Following an impressive 2013 season that saw the team take a company-high three victories and narrowly missing out on the GT championship, California-based Global Motorsports Group (GMG) heads into this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg four cars strong. As the season opener for the Pirelli World Challenge Championships, the team will run its first campaign with the Audi R8 LMS ultra.
Continuing its second full season of competition with Audi Sport customer racing, the team previously ran with Audi’s R8 LMS, a very similar vehicle to the “ultra” version. After a near-championship season in 2013, including victory in St. Petersburg, GMG team owner James Sofronas is excited for the new year.
“It’s really exciting to get back to our roots in the Pirelli World Challenge,” said Sofronas. “It’s such a deep, competitive field this year, possibly the most competitive it’s ever been. With such a variety of marques and teams, we couldn’t be any more fortunate than to have the support of Audi Sport customer racing behind us, and with the best crew in the business. It’s going to be a tough year, but with guys like Andrew, Bret, and Bill with us, and with the help of The Thermal Club and Spyder, we’re ready.”
With four entries for the streets of St. Petersburg, the team will come in well prepared thanks largely to their long-standing relationship with The Thermal Club. As a private racetrack located near Palm Springs, just two-hours from the team’s Santa Ana shop, the team has been able to run extensive tests and development as they prepare their new machinery.
Additionally, GMG will enter the year with a new partnership from Spyder. As a clothing company with a rich history in outerwear for winter, most notably in the ski and snowboarding communities, Spyder will partner with GMG to develop a new line of sportsman-oriented clothing most suited for the racetrack. The use of Spyder clothing has been instrumental for the team during the long winter months, surviving two of the notoriously coldest events in racing: The 25 Hours of Thunderhill and the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“Working with GMG has been a tremendous experience so far,” stated Lance Webb, heading up the motorsports division of Spyder. “Thanks to a long-standing relationship with some GMG’s customer base, we’ve been able to provide the team well during the cold winter months, and we’re excited to lend our brand of comfortable, technology-oriented apparel to motorsports.”
Entering the season after a heartbreaking defeat at the 2013 finale in Houston, Sofronas will head up the team in the No. 14 Spyder / The Thermal Club Audi R8 LMS ultra. After enjoying the best year of his career, taking three victories, nine podiums, and finishing runner-up in the championship, the Villa Park, Calif., resident is coming into the year prepared for victory. Running his team in three different professional series in 2014, Sofronas is certainly in one of his busiest years.
“We’ve been non-stop since last year, to be honest,” declared Sofronas. “However, I’m excited to get this season going. We were so close last year, I really want it this year and am as prepared as I can be.”
Joining the team for his first season of competition will be rookie competitor Andrew Palmer. At 19 years old, Palmer comes in not only as a full-time student at Pomona College in Southern California, but also the reigning world champion in the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo Series. A former national champion in the Rotax karting ranks, Palmer made his car debut last October with the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, winning in his first weekend. Two months later, the Chicago native would take the title at the Lamborghini World Finals in Italy. Campaigning the No. 21 machine, Palmer is excited to debut with some of the best in the sport.
“This is a big step for me and I’m very excited for the opportunity,” said Palmer. “I’m under no illusions just how strong the talent pool is at this level, and I’m coming in with my eyes wide open. I really appreciate what everyone at GMG, O’Gara Motorsports, and The Thermal Club have done to get me this far in my career, and it will be exciting to get my first taste of everything on Friday.”
Returning to the team will be veteran driver Bret Curtis in the No. 32 United Steel / Spectra Resources / Valspar Audi R8 LMS ultra. Curtis, who ran multiple races in 2013, is looking for podium results in 2014 having taken a top finish of fifth last year.
“I really enjoyed the races we were able to run in 2013, and this season should be a great one,” said Curtis. “The series has a big opportunity with the number of teams and manufacturers here, and everyone is well aware of just what a challenge it will be. GMG has been busy testing and getting prepared for this, it’s going to be a fun weekend.”
Finally, back for another season of competition is team veteran Bill Ziegler. Hailing from nearby Ponte Vedra Beach, Ziegler continues his streak as the longest running GMG customer and will be entering his first full season of competition in the No. 95 Swisher Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra. In 2013, though Bill did run the majority of the season, he only ran the second half in an Audi-branded machine.
“It’s a great car to drive and it will be a very competitive race,” said Ziegler. “I’ve really enjoyed my time with GMG and in the Pirelli World Challenge, and competing with this car just makes it all the more enjoyable. I just want a clean race in what is essentially my home race.”
Beyond the four cars entered for St. Petersburg, GMG is also slated for additional entries, including long-time team driver Brent Holden, who will make his return at the upcoming Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Practice on the St. Petersburg street circuit will begin this Friday, March 28, with a double-header of races taking place on Saturday and Sunday. Race 1 will take place on Saturday at 3:25 p.m., and Sunday’s race at 11:25 a.m.. Live coverage can be found at world-challengeTV.com with a television re-air on Sunday, April 6, at 5:30 p.m ET on NBCSN.