Two wins from the first three races of the Pirelli World Challenge season is hardly anything to scoff at. Then consider James Sofronas’ GMG Audi R8 hasn’t yet been the fastest car and the results are even more remarkable.
Sofronas, in both St. Petersburg’s second race and at Long Beach two weeks ago, has been in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the misfortune of his rivals in the GT class.
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” Sofronas told me at the Long Beach weekend. “At St. Pete we anticipated no yellows with no Touring Cars in the race. So we set the car up for long runs and tested on used tires.
“I think we had a stronger car there in the first race. We had a chance to do well but ran over too much rubber on the caution laps. Then on Sunday, we just bided our time, and then cars fell out. I’ve been on the other side of that plenty of times, and it was good to get the win without destroying the car.”
Sofronas’ GMG teammates include fellow Audi drivers Duncan Ende, Bret Curtis and Alex Welch, with Brent Holden (Porsche) and Bill Ziegler (Pontiac Solstice, GTS) in other cars. After testing the waters with the Audi a year ago, GMG is all in on the car this year.
“Our program is all customer-driven,” Sofronas explained. “They were all anxious to drive it when we started running it last year. I have five full-time race mechanics at our shop. They service the car, learn, study, prep, test, and I think it translated. We were thrown a few curveballs with upright changes, engine change, some suspension and bodywork damage. But the guys responded.
“Audi fans love the car,” he added. “They have wanted to see this thing run. Fans love it, drivers love it and the crew and team loves working on it.”
Beyond Audi, the efforts of WC Vision and the SCCA in tandem to attract GT3 machinery to the United States have made the collective car counts in GT boom this year. GTS, TC, and TCB aren’t slacking, either.
“It says a lot for the series,” said Sofronas. “There’s no question that (PWC President/CEO) Scott Bove is doing more to involve GT3 manufacturers. There’s Ferrari, Audi, Porsche, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, all out there. Audi started it and now Mercedes has come, hopefully McLaren and more. I’d love to see the full GT3 collection running in World Challenge.”
Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato welcomes ‘Baby Borg’ to the family
Takuma Sato cast a big shadow on the world of IndyCar racing last May when he became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.
But there was another shadow of sorts cast along with Sato’s Indy 500 win: he and the prestigious Borg-Warner Trophy, given to each year’s winner of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, are virtually identical in size.
The Trophy is the same height as Sato, 5 feet, 5 ¾ inches tall. And the respective weight of both the Trophy and Sato are the same: approximately 113 pounds.
Try putting that on a mantle in your house.
That’s why Sato was so happy to receive the Baby Borg Trophy — a miniature version of the Borg-Warner Trophy — Wednesday night in Detroit. It’s much more manageable for the mantle in his house: 18 inches tall and five pounds.
“It’s such an honor to win the Baby Borg finally, eight months after the race, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Sato told NBC Sports. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to win the 500 and it has just gone on and on. It’s just a significant moment in my life. It’s been fantastic.
“Right now, I haven’t really decided yet (where he’ll put the coveted Baby Borg). It’s going to my home in Indiana right now. But of course, everybody wants to see it. After that, I haven’t decided, but I’m sure it’ll get a special place.”
Even though the Baby Borg is a pint-sized version of the real trophy that was presented to Sato in victory lane in Indianapolis last May, it also has the same meaning as the big trophy and served to get Sato’s excitement pumping to where he’s already counting down the days to the 2018 Indy 500.
And even more important, it will be the first time he returns to Indianapolis as the defending champion.
“(Winning the 500) has changed my life,” Sato told NBC Sports. “But what I do is exactly the same, to try and be as fast as possible when racing.
“But all the environment, the people, all the cheering and being called an Indy 500 champion, I never imagined how deep and how far it goes, just the power and energy that the Indy 500 had.
“I just never realized how much the tradition and the prestigiousness of it. It’s been fantastic and I’m sure when I go back there to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in four months as the defending champion, it’ll be a whole other dimension. I’m sure it’s going to be a whole lot of pressure, but I’m sure to enjoy the moment.”
Sato, who turns 41 on January 28, will return to the 500 this year, but with a new team. He left Andretti Autosport after last season and returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for whom he previously raced for in 2012.
Now that he’s won one Indy 500, Sato wants to make it two in a row.
“It’s a huge, another task and a new dream,” he said. “I’m excited for the new season and to go for another 500 (win), it’s another completely new dimension. Like Michael (Andretti, who he drove for last season) said, obviously, we’ll be competing against each other in the new season, but tonight we celebrated together. I think it’s going to be a real good season for me. I’d love to get another win there, of course.”
But not if Andretti has anything to say about it.
“He’s not allowed to win again,” Andretti laughed while also speaking to NBC Sports.
Sato enjoyed a victory lap of another sort last month when he accompanied the Borg-Warner Trophy to his native Japan for a two-plus week tour of the nation.
It marked the first time in the Trophy’s 82-year existence that it has ever been outside the U.S.
Everywhere Sato and the Trophy went drew large crowds, from Honda Racing “Thanks Day” at the Twin Rings track at Motegi to a visit to Mount Fuji, a meeting with 850 members of Sato’s fan club, and also included a two-day run in the atrium of Honda’s World Headquarters in Tokyo that had fans lined up for hours to see the Trophy and take photos of it and Sato.
“The reaction was just massive,” Sato said. “For myself, it was a dream come true, but at the same time, for a country with that history, it was an unbelievable moment, particularly the first time when Hiro Matsushita did it (drove in the Indy 500 in the 1990s) so many years ago.
“So many Japanese drivers have tried to win such a historic race, I was just so proud to be part of it. The people were really excited. The passion, I’m really particularly happy to bring it to Japan.
“To go to Japan was a massive commitment by from Borg Warner and Honda. So many Japanese fans were able to see it physically and now they’re really looking forward to this year’s Indy 500 again. It was a great moment to us.”