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O’CONNELL: Detroit Debrief

Johnny O’Connell checks into Sportscar365 following a sweep in Detroit…

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

I would be lying if I didn’t say that Cadillac Racing circles the Detroit round of the Pirelli World Challenge Series on their calendar every year.

Everyone comes out from the GM Headquarters, which by the way you can see when you are behind the wheel on the track as well as walking around the paddock area just down the river.

Pressure? Hell yes, when Mark Reuss, executive vice president global product development, sticks his hand in the window and wishes you good luck of course there is, but that is why we put the helmet on every weekend, those pressure situations I always seem to like.

I had a great weekend winning both World Challenge GT races. One of the crew joked they should change the name to O’Connell Island. I don’t know about that, maybe there is an Irishman buried out there somewhere who smiles on me. The Cadillac Racing guys give us great cars.

The Detroit circuit is one of the best street layouts anywhere. Bud Denker and the Penske management team keep making improvements and it just keeps getting better. They are going to put another $2 million in repaving starting this week for next year.

Personally I hope they leave some of the bumps in as it adds another challenge, but I’m not sure Roger Penske agreed with me when I brought this up to him.

In the first race I was on pole and my teammate Andy Pilgrim was right next to me. Nice to have an all Cadillac CTS.V front row on home turf. We have been working hard on our starts and it is really paying off. I was able to get away clean.

One thing I always focus on is pushing very hard at the start of the race. Our Cadillac CTS.V.Rs are the heaviest cars in the field and it’s at that time you are most likely to set a fast lap time before our tires go off. The rest of the FIA GT3 spec cars are lighter and it takes a few more laps for them to get the heat in the Pirelli rubber.

Although it wasn’t easy I was able to log my fourth win in five races on the island Detroit circuit.

For the second race it was an all Cadillac front row again. Like the first race I got a good jump at the start. But race two was far more challenging than race one in that I had both a vibration and what felt like a damper going bad.

I really was concerned and wanting to back off a little, but when you have Andy Pilgrim behind you with probably a better car you can’t rest. I pushed as hard as I could and luckily for me there was a caution with about eight minutes remaining.

That was great for me, not so great for Andy and the fans. It was my fifth win in six races in World Challenge on Belle Isle. I wish we raced there every weekend.

Next up is Road America a circuit that everyone loves, but one I fear will really suit the GT3 cars perfectly. Like we saw at Barber, aero wise in the fast stuff they have an advantage, and Elkhart Lake is fast. Really fast.

Andy and I will again have to be surgically precise in our driving, take big chances, and hopefully luck will be on our side.

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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