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O’CONNELL: Utah Debrief

Johnny O’Connell files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: PWC

Preparation. It’s something that Cadillac Racing has always placed an emphasis on.

For Utah, we had tested a month earlier so we entered the event confident we would do well and that the handling on our Cadillac ATS-V.R Coupe would be maximized. We were prepared.

When the Balance of Performance was announced, we learned we would find ourselves in a more challenging situation than at Mid-Ohio. As a team we knew we would need to rely upon that preparation in order to do well.

For Utah we decided to switch things up and let Ricky qualify. In order to get him prepared, every set of stickers used in practice went to him. For pretty much each practice session we were second or third, not sure we expected to stay up there.

In qualifying, Ricky did a great lap, good enough for fifth on the grid as those that had been sandbagging finally showed what they had.

Now something I need to point out about BoP, if you have two cars doing the same lap time over one lap, but one car is 200 pounds lighter, which would you want to be in? The lighter one naturally, as over race distance the tire wear will be less and as you get towards the end of the race the car will be stronger.

Seeing as our Cadillac is about the heaviest car out there, we always go into an event knowing tire management will be critical.

For Race 1, Ricky had a good start, but it was soon apparent that the Ferrari, Acura and Porsche had a little bit more than we did. As the pit window opened, Ricky was able to make a ton of time up on the No. 58 Porsche of Patrick Long entering pit lane so we pretty much pitted together.

As I got in and exited Jörg Bergmeister was just on my left so I had to breath the throttle to slot in behind him rather than wreck us both.

The first lap, well was challenging as it seemed the engine was flat. Through turns one, two and three it was being held back. I then realized that in the driver change the traction control settings must have been moved. I found the right position as I exited Turn 5. Lot of time lost to the Porsche, but he was still close.

Now Jörg is a top guy and he and I should normally have a good race, but he slowly was inching away from me. Particularly in the fast stuff he was very good.

Anyway, we wound up fourth. Our fast lap was good enough for a fourth place start for Sunday’s race. Congrats to Acura on their win, who this weekend was flying.

For Race 2, well I was excited to start the race as I would have my first set of stickers.

We had a good run going into one, and both the Ferrari and Acura ran long which opened up a huge gap for me to shoot through. But, alas the Ferrari gathered things up, cut back on the Acura who then forced me to check up.

This allowed the Mercedes of Jeroen Bleekemolen to get around me, so I found myself in fifth. The Mercedes getting around me though was of little concern as he is in the Pro/Am class. I actually liked it.

When the driver changes would happen we would get that position back, and with him in front of me I knew there would be a good chance he would create opportunities for me to move past the Acura.

As the stint went on, for the first part I had Jörg all over me. The tables were turned from the day before, and I was slowly able to pull away from him. It was a good stint for me, and as the pit window opened I was thinking we were in position to maybe get second or third in the race.

Bad luck struck though as I had the Nissan pull out in front of me as they pitted early. I could have forced things more aggressively, but one of the Bentleys had stopped on circuit and we thought we might get a full course caution.

Then to make things even more frustrating for us, the next lap by the pits an Audi exited and just totally shut down the momentum of the Nissan and I.  So as I pitted, all that ground made up on the Porsche was lost and we pitted together.

We had a good driver change, Ricky left the pits in fourth position, at which point a full course caution was finally thrown for the Bentley stopped on track.

On the restart, both my teammate Michael Cooper and Alvaro Parente who were behind Ricky got a great jump and were able to push Ricky back to sixth. Then as often happens when you have a caution, a few guys tangled up and we had yet another caution. Bummer for the guys driving the second stint as they did more laps behind the Pace Car then with the track green. At least it seemed that way.

Anyway, just like in NASCAR you knew things were going to get wild for the last several laps when it back to green. You had the Ferrari leading, followed by a hungry Ryan Eversley in the Acura, the Porsche of Pat Long, Michael, Parente then Ricky. If you’re wondering if I was jealous to not be out there with them the answer is YES!

The track goes green and Eversley is digging hard to get around the Ferrari. Cool stuff. Going into Turn 6 he takes a tight line and the Porsche tries to go around him on the outside. Pretty aggressive move. Eversley, going to throttle runs his line out and the Porsche ran wide into the dirt allowing Michael to sneak past going into Turn 7. Some pretty sweet stuff.

Then exiting Turn 11, the Porsche, still struggling for grip, lost a spot to the McLaren of Parente. Ricky you could see wanted a go at him as well entering 12, but the Porsche defended hard to the inside. Now everyone is nose to tail and going into 14, the last corner, Ricky stuck a great move to the inside on the Porsche for fifth position, which is where things wound up.

As we packed up to leave, everyone was pretty pleased. BoP-wise we didn’t expect to win, but preparation and execution got the team a third and fourth place finish. Valuable championship points.

For Cooper and Jordan Taylor it was great as they extend their lead in the SprintX Championship.

As I contemplate that, I really think it reflects on the team’s strength to find ourselves in that position. I mean look at our past, we are a team that wins a lot of races and poles. To this point in the season, we have no poles, have been on the front row only twice, and the win by the No. 8 Cadillac ATS-V.R Coupe was achieved through strategy and execution.

I take pride in the fact that year after year, the guys on the team are the same guys. We have cohesiveness.

Everyone everyday executes. It’s what we do. Circuit of The Americas is up next. I had a good win there last year and both Michael and I were fast.

Needless to say, I hope it’s a place we finally get a pole, and finally get a win based on speed. Stay hungry and see you in Austin.

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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