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O’CONNELL: St. Petersburg Debrief

Johnny O’Connell checks into Sportscar365 after St. Petersburg…

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Cadillac Racing went into the Pirelli World Challenge St. Petersburg race with the new ATS-V.R ready to be christened on a temporary street course. One of the many strengths of Cadillac Racing is the vast amount of data that they have from racing three generations of V-Series cars.

I have done well at St. Pete in the past. I won there in 2013 and have five podium finishes to go along with a pretty good understanding of what it takes to be fast around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course.

In qualifying, the series officials decided to send us out in the rain. In the past when it rained, especially on a street course, we would line up by points. Instead, we went for it in a pretty good spring rain storm.

I was able to put in a good lap time of 1:25.798 that had me seventh on the grid. The four-wheel drive Acura of Ryan Eversley was, of course, on the pole. I might have been able to get a couple of tenths more, but I didn’t want to risk the car and the rest of the weekend was supposed to be dry so I was satisfied with the effort.

We lined up Saturday morning for our standing start. I didn’t get my typical strong launch and didn’t have a clear run to Turn 1. We went a half lap before a full course caution slowed the action.

The caution lasted just about half of the 50-minute race time. When we finally went green again I was able to make my way up to fourth and that is where I crossed the line under a final yellow flag.

The Pirelli World Challenge series this year has about a dozen top drivers. On a street course with top drivers in great equipment, it is very tough to get around someone. You either have to force a mistake or chance your equipment to improve your position.

Fourth was all I had for the first race. Hats off to Eversley for getting the first win for the new Acura.

I lined up 10th on the grid, in the fifth row for Sunday’s race. That tells you how competitive the series is when you finish the previous day’s race in fourth and run the 10th fastest race lap.

My teammate Andy Pilgrim started from the pole, so we had one Cadillac ATS-V.R with a clear view of Turn One.

When the lights went out I was able to get a little better jump than on Saturday and came around to start Lap 2 in sixth place.

We had another crash that actually stopped the race as the track was blocked. It was an expensive weekend for some of my fellow World Challenge competitors.

When the race restarted it was really an exotic car parade around St. Pete. Again, the competition is so fast that if no one makes a mistake the driving and cars are is so good you just can’t get bye them.

We got lucky when James Davison used his Nissan against Mike Skeen’s Audi in front of me and Andy and I were able to slip by both of them into fifth and sixth.

Not a bad weekend for Cadillac Racing with two top-ten finishes, and we’re onto Long Beach April 17-19 for round five.

We made some positive series news on Friday. I was invited to take part in a very cool media event. We made the announcement that the Pirelli World Challenge Championship series will be joined by the European-based Blancpain GT Series for the 2016 season opener at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Both series run on Pirelli tires and both series run FIA GT3 cars.

For 2015, the top three GT drivers’ in the World Challenge GT Championship will be invited to participate in the Blancpain GT Series finale at Baku.

Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan. Towards the end of 2016, our GT class will be competing at one SRO Blancpain Sprint race either at Misano or Vallelunga in Italy.

As a competitor, I like where our series is going.

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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