Connect with us


O’CONNELL: Sonoma Debrief

Cadillac’s Johnny O’Connell checks into Sportscar365 after Sonoma…

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Amazingly I am still leading the Pirelli World Challenge GT drivers’ point standing after our double race weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

Sears Point, I mean Sonoma Raceway, is the track where I cut my teeth as a racer. I spent two years there working at the Bondurant School and turning hundreds of laps around the track. To say I am comfortable there is an understatement.

Coming into the weekend I had an 82 point lead and felt that we would leave in second place.

Race 1 on Saturday had me starting tenth, with my teammate Andy Pilgrim starting 13th. This in cars that were winning races earlier in the year.

It is difficult to take when you have a race car, a good race car, that is 1.3-seconds back and any movement forward is good.

I drove the Cadillac CTS.V.R as hard I could. I had some good battles on the track and ended up fifth. My chief rival for the championship, Mike Skeen, finished first in his Audi, 27-seconds ahead.

The two spins in the carrousel by Anthony Lazzaro in his Ferrari and Guy Smith in the Bentley were a gift. Take those two, and the eventual spin by Rob Thorne in his McLaren and we are eighth.

The second race on Sunday I started tenth based upon my fastest race lap from Saturday. I was able to get a clean lane on the outside into Turn 1 and I moved from the tenth place grid position to fourth.

More importantly, I was able to get by Skeen who slotted in behind me in fifth. From that point forward we were just about side-by-side into every corner, sometimes swapping positions.

A full course caution flew on lap eight, allowing me to cool the tires on my Cadillac CTS.V.R. When the race went green on lap 14 Skeen tried several moves – a couple which involved contact. We were nose to tail around Sonoma for 20 laps. On lap 20 Mike slowed with a flat-tire. Another gift.

As a result of my hard fought eighth place finish I still lead the championship by 42 points heading into the two final rounds at Miller Motorsport Park in two weeks.

I was asked what was my first introduction to those three racing buzz words – Balance of Performance (BoP). When I was racing for Corvette, there was a rule book. You built your car to the rule book and the team/manufacturer that built the best car won.

At the conclusion of Le Mans 2000 the team asked the ACO for some adjustments and their response was “build a faster car.”

My first introduction to how it’s been done in World Challenge was back in March of 2011 when I first started driving for Cadillac.

We built the CTS.V.R to the rulebook and we were within seven days of the first race at St. Petersburg and we received an engine restrictor. We never even turned a race lap.

Now BoP is an every race weekend conversation. If you’re not winning you are negotiating weight or restrictor size.

Is it good for the sport, I don’t know. I still like the notion that those who do their homework, build the best car, have the best team and oh yeah hire a driver who can wheel-it deserve the opportunity to win.

Call me old fashioned.

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.


More in Commentary