied Computer Solutions Ford Mustang Cobra of Boris Said. Sofornas was not keen on spending any more time between the teammates, and made his move to the inside of Davis in Turn Two to take the lead on lap six. The pass earned Sofronas the AutoWeek Move of the Race Award.
"On the start, I just wanted to get away from the line and establish my position," Sofronas said. "Brandon [Davis] had a good start and I got into Two and just kept it clean not wanting to affect the Championship at all.
"It was pretty clear that Brandon didn't want to get in the way or become a part of any mistakes. It was a calculated move on his part. He just left it open for me and I had to take it there. He knew he had to win a Championship and he showed that he had the maturity to get it done."
Sofronas never looked back, taking his third-career win by 4.297 seconds, averaging 82.342 mph. The Californian set the Débaufré Fastest Lap of the Race in the process, a 1:30.919 (88.615 mph).
"The car was hooked up and once I was in the lead," Sofronas recalled. "I just put my head down and Todd [Ketchum] would give me some splits and then, all of a sudden, I looked in my mirror and no one was there! It kind of got boring. I want to win a race fighting for it; it's a lot more exciting. But, don't get me wrong, the way we did it today, I'll take it all day long.
"I kept saying 'what's going on behind me. Entertain me because there's not much going on up here,' and it sounds like it was a bloodbath back there. I can't wait to see it on TV.
"The GMG guys worked very hard. It's very gratifying to win here. We ran five cars in two different series this weekend. They worked so hard and they were up late and I was with them here early in the morning as well. This is a great way to send them off into the offseason to get ready for next year. We love World Challenge. We've been doing this for a long time and look forward to doing it for years to come."
By winning the 28-lap, 62.664-mile race, Sofronas sealed the World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Championship for Porsche. It is the German marque's eighth Title, which it claimed by 14 points over Ford (67 to 53). Volvo was third, with 48 points, followed by Chevrolet (45) and Viper (18).
"Winning the Manufacturers' Championship for Porsche was a big one because of my business being focused on Porsche tuning," Sofronas added. "That was big to help them clinch that for the second year in-a-row."
After a great start from sixth in the No. 1 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, Pobst found himself knocking on the door of the top five throughout the first half of the race.
"It's been a development year with the K-PAX Volvo," Pobst said. "One of the challenges for the team has been how to get the car to get off the line. It's got a small engine with a big turbo. It's got a lot of traction and it's tough to get it going. Guess what? They figured out a system that works and it was nice to have a car that moved when I let out the clutch."
When Said's Mustang was turned around on lap 19 in Turn Two, Pobst finally moved into fifth. The Defending Champion picked up another spot on that lap when Curran got loose through Turn 10, allowing Pobst to slip by and into fourth. Three laps later, Pobst was around Davis for third and had his sights set on the No. 97 Tax Masters/Brass Monkey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 of Tony Rivera, Davis' only Championship threat.
"I was really surprised with the track conditions," Pobst said. "I just didn't feel much grip out there. I was a little surprised at the times we were running, where a 1:32 was a good lap toward the end. I really had some good battles with Eric [Curran] and Tony Rivera. Down toward the end of the race, in the last couple laps, it was me and Tony running second and third. Especially on the last lap, I think the Volvo and the all-wheel-drive was helping me out because my car was not falling off as bad as his and I started getting a nose on him everywhere."
After hounding Rivera for five laps, Pobst made his move on the final tour of the 11-turn, 2.238-mile course. While the move in Turn Four gave Pobst the spot, it sent River spinning into the gravel, where his race would end.
"I just timed it wrong and I turned him around in Turn Four," confessed Pobst. "Man, I just hate that because I'm always the one preaching not to do that to other people! It's funny, because that happened to me two years ago. And being back here at Laguna brought it all back for me and I'm still angry about that -- and then there I go and do it to somebody else. I'm gonna have to sleep on that and try to figure out what it all means. Anyhow, I apologize to Tony Rivera for my mistake in turning him around."
Pobst was later fined 20 points for the incident.
Curran was far enough back in the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette to avoid the incident and finish third.
"I had a terrible start," recalled Curran. "I got too much wheelspin taking off. I fell back a number of spots. On the restart, I went in the outside lane going into Two and I must have passed six or seven cars on the outside. Everybody stacked up on the inside and I just went all the way down on the outside and passed a number of cars.
"I started charging toward the front. I ran with Rivera, and then Boris [Said] and then Brandon [Davis]. There was obviously a championship on the line for Brandon and Rivera, and I didn't want to get involved in any of that, so I kind of stayed behind Rivera. He had a very strong car anyway. I stayed there until Rivera made a dive-bomb move [on Said] into Two. He kind of loosened them both up and then I got into the back of Boris and spun him out by mistake. I'm sure he's not too happy about that.
"After that, I kept charging forward and got up to Brandon. I had a little bit stronger car at the end of the race, but I didn't want to interfere with his Championship. The Whelen guys worked really hard all year and I think we finally got some reliability, which is good. We had a pretty fast racecar today. Overall, it's been a pretty good year."
Bringing his Mustang home in fourth, Davis secured his very first World Challenge GT Drivers' Championship, taking the title by 81 points over Sofronas (1012 to 931). Rivera fell to third, sitting in the gravel, and finished with 910 points, followed by Andy Pilgrim (851) and Curran (811).
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," Davis said. "Right now, it's just a feeling of relief. Coming into this weekend, there was so much talk about where we needed to finish to with the Championship if this or that happened. There is so much that can go wrong. We experienced that last year where a small part can just end your weekend. We knew that we needed to finish eighth coming in to clinch the Championship, but we also knew that we could break something in the drivetrain and give the Championship away on the last race. Right now, it's more of a feeling of relief. But I will take this over anything. It feels amazing!
"Having Boris [Said] there helped a lot. We had some tire issues in practice and I think I was a little off in the setup because my car was unbelievably loose in some corners and I was trying to deal with that.
"It was unfortunate to see that Tony couldn't finish the race after his incident with Randy, but it feels great to come away with the Championship."
Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., completed the top five in the No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60.
Gunter Schaldach (Porsche 911 GT3) was sixth followed by the No. 47 TruSpeed Motorsports/NADA Porsche 911 GT3 of Rob Morgan, from Costa Mesa, Calif. Morgan was named the Sunoco Hard Charger for advancing seven positions in the race. Charlie Putman (Dodge Viper), Sonny Whelen (Chevrolet Corvette) and Tony Gaples (Chevrolet Corvette) completed the top 10.
The Applied Computer Solutions Monterey Sports Car Championships Presented by Bondurant will air on SPEED, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m. ET.