The 2018 Pirelli World Challenge GTS class proved to be as competitive as has been seen in the past decade, with a total of 12 overall different winners in the 18 events of SprintX and Sprint action. The various auto models visiting the GTS victory lane this year included the Audi R8 LMS GT4, Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, Ford Mustang GT4, Ginetta G55 GT4, KTM X-Bow GT4, Panoz Avezzano GT4 and SIN R1 GT4 plus you add in the Amateur class winners from BMW M4 GT4, Maserati Grand Turismo MC GT4 and McLaren 570S.
So, to win GTS point championships, you needed to be consistent and finish every race and that is exactly what James Sofronas accomplished this year in his No. 14 GMG Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4. After capturing two GT divisions (GTS and GT SprintX Pro-Am) in 2017, the veteran Californian drove to three separate GTS championships in 2018 with the GTS Overall, GTS SprintX Pro-Am and GTS Sprint driver titles.
That’s five PWC driver crowns in 2017 and 2018 for Sofronas, who, like a fine wine, seems to be getting better with age. The New York native just turned age 50 and is second in all-time PWC race starts (233), but you would never know those facts with his driving in 2018.
He teamed with Alex Welch in the No. 14 GMG Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4 to win two 60-minute GTS SprintX events in taking the GTS SprintX Pro-Am division this year. Sofronas’ consistency was valuable in the GTS Sprint division with two runner-ups and six top-five finishes. Overall, Sofronas claimed two victories, three seconds, one third and five top-five placings.
Sofronas finished with 328 points to Harry Gottsacker, the 19-year-old Texas racer, with 299 in the No. 69 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 followed by five-time GTS race winner Ian James at 296 in the No. 50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT4, two-time GTS race winner Jade Buford at 286 in the No. 55 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 and five-time PWC champion Lawson Aschenbach at 279 in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R.
In GTS Sprint action, Sofronas didn’t win in the eight events but defeated Aschenbach, a four-time GTS Sprint race winner, by eight points, showing the consistency. Third went to Buford (ten points back) followed by James and Gottsacker.
“We had to be smart in the final weekend with the point lead and I didn’t want to throw it away at the end,” said Sofronas. “But we did have drama the final weekend when I blew a tire in qualifying. Then I had some near misses. I just had to settle down and be smart. I liked the early races like at St. Petersburg and Road America where I could charge. It is more fun that way. This year was different as it was a late decision for me to go racing. Racing with Alex (Welch in GTS SprintX), having Crowdstrike and George (Kurtz) with us and Jason Bell coming on late in the year I would have liked to have been helping the clients with the team. I get more gratification when the clients do well with our GMG team.
“But I was able to drive again. And then race against some of the best drivers in North America like Ian, Lawson and Jade. I have said that GTS or GT4 is the place to be right now in sports car racing. It has great value, great racing and different cars. I want to play in this class for a long time. My business will be in this class for a long time.
“I knew when I saw the Audi GT4 cars being developed that it was a car we wanted to run. Between their technical support, their parts truck and all of the support of Audi Sport, it was the right place to be. The Audi has great balance and that was important. The crew did a great job in the preparation of the cars too. I know I worked my butt off to get the team ready and the crew did an outstanding job for these championships.”
Another veteran, Jeff Courtney,, scored his first Pirelli World Challenge point championship by driving his No. 99 JCR Motorsports/X-Analytics Maserati Gran Turismo MC GT4 to top honors in the GTS Sprint Amateur category. Courtney drove to two race wins and two second places in the older model Maserati with impressive weekends at Road America and Watkins Glen (two wins and two runner-ups).
Second to Courtney in GTS Sprint Am points was GTS Overall Am champion Drew Staveley in the Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55 GT4 followed by veteran Tony Gaples in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, Mike Hedlund in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS GT4 and Preston Calvert in the No. 51 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT4.
“I had a little more drama in the final race at Watkins Glen than I would have liked with some gearbox issues twice, but we didn’t lose a position,” said Courtney. “We knew coming into the final weekend that The Glen was a good track for our Maserati. I had a lot of fun in the last weekend and battled a little more than I should for the points and the championship. I didn’t play any points game. I told my guys I didn’t want to talk about it. I wanted to come out aggressive in the next to last race and then we would be in position to fight for the points if needed. It’s a great way to finish out the season with the older car. I’m not sure if we’ll retire the car but it is nice to win the championship with the Maserati.”
In the GTS Manufacturers’ point championship, Panoz and Ford tied with 106 points, but the Georgia-based auto maker takes the titles with five overall race wins over three for Ford. It marked the first GTS title for Panoz in Pirelli World Challenge competition. Third went to Audi with 104 followed by Chevrolet with 103, Ginetta with 46 and BMW with 39.
In the GTS Sprint Team competition, Blackdog Speed Shop captured the title with 157 by one point over the PF Racing team with 156 followed Team Panoz Racing at 153, GMG Racing at 151 and Racers Edge Motorsports at 126.
All of the Pirelli World Challenge champions will be honored on December 5 at the Indiana Roof in Indianapolis.