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O’CONNELL: Mid-Ohio Debrief

Johnny O’Connell files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Richard Prince/Cadillac

If there was one word to describe the Pirelli World Challenge weekend at Mid-Ohio, I think I would choose the word intensity.

I mean from the moment we arrived Cadillac Racing was focused. We had tested there a month previous, rolled off the trailer with good cars, and though not as pleased as we would have liked with how the BoP panned out, knew that as a team we would execute to the level we always do.

After the first official practice, Michael (Cooper) and I were both looking pretty decent time wise. The thing is you never have any idea who’s holding back, which is why sometimes you see guys jump up from out of nowhere in qualifying.

Fans that are paying attention will see that never happens with us at Cadillac as we are 110 percent every session. Anyway, I know we both were eager to get that sticker set of tires and try to get killer qualifying laps.

It’s kind of a funny thing, but back when I raced open wheel cars, I never really put much emphasis on qualifying setups.

I think a lot of that has to do in that while coming up the ranks I got to get a wee-bit of coaching from Al Unser Jr. He shared with me that he never worried too much about qualifying or qualifying set-ups as the race was really what mattered. And to a large degree that makes sense.

Thing is, these days qualifying is everything. And for me it is one of the most enjoyable parts of the weekend. Low fuel, sticker tires and take chances. Unreal cool. Unreal intensity.

Now going into qualifying we knew we had a 20-minute session.

As Michael is in a better position points-wise to win a championship than I am at this point, the smart thing for them to do was go out early to ensure they got a good lap in. You do that just in case someone falls off and there is a red flag. Thing is it means you need to carry more fuel and also might not get the optimum lap when the tires are at their best.

For us on the No. 3 car, not being as solid in the points, it allowed us to gamble a little and go lighter on fuel and try and get a lap in during the last 10 minutes of the session.

Getting back to that intensity thing, well it’s pretty intense sitting in the car and just waiting for the team to send you out knowing that if someone falls off you’re going to be pretty screwed for the race the next day if you don’t get a lap in.

Luckily, that wasn’t the case and we went out to what for us was a clear track. Once the tires were in, we laid down a lap that was good enough for my engineer John Lankes to call over the radio P1 and then backed it up with a second lap that was within a few hundredths of a second.

So when my fuel pressure light came on I backed off and headed to the pits feeling we were safe and finally had a pole for Cadillac.

Then, unbeknownst to me, as I was pulling into pit lane Michael now being light on fuel had put in a killer lap moving to P1 by a tenth-of-a-second and by the time I had come to a stop Alvaro Parente in his McLaren had gone back out and laid down a lap even a tenth quicker to claim pole.

Now it was a bummer that we didn’t get it, but man I am not going to lie its moments like that in the sport that are wicked cool and fun.

For Race 1, Parente got a bit of an early jump which would come back to bite him for the start of race two, but the start was clean and I slotted in behind Michael.

The three of us were able to open up a bit of a gap to the guys behind us, but you could see early on that the McLaren was really hooked up as Alvaro was slowly walking away. And at the same time he was walking away, Brian Sellers, his McLaren teammate, was slowly inching his way up towards Michael and me.

As the race went on, I could see we were a tic quicker than Michael. But like I mentioned previous, we are a team. In order to have passed him, I would have had to stick a pretty aggressive move on him, and with how things are in the championship that would not have been wise.

It was apparent the McLaren was in a different league at Mid-Ohio. So we held station. Michael did a great job with an edgy car and we finished with a Cadillac ATS-V.R second and third. Good points.

For Race 2 we lined up sixth and seventh. On the pace lap, Sellers who was starting second spun on the exit of Turn 4. When I saw that I honestly got on the radio and called it in saying if they did that on purpose it was a brilliant strategy move for the championship.

It allowed Parente, who was starting fourth, a clear line for the start to get around Patrick Long (Porsche) or closer to Long who was on the pole.

I was able to get a good start. I slotted into fourth behind the Ferrari of Kyle Marcelli and at the exit of Turn 12 he bobbled allowing me to take a run at him on entry into Turn 1.

As I moved inside he came down making me back out to avoid contact. The result of which was we both lost a lot of momentum going into Turn 2. Both of us braking to the inside, Alec Udell in the Porsche took a wide entry into 2, and as he turned down got into my left front which was enough to unbalance us and spin me to the inside.

So just like Road America I found myself waiting for the field to go by. And just like Road America, we put our head down and started digging.

It’s a shame because man I had a good car and all the fans that were watching I know could see it. Back to that word INTENSITY.

Working your way through the field at Road America is one thing, doing it at Mid-Ohio is another. The track is wicked hard to pass safely on, but we managed to work our way back up to 11th.

Next up for us is Utah Motorsports Campus and back to the SprintX format. Again Ricky and Jordan Taylor will be joining us.

It’s also a difficult circuit to pass on, but like the other SprintX races I know our teamwork, strategy and execution will be an advantage for us. As always thanks for supporting us at Cadillac Racing 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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