Newly-crowned Pirelli World Challenge GTS SprintX champion James Sofronas says this title is a more special achievement than his 2017 GTA championship because he’s able to share it with friend and co-driver Alex Welch.
Sofronas and Welch combined to win two of the eight SprintX races this season in the No. 14 GMG Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4 and held off Harry Gottsacker to take the title by a mere three points.
Despite entering the weekend with a healthy 25-point margin at the top of the standings, the duo was forced to sweat out the final few laps of the SprintX season as overheating issues prioritized survival over speed.
“It was tough,” Sofronas told Sportscar365. “We had a little bit of an overheating issue, but it’s hot here, it’s high elevation, so we just had to deal with it and do the best we could to come out on top in the championship.
“We knew we couldn’t run in the draft, so you’re basically giving up lap time. [It was] also [a case of] being conservative and not getting taken out.
“I rubbed wheels with a couple of cars but I was like, ‘James, you’ve just got to hand it over.’ I would have wanted to finish [the final stint], I knew that wasn’t how it works, but I knew Alex could do it.
“I hate being on the sidelines but I knew we had a solid guy in Alex that could bring it home and I told him: just leave it all out there.
“I don’t care what you’ve got to do, just be safe, be clean, be fair, but give it all you’ve got and he did it on the last lap. That’s really all you can ask for.”
For Sofronas, a longtime PWC competitor who finally broke through for his first series title last year, the SprintX title surpassed even his long-awaited breakthrough because of the team aspect of the format.
“This championship really relied on a teammate the whole time and from the get-go, Alex [Welch] and I have always looked for opportunities to drive together,” he said.
“When Audi put together the GT4 program and the new R8 LMS, it was an easy choice for us. Alex and I made the commitment early on and we just work well together.
“Not only are we really good friends, but we have similar driving styles, a general understanding of how our program works and how he fits in. The crew loves him and everything just works.
“Alex had to muscle his way through and that car made it to the end. It was very gratifying. I’ve said already probably 100 times but it’s great to share a championship with a good friend in Alex.”
While the SprintX title is in the bag, Sofronas still has the overall championship to win.
The Californian currently holds a 38-point lead on Gottsacker with a maximum of 52 points on the table in the final two races, which will be single-driver Sprint rounds.
Sofronas says he won’t be holding back in his pursuit of another series crown.
“There’s a little bit of more breathing room and I doubt we’re going to have the heating issues with the lack of elevation, so I’m going guns blazing,” he said. “Actually, I want a little redemption.
“There’s some people the last few weekends that have bee getting a little bit testy with their driving and I have a good memory being 50 years old. The memory bank is long!
“I want to win this championship. We got this one over and this one was more meaningful because Alex and I have been talking about it and planning all year, but I need to close the deal.
“Harry is extremely fast, Ian [James] is quick, and Lawson [Aschenbach] is always there. We’ve just got to put a new bumper and hood on it and we’ll be good.”