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O’CONNELL: St. Pete Debrief

Johnny O’Connell files his Sportscar365 column after St. Pete…

Photo: Richard Prince/Cadillac

Photo: Richard Prince/Cadillac

Is it just me, or did this off season seem to go on and on? I mean I love Flowery Branch, Ga., but I love being at the track more and doing what we do as a team.

Since Laguna, the guys at Cadillac Racing completely disassembled and rebuilt the cars. It was great seeing the guys and the cars at a test we did for two days in February at Sebring.

The cars of course looking great in their new colors, I think Mike Cooper’s car in Vector Blue looked pretty darn good at St. Pete. Naturally I’ve grown attached to the Velocity Red of my No. 3 Cadillac ATS-V.R Coupe.

Anyway, while the guys were working on the car, I was doing the same for myself. Training harder than I ever have, hiring a coach to help, and cutting about ten pounds.

I realize that most people think racing is a young man’s game. To me it’s not. It’s a hungry man’s game and trust me I’m even hungrier than I have ever been.

I would have liked to have qualified better for race one last weekend at St. Pete, we only wound up seventh, and I just never got the clear lap I needed.

Pretty crazy that three-tenths back put me seventh, but man there are some strong teams and drivers this year in the Pirelli World Challenge GT Championship. Best-in the entire time I’ve been racing in PWC.

For Race 1, there was the usual chaos at Turn 1, and then things pretty much fell into a good pace and battle. The Ferrari of Daniel Mancinelli was holding things up a lot which is the reason Alvaro was able to get such a huge lead – and the pack of J.D. Davidson, Patrick Long, and Pierre Kaffer in front of me made for a pretty spirited battle.

One thing that was pretty cool in the race was a long fight with Long. Both of us digging deep and pushing hard, but the racing was respectful and professional, so that’s good.

The last lap was pretty wild with passes being made everywhere, and we wound up fourth.

Had the Mancinelli car not held everyone up I know we would have gone quicker as we had a good balance in the car, but we just didn’t have enough to safely complete passes until opportunities opened up on the last lap.

Having not been able to get a clean lap in the race, we would start sixth for the second race.

Now Race 2, was also a lot of fun. At the start Alvaro Parente ran long into one in his McLaren, and I was able to move into second behind Patrick. St. Pete, has a final corner that is a pretty wide hairpin, and it really suits the rear and mid-engine cars.

There were some places I could close on him, but the dude was hooked up so I mostly just drove as hard and smooth as I could to keep my tires from going off.

The gap between us generally holding at about three-seconds. Behind me, I was getting a lot of pressure from new comer Alex Riberas in the red Remo Ferrari.

That guy is super quick to say the least and I was fortunate that he along with dealing with me, had Parente trying to make moves on him. I think it was probably one of the best races the series has put on, and I hope the fans enjoyed the action.

So Parente won race one, Long race two. They and their teams both did a great job. The same can be said for the series with BoP as for the most part things were really close.

As we move through the season, there will be tracks that suit each manufacturer.

I know that everyone at Cadillac embraces the opportunity to race against what we sell against.

I know there’s a win coming soon. I feel it. Things are pretty cool right now in PWC. As always thanks to all the fans that support the series, and especially those that support Cadillac Racing.

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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