April 15, 2013
By: John Coyle
Here’s a tip: If the Pirelli World Challenge emails and asks if you want to go for a media ride around the Long Beach Grand Prix Circuit, the correct answer isn’t yes-it’s “hell yes.”
My ride was GMG Racing’s R8 LMS, and the driver was GMG President James Sofronas, fresh off a win at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. GMG is based in Orange County, and Sofronas considers Long Beach his home turf, so I was confident the lap would prove a spectacular experience, and I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment I heard the angry notes of the V10 fire up in the pits, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and that feeling didn’t dissipate until sometime the next afternoon. As you’d expect, the cockpit was tight, and while it was mostly buttoned up, passenger comfort wasn’t exactly a priority. My feet rested on the battery box, and I had to be careful not to bump the any of the fire suppression system gear while I was getting in. The roll cage provided a great place to hold on, but between the five-point harness-which got acquainted with my junk on a near-biblical level-and the giant bolsters, it wasn’t like I was going anywhere. Some of my non-car friends asked if I was scared, and I can assure you I wasn’t, not even slightly. Check out the pic below-that’s Sofronas standing on the podium after besting legendary drivers Johnny O’Connell and Randy Pobst. I was in good hands.
Traffic and the complete lack of run off makes road courses like Long Beach notoriously difficult for drivers. Last year, an early corner snafu had the Corvette Racing C6.R running without a hood for the lion’s share of laps. But Sofronas predictably made navigating the twisty sections look as hard as giving away free beer at a punk show. I’m guessing we hit 120 or 130mph on the straight, but obviously the really exciting bits were the corners. The grip from the P Zero Racing Slicks was enormous, and the Audi stayed flat as a pancake, but wow, the Gs incurred would make piloting this weapons-grade monster for any length of time incredibly taxing. I’ve been following sports car racing for years, so I’ve watched loads of in-car footage, but nothing can prepare you for seeing those giant white walls rushing up at triple-digit speeds, and while we had the track all to ourselves, it’ll be much more complex for the racers when it’s packed door to door and everyone’s angling for the same line.
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