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O’CONNELL: Monterey Debrief

Four-time PWC champ Johnny O’Connell files his latest column…

Photo: Rick Dole

Photo: Rick Dole

Wow! We did it. Talk about Mt. Everest.

You know I think about some of the guys I’ve raced against throughout my career. Stuck, Millen, Kendall, Krosnoff, Vasser, Tracy, Pruett, Brabham, Wallace, Weaver, Lehto, Pirro, McNish, Kristensen, Magnussen, Gavin, Enge, the list goes on and on of top legendary talent.

Gifted guys. Honestly this season in Pirelli World Challenge we had maybe eight or nine guys that operate at that type of level. It might just have been the most challenging and rewarding season I’ve ever had in racing.

The race at Laguna and how things went down, well pretty much was a micro view of how the season went.

We struggled early. Thursday and Friday for me were miserable being down around 12th place in practice time as we struggled for grip with the Cadillac ATS-V.R.

We looked at lots of data. Discussed my technique with my engineer John Lankes, how I could improve as well as talk to teammate Andy Pilgrim and look at his data. And did a lot of sweating before qualifying on Saturday.

When qualifying came, we executed. Just one of those laps where the car is dancing on the edge at every moment. Where you count the corners down throughout the lap knowing you got all you could out of the tires and car and that you got everything right at the optimum time.

It was good enough for fifth on the grid. Now granted the Ferraris were still 0.8 seconds faster and on the front row, but the 61 car had issues and though they had been at the top of the sheet in practice, well luck was on our side and Olivier Beretta could only manage 12th.

For the race, well I knew what I needed to do. Which was just attack every lap and try to win. Yeah, we didn’t have the car for that and I knew it, but that was the mental attitude.

If the 61 car got to me, then it would be an epic battle for the fans. But honestly, I really thought he might hit some guys before that ever happened.

Now I haven’t seen the race, but he must have had an amazing first few laps. I had a great start, moved into second, and then spent around seven laps holding off the red Momo Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi.

When he went by, the 61 car was in sixth and all over my teammate Andy who fought him for several more laps. He got by, and then it took him several more laps to get by the Porsche of Ryan Dalziel.

It was actually, for me, kind of cool, in that mentally I had to get to another level and push even harder on tires that were quickly going off.

I have to say, I’m pretty proud of the laps I put in at Laguna. About as good as I’ve done there. Anyway, I could tell where the 61 car was better than us, and was calculating how things would go, and thinking man, the fans are going to love this battle.

Sadly, what I thought and hoped might happen, wasn’t what played out.

Honestly, all it would have taken the 61 car was another three maybe four laps and he would have found a way by.

Sadly, patience was not a virtue on display, and from about four car lengths back a Hail Mary pass was attempted on me, and I got clobbered after already turning in at the top of the Corkscrew. Hard enough to twist my head in my helmet.

Sitting there in disbelief, all I could think was man, I wouldn’t have even tried that on a video game. Long story short, he took off, and I could not restart my car.

Finally I got it going, rejoined the race, but the time lost was enough for him to serve a drive through penalty and still be ahead of me on track.

I think at that stage we still would have pulled it off as my car was still strong and I could gain on the guys in front of me.

The racing Gods however stepped in on my behalf, as the 61 car attempted another Hail Mary on the Acura of P.D. Cunningham and as I rounded Turn 11 with about three laps to go, I saw him parked at the exit of the corner. His race over.

Now if you want to know if I thought back to what happened at Long Beach, well maybe a little. That one was tough to accept.

Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to race guys the way I would want to be raced. Fair. No video game passes.

Respect for each other and the sport. And there was so much of that this season in Pirelli World Challenge.

So many positives taking place in the series I wouldn’t know where to start, but I do know it’s getting stronger and better each season. Better drivers, better teams, and that is exactly what everyone at Cadillac wants.

To be the best, you need to beat the best. And right now I strongly feel the best are in Pirelli World Challenge. Amazing competition. See you next year.

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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