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O’CONNELL: Long Beach Debrief

Johnny O’Connell tells Sportscar365 about his win in Long Beach…

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

It was a great weekend for Team Cadillac at Long Beach. We have a little unfair advantage when it comes to Long Beach.

Unlike our competitors who are still getting to know their FIA GT3 spec cars, our Cadillac CTS.V.Rs are well versed on the streets of Long Beach.

We have the luxury, in our third year of running these cars, to unload them pretty close to the handling sweet spot. I was fastest in practice and managed to take the pole in qualifying. Andy made a few adjustments after practice and started next to me on the front row. A good qualifying day for Team Cadillac.

We missed the Lamborghini Gallardos and Tomas Enge, as well as the Turner BMW, but when you are limited to the numbers you can have on the track the Pirelli World Challenge Series has to be loyal to competitors who have committed to running the season. We hope to see them back at Barber in two weeks.

Last year I was winning the race at Long Beach and was circulating under yellow when I noticed my water pressure had dropped. Apparently when Alex Figge had a brake problem into Turn 1 a piece of his rotor shot through my radiator. I came up five turns short of winning the race.

Nothing worse after working hard for 45-minutes and then pulling over as 15 competitors roll past you under yellow toward the finish line.

The standing starts in Pirelli World Challenge are as exciting for the drivers as they are for the fans.

We pull the car into position and put the CTS.V.R in launch mode and wait for the lights to go out. The starts on street courses, like what happened at St. Petersburg, can be tricky.

Enge said that his view of the lights were blocked by the a-pillar of his car and he couldn’t see them. From where I started I couldn’t set them either and unfortunately was relying on him to get a clean get away and I would go. Well it didn’t happen that way and I paid the price in turn one getting hit three times and wrecking my day – literally.

I came into the Long Beach weekend needing a strong run. The car was under me from the first practice, through qualifying and into the race. So much so, we were fastest in practice, I was able to get the pole and win the race.

I got a pretty good start when the lights went out. My teammate Andy Pilgrim, I think, actually had a little better start next to me in the second starting spot. However, I was on the inside and there was no way I wasn’t going into Turn One deep.

Our Cadillac CTS.V.R is heavier than the FIA GT3 cars. At these street circuits it helps us, the tires come up to temperature a little faster. We had a caution flag on lap one.

I was able to get a really good restart with the Cadillac power to stay out front. I got some really good breaks with traffic and was never really held up. Anthony Lazzaro was chewing on Andy, so I had to keep pushing and managing the GTS traffic to the finish.

Getting so close last year I was super motivated to get the win. Long Beach is literally our version of Monaco. A race you really want to win and have on your resume. It draws It was nice to get the victory for the team.

Long Beach is one of those races like Detroit, Mid-Ohio and Road America that you want to win. It is a big event on a track that draws massive crowds and it was the events 40th anniversary.

Next up for Cadillac Racing is Barber Motorsports Park in two weeks. I fear this is a circuit that will really allow the aerodynamics of the new GT3 cars to shine. The third, fourth and fifth gear stuff should really be good for them, and we at Cadillac will have to be perfect from the get go. Luckily… we usually are.

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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