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O’CONNELL: Barber Debrief

Johnny O’Connell reflects on his PWC weekend at Barber…

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

In my commute back and forth to the track, it is hard not to notice the Roll Tide license plate frames and bumper stickers celebrating Alabama football.  

Well, we witnessed a little tide turning at Barber Motorsports Park last weekend.  

The FIA GT3 cars hit a natural terrain road course and showed their stuff with their light weight and high downforce.  We even had a GT-A (classified as a gentleman/sportsman driver) on the pole for the first race, Nick Mancuso in his Ferrari 458 GT. A nice run by him.

Andy Pilgrim and myself had never been to Barber prior to a two day Cadillac test before our first race of the year at St. Petersburg. Your first image driving into the track you would think you were coming to play 18 holes, it looks like a country club.  

The second thing you notice is the great motorcycle museum they have on the grounds.  And the third is the track, which in itself is very challenging.  There is a lot of elevation change and tight corners to go along with the tight confines, fairly narrow racing surface for a road course.  I think that Mr. Barber wanted a motorcycle friendly track.

In practice we ran about where we predicted in the middle of the top ten.  Which is also where we qualified. Andy qualified seventh and I was right next to him in eighth.  

The way the track is configured we knew it would favor the lighter and higher downforce FIA GT3 spec cars.  

Our Cadillac CTS.V.Rs are heavier and don’t have the down force of the GT3 cars.  What we do have is the experience and depth of Cadillac Racing and a lot of driver race craft on our side.

In the first race I was able to get a great start from standing into Turn 1. The two McLarens on the grid in front of us failed to launch and I had a big gap in front of me for a strong run to the first turn.  

When I exited Turn One I had gone from eighth to third – not a bad start. The track temperature was the hottest it had been all week. It took all my years of racing experience to keep the charging Audis behind me.

I had the benefit of a late race restart to not only cool my tires which were going off big time, but also to pull off a pass on pole sitter Nick Mancuso’s Ferrari for second. I have to give him credit for some great racing. It was fun battling with him. Not a bad day when you can put a Cadillac between two Ferraris.

Race Two was pretty similar to race One. I got all of my passing done in the first 200 yards to the entry of Turn One off of the standing start. Cadillac Racing has really worked hard on the tech of these standing starts. Again, I got a great launch and went from sixth place to third by the entry of one.

After that I had all I could handle to keep a Ferrari behind while trying to get to the other Ferrari and Audi in front of me.

If you would have told me at the beginning of the week that I would have two podium finishes of second and third coming out of Barber I would have laughed.

If it wasn’t for the strong standing starts I think I had a fifth place car. Congrats to the GMG guys and Andrew Palmer who won Race Two in the final lap.  Anyone that follows World Challenge knows that the Audi is a strong car and the GMG guys do a good job.

Our next stop is a Cadillac home race on the Belle Isle street course in Detroit. Personally I love that track and have had great luck there winning three of our four races on that circuit.

There is always that added pressure of being able to see headquarters off in the distance, and having the top GM execs wish you luck, but for some reason I like that added pressure.

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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