On the 25th anniversary of his Pirelli World Challenge debut, James Sofronas heads into Road America leading the GTS points.
Sofronas first entered a World Challenge race at Road America in a Touring Car Oldsmobile Achieva that he rented from Chuck Hemmingson. A decent finish — and keeping within shouting distance of Hemmingson, by then a seasoned pro — hooked Sofronas, and he’s been coming back ever since.
“I rented it from Chuck Hemmingson for $1,500 and it was like my life savings,” Sofronas says. “But I didn’t care; I had to give it a shot. I finished like ninth and I hung with him, a factory driver. I thought, ‘This is fun, I’ve got to keep doing this!’ And 230 races later…”
Sofronas bought an older Olds Calais and ran for several seasons with his brother Brad as Greek Brothers Racing. After he moved to California and started Global Motorsports Group, a tuner of high-end sports cars that also sprouted a customer racing component, his tastes shifted toward European makes. Last year he won the GTA title in a Porsche 911 GT3R. For 2018, he switched to an Audi R8 LMS GT4 to compete for the GTS title, and holds a slim margin over Camaro pilot and 2017 champion Lawson Aschenbach as they head toward the sprint races at Road America.
For Sofronas, the switch to GTS and Audi was primarily business-based.
“It was motivated on my customer racing program. I saw the new wave of GT4s coming in and the interest level of my client base and customer base toward that class,” says Sofronas, whose GMG outfit ran the McLaren 570 in which George Kurtz took the GTSA title in 2017.
“Like I’ve done in the past, I kind of set the tone for my program and offer my personal services in driving the same car – the economies of scale, data and video sharing, and I can help my clients get up to speed with a new platform because I’m driving and racing with them. The best part is I’m not competing against them because I’m running in the pro class. Even though I’m a bronze, I voluntarily put myself in the GTS class and all my clients are in the GTSA class.”
In addition to Sofronas, GMG is running R8s for Jason Bell, Kurtz and SprintX partner Colin Braun, and Elias Sabo and Andy Lee in SprintX.
Sofronas is leading the points just past halfway into the season. But he knows he’s going to have to fight to hold off Aschenbach, who has dominated the Sprint races so far, winning both sets at St. Petersburg and at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Sofronas and Am teammate Alex Welch have performed quite well in the SprintX events, winning the second race at Circuit of The Americas and Virginia International Raceway, along with another second at VIR and a fourth at COTA in the first races of the weekend.
“It’s been a somewhat up-and-down year, but we’ve managed to at least stay consistent with the points. SprintX has been our strong point – my co-driver Alex Welch has done a fantastic job. We haven’t had the results in the Sprint events and obviously Lawson has been very competitive in the Camaro,” he says.
Because the Audi has gained 45 pounds and 3 millimeters in ride height, Sofronas has tempered expectations for Road America. He thinks the Camaros will definitely have an advantage in Wisconsin and, if something doesn’t change in the Balance of Performance, in the last remaining Sprint weekend at Watkins Glen. But he knows he has to keep close to Aschenbach and keep doing well in SprintX events at Portland and Utah to keep his points lead.
“The Audi is a good car everywhere, but you’ve got to be strong at some tracks, “Sofronas says. “I thought we’d be pretty good at [Canadian Tire Motorsport Park], and boy was I wrong. We probably didn’t have the best car. We were in second, got punted, and then we just lagged in fourth — but the fact that Lawson was so checked out is cause for concern. With only two [Sprint] weekends left, I have to pull something out of my hat. I can’t let him eat up my lead because we’re just going to run out of time.”
It will be a different challenge at Road America, because for the only time this season — other than the GTS demonstration at Long Beach — there will be a combined race for GT and GTS on the four-mile Road America circuit. Traffic could be a factor for both groups.
Pirelli World Challenge action from Road America will be streamed live onand on Motor Trend TV.