PWC: Sofronas, GMG Audis off to flying start

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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.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)