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Johnny O’Connell files his VIR debrief for Sportscar365…

Photo: Richard Prince/Cadillac

Photo: Richard Prince/Cadillac

So I’m guessing there are a lot of confused fans out there wondering what the heck went on in the first Pirelli World Challenge SprintX race this last weekend at Virginia International Raceway. Let me share with you all that transpired.

During both the drivers meeting and crew chief meeting, we were told that the pit lane delta would be 60 seconds. What that means is that as you entered pit lane by passing the large yellow cones at 35 mph, pit lane speed, you could not not exit pit lane marked by another set of yellow cones, in less than 60 seconds. If you did, that would be a violation punishable by a drive-thru penalty.

Now there are a lot of really smart and competitive people in the paddock with their laptops working overtime to get that pit stop, driver change and exit time precise.

For myself, I had a great start and first stint in race one in the No. 3 Cadillac ATS-V.R Coupe. Moving from 11th to sixth on the first lap we had the car handling great. I was able to take advantage of every opportunity with others falling off the race track before the first stop.

When I pitted to hand the car off to Ricky Taylor, we were in the top three. There is video of our position during the pit stop showing us in second.

Our driver change went perfect, Ricky pulled out just like we planned. Needless to say we were all shocked to see that our exit time was 59.6 seconds, yes four-tenths too quick, and hey math doesn’t lie.

Our car and six other teams were forced to do a drive-thru that took us out of contention for the win.

Here is the rub. My engineer John Lankes is one smart cat and I could see he just couldn’t see how that mistake happened. I mean we focused hard on this aspect of the race.

Our team manager Steve Cole, knowing how precise Lankes’ is, was also confounded. But hey six other teams had to do a drive-thru as well.

This next part, now pay attention, after the event, Steve went down to check and measure things at the exit. In doing so, he noticed a discrepancy between what the teams were told was the location of the timing line and what was actually the location.

This was brought to the attention of the PWC officials driving a temporary pit stop rule change for Race 2 by adding a two-second buffer to the 60-second mandatory pit stop.

For Race 2, we started in 12 based on our fast lap for Race 1. Ricky did a good job getting up to tenth, and after our pit stop I found myself in seventh with a good group of cars about three-seconds in front of us.

We were able to get to the back of the group, but as fans could see passing was very difficult and I was just having to wait for the mistake from the Ferrari in front of me that never came. Sadly, there was a huge wreck with about eight minutes to go.

I drove through the debris field and cut a tire and had to pit. This knocked us down even more positions to 12th in class.

So a disappointing weekend for the No. 3 Cadillac, but a decent weekend for the No. 8 Cadillac of Michael Cooper and Jordan Taylor as they brought home two third place finishes, which was amazing as for race one Cooper started the race three-miles behind the field.

Normally a race like this, with the drive-thru penalty, would have made me angry beyond words for a week or two.

The edge though taken off as VIR was my son Canaan’s first professional race win in a Chevrolet Sonic, which he backed up with a third place in race two.

All I could do was smile when leaving the track as he let me know he’s the only O’Connell to have won at VIR – cheeky kid.

Pretty darn proud him and look forward to matching his results there in the future. Stay hungry. We definitely are. See you at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in three weeks.

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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