7. GMG’s Andrew Palmer takes victory in Pirelli World Challenge debutMarch 31, 2014
St. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 30, 2014) - Running in his first-ever Pirelli World Challenge race, 19-year old Andrew Palmer claimed victory in his class, and third overall, during today’s season-opening round at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“It was a great day!” stated Palmer. “I wasn’t sure what to expect this weekend given all the great cars and drivers. I knew I would have to stay calm and stay patient, and that strategy worked really well. I kept my focus on just running a clean, consistent race. We had a great start and a fantastic battle with the two Ferrari's during the race.
They were faster on the straights, but we had the advantage on the brakes. I was able to make the most of it and pass both of them in the braking zones. It was fun, tactical racing! I can’t thank everyone at GMG enough for all of their advice and support to get me here, as well as all of the partners who’ve played a big role in my career development especially O’Gara Motorsports and The Thermal Club.”
With rain cancelling yesterday’s opening round of the championship, Palmer’s ninth-place qualifying would transfer to today’s event. Having the distinction as the top Audi qualifier, the Pomona College student knew that a clean start would be instrumental in guiding his No. 21 Audi R8 LMS through a successful race.
Getting away cleanly, Palmer made an impressive start going from ninth to second, and eventually settling into the top five once the race began to settle in. Through most of the race Palmer was also the leader of the all-new GT-A category, a classification reserved for drivers who do not make a professional living in motorsports.
As the race would unfold, the Chicago native became engaged in a close fight with the No. 16 Ferrari 458 GT3 of Nick Mancuso and the No. 61 Ferrari of Anthony Lazzaro. Both enjoyed a substantial speed advantage over Palmer on the straights, but Palmer's Audi had the advantage in the braking zones. Eventually, Palmer was able to dispatch both Ferrari's after some carefully crafted maneuvers which combined with attrition, placed the No. 21 into third position overall and first in the GT-A category. Having never driven in a car race until seven months ago, Palmer has gone from a race winner in the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo Series, to a World Champion in the same category, to now a race winner in the highly-touted Pirelli World Challenge..
For Global Motorsports Group (GMG) team owner James Sofronas, the cultivation of such a tremendous talent is a big source of pride for the organization.
“It’s been such a thrill to see Andrew elevate the way he has,” stated Sofronas. “Andrew’s raw talent has been one thing, but the maturity he’s carried both in and out of the car has been truly impressive. We make a really conscious effort to give our drivers all the tools they need to succeed and it’s been immensely satisfying to see Andrew thrive. He earned this one, but he can’t celebrate too much as he has classes tomorrow!”
As for Sofronas, a uniquely quiet race was in store for the driver/team owner. Driving the No. 14 Spyder / The Thermal Club Audi R8 LMS ultra, the defending race winner struggled all weekend to match the pace of the other marques. Qualifying 12th, Sofronas drove a measured race to quietly take seventh place.
“Honestly, I was just running a conservative race and picking my battles,” stated Sofronas. “There are so many new cars and marques in the series this year, it’s going to take some time for the balance-of-performance to completely shake out. We were all driving as hard as we could, and the car was very good on the brakes, so I was able to make three passes and it definitely showed the potential of the car. This series has so much potential, it was great to race with so many different makes of car!”
For Bret Curtis, driving the No. 32 Spectra Resources / United Steel Supply / Valspar machine, the experienced driver was as high as third before mid-race contact could mute his performance. Despite a damaged car, the Texan would net sixth in class and 14th overall. Starting in 16th, Bret can still take pride in a strong effort en route to seeing the checkered flag in the opening round.
“It was a fun race,” stated Curtis. “The series has gotten so big that you’re always fighting traffic and always racing someone, and it made for a non-stop event. The car was well prepared and it allowed me to fight for the whole run, unfortunately I was hit in turn one and that bent my suspension, making the rest of the race difficult to handle. I’m glad we could come away with a solid finish. I’m looking forward to even better results at Long Beach.”
Finally, slight misfortune would befall the No. 95 Swisher Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra of Bill Ziegler, but the local racer would still manage to take the checkered flag eighth in class and 17th overall. Starting in 23rd, an early incident would send Bill to the pits for a tire repair placing him a lap down, but he would manage a clean race afterwards to see the checkered flag.
“It’s my home race so it would have been nice to have avoided incident, but otherwise it was a good day,” stated Ziegler. “The race wasn’t perfect, but the guys did a good job of giving me a competitive car and they were very quick in the pits to get me back out, so overall it could have been a lot worse. I’m enjoying the series and look forward to Long Beach.”
With the 2014 season now well under way, the series will resume competition in just three weeks heading to the other coast at the series-signature Long Beach Grand Prix. Heralded as one of the premier events to win on the calendar, GMG will enter the race as the defending winners.
Practice begins on Friday, April 11, with the race taking place on the afternoon of Sunday, April 13th. GMG will continue to provide updates throughout the event.