MILLVILLE, N.J. (April 30, 2009) - From the shores of Long Beach to the Jersey Shore, the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Championships are rolling into New Jersey Motorsports Park for a crack at Thunderbolt Raceway, a circuit never before visited by the World Challenge Touring Car Championship.
The weather may have been on the cold and damp when the series last raced at Thunderbolt Raceway in September 2008, but the action on track was scorching hot. James Sofronas scored his very first World Challenge win, beating polesitter Brandon Davis off the starting grid and holding the Mustang off for the remainder of the race, even through a nerve-racking green-white-checkered finish.
As fate would have it, Sofronas arrives at the site of his first victory two weeks after scoring his second, on home turf, at the ACS Grand Prix of Long Beach Presented by Lala Motorsports. The driver of the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 currently sits second in the Drivers’ Championship and is setting a pace for his best World Challenge season yet.
Sofronas is chasing Eric Curran, driver of the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette in the points. Curran has scored back-to-back runner up finishes while the team continues to focus on reliability and consistency. He set the fastest lap of the race at Thunderbolt last year, but only after sitting in the pits for several laps while the team sorted through electrical issues. It’s memories like that, that have stopped Curran from getting too comfortable with his point lead.
After getting caught out spinning his tires at the start last year, Davis has noted already this season that the ACS Express team has spent a good part of the off-season perfecting the start system on the No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions/SunMicro Systems Ford Mustang Cobra. Currently third in the Championship after two third-place finishes, Davis is out to redeem himself on the starting grid at Thunderbolt this weekend and climb the point standings with a win.
Sebring race winner Tony Rivera slipped to fourth in the point standings after a seventh-place finish at an unfamiliar Long Beach circuit in the No. 97 TaxMasters/Mirage Group Porsche 911 GT3. That will not be the case this time around, as Rivera has raced at Thunderbolt previously. Rivera’s Sebring win coupled with Sofronas’ at Long Beach has placed Porsche atop the World Challenge Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine.
Will the Volvos continue to improve this weekend? After an agonizing start to the season at Sebring, K-PAX Racing bounced back in a big way at Long Beach, with Randy Pobst winning Volvo’s very first World Challenge pole. Unfortunately for the team, the grid spot was lost in the post-qualifying coin flip, which inverted the top five qualifiers. Pobst held strong for an eighth-place finish in the No. 1 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, while teammate Andy Pilgrim put on a great show in the final laps of the race, battling with Rivera, Jason Daskalos and Mike Davis to take home sixth place.
While the World Challenge GT teams are just catching their collective breath from Long Beach, the World Challenge Touring Car field is chomping at the bit to hit the track after more than a month of idle time since Sebring.
The BimmerWorld/GearWrench teams served notice in Round One, that they were more than ready for the 2009 season. While other World Challenge Touring Car teams were still finalizing driver lineups and cars in the days leading up to Sebring, the BimmerWorld/GearWrench squad had the luxury of continuity – same cars, same drivers – allowing the team to focus its energy on results. And results were exactly what they got, as Seth Thomas walked away with his first career-win in the No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i.
Fellow BimmerWorld/GearWrench teammate Nick Esayian also turned in a career-best performance, crossing the finish line in fifth behind the wheel of the No. 34 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i.
RealTime Racing brought a brand-new 2009 body style Acura TSX to Sebring for defending Champion and team owner Peter Cunningham to pilot. Another new TSX will be on hand at Thunderbolt for Pierre Kleinubing. Driving the No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX at Sebring, Kleinubing started on pole, but lost out on the standing start to Thomas, who he was then unable to catch. Unlike their BMW rivals, however, each of the RealTime drivers (Cunningham, Kleinubing, Kuno Wittmer and Toby Grahovec) has race experience at Thunderbolt Raceway.
Despite some uncertainty about who would be driving the cars heading into Sebring, the Tri-Point Motorsports team was able to walk away with two cars in the top four. 2008 World Challenge Touring Car Rookie of the Year Jason Saini brought his No. 74 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6 in third. He was followed across the line by Rookie of the Year candidate Eric Foss in the No. 75 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6. The rookie of the year candidate raced at Thunderbolt Raceway last year in MX-5 Cup, where he finished second en route to taking the 2008 Championship, which earned him his World Challenge ride with Tri-Point.
Andrew Aquilante put in an impressive performance in his World Challenge debut at Sebring, driving the No. 35 Phoenix Performance Inc. Subaru WRX. The former SCCA Touring 1 National Champion held his own with the likes of Cunningham and Michael Galati before finishing eighth. If the weather is anything like last year’s race at Thunderbolt, damp and cold, the all-wheel drive WRX will be at a distinct advantage, especially on the standing start, where Aquilante proved his might at Sebring.
The World Challenge team transporters have arrived at New Jersey Motorsports Park, and while the World Challenge GT teams are reviewing their notes from last year’s race, many of the World Challenge Touring Car drivers are getting their very first look at Thunderbolt Raceway. A chance for rain on Saturday, race day, could throw a real wrench in everyone’s plans, so make sure you follow all the action on www.world-challenge.com.