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O’CONNELL: CTMP Debrief

Johnny O’Connell files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Halston Pitman/Cadillac

Photo: Halston Pitman/Cadillac

We get to race on some really good tracks in Pirelli World Challenge, and for myself Canadian Tire Motorsport Park stands among my favorites. The flow of the circuit, fast corners and high risk/reward factor – and of course the fans make it an awesome experience.

For some reason I’ve always had good luck there, and I was hopeful that we’d find ourselves in a position to finally get a win this year.

With this weekend being the SprintX format, I was bummed on Friday when in our only practice session there was a red flag.

We’ve been having lots of those in SprintX. I never got a chance to feel the car before qualifying. So getting us to fourth on the grid was pretty good. I do feel that with a little more tuning on the car I could have improved things to possibly get to the front row.

The No. 8 Cadillac with Michael Cooper had super bad luck. They had an issue that prevented Michael from getting a single timed lap. Seeing he and Jordan Taylor bummed to be starting last reminded everyone of what happened to them at Virginia International Raceway, knowing that in SprintX anything can happen. And at CTMP I was proven correct.

Anyway, back to qualifying, the Remo Ferrari had laid down an amazing lap, but unfortunately in trying to get more their driver fell off and scattered the car across the Canadian country side.

I really felt bad for them as they are a really great team and great group of guys. So with Alex Riberas losing his pole position, Patrick Long in the Porsche would start on pole with the Mercedes of Daniel Morad next to him. The Bentley of Adderly Fong next to me.

The start was good, and from the beginning I could see we weren’t quite good enough to run with the Porsche or Mercedes, but we were good enough to hold a gap of about two seconds to the Mercedes and about five seconds to the Porsche.

Once the pit opened, I pushed hard with the mindset of staying out as long as possible or until traffic dictated that I come in. Which is what we did with about four minutes left in the pit window. Our stop was good, and Ricky Taylor found himself in second behind the Porsche as the Mercedes had a longer pit stop. Or so he thought.

Now remember how I told Michael and Jordan that anything can happen in SprintX? That’s because with the pit stop format team strategy comes into play. Ideally what we wanted to do was stay out as long as possible in case a yellow came out.

You could then pit under yellow and gain track position. Since I had come up on traffic that was going to cost me time we pitted the No. 3 Cadillac to put Ricky in the car. They had Michael in the No. 8 Cadillac wait, then a caution came out before the pit window closed so they called him to the pits.

They were able to get back out as the race leader as the field was slowed. They received additional good fortune when the Cadillac Pace Car picked up the No. 58 Porsche as the leader rather than Jordan who was now in the No. 8 Cadillac.

This gave them an almost full lap lead over the field as the race went green again.

For his stint, Ricky did a great job thinking he was in second, but we were actually third. Jordan did a great job hitting his marks and I know Michael had a great stint as well moving from 22nd to like tenth before his stop when he pitted in the lead.

Most important, when the flag fell it was Cadillac first and third. A great team effort.

For race 2, based on our fast times from race one, we would have started the No. 3 Cadillac ATS-V.R Coupe fourth and the No. 8 Cadillac fifth.

Sadly, there was torrential rain, and the series chose to postpone the race until later in the season.

It was the right call with us having the next race at Lime Rock in just four days. Still, I was hoping we could have gotten the race in as I had a good feeling about how we would run in the wet.

So now it’s off to Lime Rock this weekend another high risk/high reward track. I ran well there last year, and am hopeful to have a strong Cadillac again.

Once that race is complete its back to World Challenge Racing the way it started, one driver digging deep for a 50-minute race and at Road America. A place everyone loves to race. Thanks as always for supporting us and stay hungry.

Johnny O'Connell (@JohnnyOConnell1) is a three-time American Le Mans Series champion and four-time class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving for Team Cadillac in the Pirelli World Challenge.

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