James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, Calif., led every lap to win the Optima Batteries Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Presented by GameStreamer Sunday, holding off Andy Pilgrim at the finish of the World Challenge Championship Round Nine race.
Starting first, Sofronas got away cleanly at the start in his No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3, fending off a great start by third-gridded Pilgrim and his No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60. Saturday’s winner, Mike Skeen fell back from his second starting position to fifth at the start but was able to work back up to fourth by lap four.
Sofronas led a seven-car train for the first seven laps until Charles Morgan’s trip to the gravel brought out the race’s first caution.
On the lap-11 restart, Skeen rocketed past both Randy Pobst’s No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 and Pilgrim into second as they entered the Keyhole. The move earned Skeen the MTM Special Ops Best Move of the Race and he set his sights on Sofronas. Sofronas weathered an early attack, but built a gap on Skeen’s No. 2 Carlisle Companies/Cragar Chevrolet Corvette working through traffic. But, to Sofronas’ dismay, a second full-course-caution came out on lap 21, setting up a five-lap dash to the finish.
“I was far more aggressive through traffic this time,” Sofronas said. “When the yellow came out, it was one of those ‘Are you kidding me?’ moments.”
On the restart, Pilgrim got a jump on Skeen and moved into second. At the Keyhole, Skeen fell back further as he began to experience transmission problems in the Corvette. Sofronas had his mirrors full of Pilgrim for the remaining laps, and in the final corner on the final lap caught a slower Touring Car, allowing Pilgrim to get a run at the finish. In the end, Sofronas beat Pilgrim by 0.151-second to capture his fourth-career win.
He averaged 77.791 mph over the course of the 29-lap, 65.481-mile race.
“I feel great on a lot of levels. I want to dedicate this win to my Dad,” Sofronas said of his ailing father, George. “To win today meant a lot to me. I thought about him when I was in the car and it kept me going because he never gave up in life and he’s just an amazing man. It gave me the inspiration.”
Sofronas admitted that traffic was a point of frustration during the race, with all three classes (GT, GTS and Touring Car) sharing the track together in the largest field of the season.
“The worst part was the last turn of the race, and [Robert] Stout was limping through the carousel,” Sofronas said. “He was still on the proper race line, and I thought I was going to drill him because I had nowhere to go. It was that or run off in the grass and he just started to veer to the right and I kept my foot in it. All of a sudden, I saw this big Volvo nose that literally filled my entire mirror. I couldn’t see anything except this big blue hood. That would have been a tough one to lose, but I think its poetic justice the way this weekend went. The Volvos got back up front, the GMG guys are running up front where we should be, and everything is great.”
Pilgrim’s second place finish equaled his season-best at St. Petersburg. It was a good run for both Volvos, who struggled early in the weekend.
“My car has been a bit of a nightmare this year and we’ve had four DNFs with mechanical failure,” Pilgrim said. “But nobody ever gives up on the K-PAX team. Yesterday’s race set-up wasn’t good at all and we all worked and threw a lot of things at it and yesterday was night-and-day better. The K-Pax guys did a great job.”
Following a seventh-place finish on Saturday, point leader Pobst returned to the podium with a third-place finish and extended his point lead when his closest challenger, Kuno Wittmer, tangled with a Touring Car and retired with suspension damage to his No. 13 Dodge Motorsports Dodge Viper.
“The most interesting thing that happened to me in the race was when I was racing with Kuno Wittmer,” Pobst said. “He’s challenging me for the Championship, and we were going back and forth. I think I was starting to get the better of him when we got his brother [Nick Wittmer] in the Touring Car class. I was passing him in the outside of [the esses], and he ran me right off the road into the grass. Kuno got by and I told the crew there was no way I was going to catch Kuno now without a little help from traffic. Well, sure enough, about three or four laps later I came up and Kuno was spun out and cars were in the gravel and something happened in the traffic.
“As far as I’m concerned, God got him. It was a little bad karma. His pain is our pleasure and it helps us in the Championship. We’re happy to be so close to the lead in this race because we’re going for the Manufacturers’ Championship for Volvo.”
“I was in such a cluster at the time and my car didn’t have third gear, which is what you use for most of the corners here,” Nick Wittmer said. “I moved over to let some of the guys through and kept looking in my mirror and was trying to get out of the way for Randy and Kuno. The next thing I knew, Randy was beside me in the grass. I feel really bad about it. Those guys are fighting for the Championship. I was just trying to get out of the way.”
Kuno Wittmer’s departure promoted Saturday’s third-place finisher Patrick Lindsey, of Santa Barbara, Calif., up to fourth for his sixth-straight top-five finish in the No. 57 Horton/Sloan Securities Porsche 911 GT3.
Jeff Courtney, of Milwaukee, Wis., completed the top five, scoring his season-best finish in the No. 99 Kenda Tire Dodge Viper after starting 10th.
Skeen managed to set the race’s fastest lap, a 1:27.422 (92.983 mph), but was unable to match his record lap Saturday of 1:27.296.
Pobst now leads Wittmer by 146 points (955 to 809) with just three Rounds remaining in the Championship. Sofronas moved to third despite missing a Round, with 784, followed by Dino Crescentini, who crashed on the opening lap, with 723, and Lindsey, with 711.
Porsche cut into Volvo’s Manufacturers’ Championship lead with the win, and now trails by just three points, 58 to 55. Dodge sits third, with 39.
The World Challenge Championships next travel to VIRginia International Raceway for Rounds 10 and 11, part of the SCCA Pro Racing Sports Car Wars weekend, September 10-12.