Following one of the more chaotic days for the entire Global Motorsports Group (GMG) team, veteran Alex Welch drove an incredible race to take third place honors in the GT-A category during Saturday’s round of the Pirelli World Challenge championship. With this weekend’s Nissan Championship Finale at Miller Motorsports Park serving as the final weekend of the season, the entire field has only one more race in 2014, starting at 4:15 ET today.“It was great to score a podium today. What a race!” stated Welch. “The team has been working so hard this week with all of the events going on, I’m glad we could all celebrate a podium together. The car was solid all day and we were comfortably in fourth, but I knew that if I just stayed patient we could move up. Third is a great result and I’m really happy for everyone here.”When the green flag fell, the race was off to a rough start for the series as a whole. With both GT and GTS championship contenders having difficulties during their respective race starts, the race was immediately under yellow before the first lap was complete, bringing the field to slow for the opening 15 minutes. Holding his own in the No. 76 Prestige Imports / Morgan Adams Foundation Audi R8 LMS ultra, Welch ran a strong opening series of laps, sitting fourth in class as the race wore on. As the pace continued, a surprise lack of cautions put a premium on tire and management and reliability, which Alex did remarkably. Running in a multi-make fight with marques that included Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Lamborghini, the experience of the veteran shined as the race moved beyond the halfway point, with Alex eventually climbing to third. It was his first podium in Pirelli World Challenge competition, and the seventh for GMG in 2014. While the week has been relatively smooth for Welch and the No. 76 crew, a difficult day for Andrew Palmer and James Sofronas began with the morning’s official practice. During practice, the No. 21 Spyder / The Thermal Club Audi R8 LMS ultra of Palmer was forced to the pits with a suspected engine issue. Once in, the engine completely let go, pulling the 20-year-old out for the rest of the session and leaving the team unsure of how to approach the remainder of the day’s qualifying and racing. With not enough time to make the engine swap and possibly race, team owner and driver James Sofronas made the decision to remove himself from the No. 14 Spyder / Mobil 1 / The Thermal Club machine, and instead place Palmer in the car for qualifying. Knowing how important this season’s championship standings were for both Palmer and Audi as a whole, it was a crucial decision for the team owner who put his team and drivers before himself.In a car he’d never driven, Palmer would place tenth in qualifying, doing his best to adjust to an entirely different machine and setup. Sofronas would miss qualifying as the team endeavored to get the car prepared for the race.As the race neared, it was clear that the hard-working crew for Sofronas and the No. 14 would likely not make the start, but they still understood the importance of getting on track at some point, and the team did a Herculean job of getting the Audi re-fired.When the green flag fell, Palmer drove an impressive opening lap, advancing multiple positions on his start and going even further by the time the lap one caution came out, advancing to fifth.
With the field re-bunched for the second restart, the Pomona College student knew he would have a hard time keeping the field behind him. Between the nuances of driving a different car and performance differences for some of the marques down the circuit’s long straight, the series rookie did a remarkable job of keeping the field behind him for as long as he could.With the power of the two Bentley machines making work of him early, Palmer’s Audi was in a hard fought race with the No. 61 Ferrari of Anthony Lazzaro for much of the event. With each car having its respective advantages over the course of the circuit, the power of the Ferrari simply proved too much as the race continued, with Lazzaro making the pass with 20 minutes remaining.For the remainder of the race, a spirited battle between the No. 20 Lamborghini of Andy Lee would ensue, with Andrew doing an incredible job of keeping him behind seeing him cross the finish line in seventh, the top finishing Audi.“Seventh was the best we could have done,” stated Palmer. “With all of the changes today there were a lot of variables thrown at everyone, but the team did a great job of staying on top of it all. I’m especially thankful to James for handing his car over, it meant a lot and hopefully I was able to reward him and the team. It’s tough to jump in and drive someone else’s car and instantly get on the pace, but I’m pretty happy with it overall. The start was great, but with all the green flag laps it was tough keeping everyone behind. We learned a lot and we’ll head to tomorrow’s race ready to move up.”While James Sofronas would not make the start, the crew of the No. 14 would eventually get the car running and he would be able to get several laps in. With an emphasis on getting the car dialed in for Sunday as well as setting a qualifying time, the Villa Park, California resident is ready for Race Two.“It’s tough to be in these situations, but as the team owner it was obvious what I had to do,” stated Sofronas. “I’m glad that Andrew was able to make the most of the situation, and it ended up being a great call as Audi is still in the thick of the battle for the Manufacturer's Championship title because of that. I’m especially happy to see Alex on the podium, he earned it. Alex has been such a big part of our program for so many years, I’m thrilled to see him up there. As always, what a job by this crew to even get me out there, as it will make a big difference that we were able to set a lap time and get prepared for tomorrow.”With less than a day to get ready for round two, the final race of the Pirelli World Challenge Championship will resume today at 4:15 PM ET. While GMG does not have any stake in the championship, there are a number of crucial storylines headed in to Sunday’s race, not least of which is Audi’s pursuit of the Manufacturer's crown. Be sure to follow live coverage at world-challengetv.com.