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Apr 15, 2014 - 07:06 AM
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GMG Takes Dual Top-Fives at Long Beach
Posted by: newsla on Apr 15, 2014 - 07:06 AM
Sports Cars
GMG Takes Dual Top-Fives at Long Beach

Returning to their scenic home race in the downtown city streets, GMG’s Andrew Palmer and James Sofronas took fourth and fifth-place honors during yesterday’s 40th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.


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“We were pushing as hard as we could, the guys put together a great fleet of cars for the weekend,” stated GMG team owner James Sofronas. “It was great racing with Andrew, there was never a lap that one of us wasn’t in the other’s mirror. We both left nothing on the table and we can definitely go home knowing we did the best we could.”

With 19-year old Andrew Palmer qualifying fifth and earning top honors for all Audi teams entered in the race, the series rookie was focused on a strong follow-up after his podium debut on the streets of St. Petersburg. Driving the No. 21 Spyder / The Thermal Club Audi R8 LMS ultra, the Pomona College student made remarkable work of the limited practice and qualifying time to place the car on the third row. With the Audi lacking a “launch control” system to aid them during the series’ standing-start, a feature which many other marques do carry, Palmer’s main focus was on getting as strong a start as he could.

As the green flag flew, Andrew got away cleanly, but found himself caught in a wild flurry of cars headed in to the treacherous first turn. He was able to keep his nose clean through the first corner and emerged in sixth place.

Meanwhile, Sofronas, a two-time winner of the race, made a great start in the No. 14 The Thermal Club / Spyder / Mobil 1 Audi R8 LMS ultra to jump three spots at the green light and went from his eighth place on the grid to fifth by time the pack filtered through the first series of corners.

Following an extended yellow flag due to a multi-car accident in the second corner, the duo would engage in a nose-to-tail race with one another, pushing each other to the limit of their machines for the final half of the race. With the cars failing to match the pace of the leading Cadillacs and Ferrari, the race became a battle for fourth after both Sofronas and Palmer passed the No. 9 McLaren 12C of Alex Figge.

In a classic battle of age and experience vs. youth and aggression, youth won out as Palmer made a strong pass over Sofronas on lap 21, out-braking his team owner heading in to the first corner. Palmer would never look back, and Sofronas continued to chase him until the end, with both drivers finishing fourth and fifth at the checkered flag.

For Palmer, another clean race was a great reward for the impressive rookie.

“It was great to take top Audi honors again,” stated Palmer. “James has so much experience here. I really enjoyed battling him all race long. We were both pushing each other so hard, there was nothing more we could extract from the car. I’m definitely happy with how hard I pushed. The team did another fantastic job getting the car prepared and teaching me the key elements of the race course. I really enjoyed it out here at Long Beach, it’s such a festival atmosphere, and it was great to represent groups like Spyder and The Thermal Club in front of so many people. I am looking forward to Barber!”

Taking sixth-place honors in the GT-A category was returnee Bret Curtis. Having raced at Long Beach multiple times in different series, the Texas resident, who used to live in nearby Westlake Village, drove a steady race in the No. 32 United Steel Supply / Spectra Resources / Valspar Audi R8 LMS ultra. Qualifying on the eighth row, the notoriously chaotic start at Long Beach proved true to form with Curtis fighting hard into the first turn and doing his best to avoid contact with a very crowded field. Following the long caution period, Bret found himself engaged in a great battle between multiple cars in search of a top five in class, with attrition and patience eventually placing him in sixth.

“It was a pretty non-stop battle,” claimed Curtis. “It seemed like there were three or four of us jockeying all race long, but we were all able to keep it relatively clean. World Challenge races always provide exciting starts and it was pretty intense, but I’m glad we’re able to bring the car back in one piece. Everyone at GMG did a great job taking care of things, I always love coming out to Long Beach. Our next race should be even better.”

Finally, Bill Ziegler’s No. 95 Swisher Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra would be the only casualty of the weekend. After a hard-fought battle for top five in the GT-A class, a gearbox issue would send his machine off in the treacherous turn nine forcing the car to retire on lap 21.

“It definitely wasn’t the day we wanted,” stated Ziegler. “The car went out in pretty spectacular fashion, and luckily no one was taken out. We’ll just chalk it up to a race weekend and move on to Barber.”

With the Pirelli World Challenge season now in full swing, the team will only have two weeks off before heading to the next round of competition at the beautiful Barber Motorsports Park featuring another double-header on Saturday, April 26, and Sunday, April 27.

Sunday’s race can be found on NBC Sports on Sunday, April 20, at 5:30PM ET.

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