Johnny O’Connell is set to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans after a five-year hiatus, with the GM factory driver signing with Team AAI to lead its GTE-Am lineup with its newly acquired Corvette C7.R.
The four-time Le Mans class winner will join Oliver Bryant and Mark Patterson in the Taiwanese-entered Corvette, which is being run by ProSpeed Competition.
It’s the same chassis that took Corvette Racing’s Jordan Taylor, Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin to the GTE-Pro class victory at Le Mans last year.
“Since I moved over to Cadillac, every year, I’ve been wanting to go back to Le Mans,” O’Connell told Sportscar365.
“I’ve not been bashful about that to the people at GM and to people in racing. That to me is sacred ground that every race car driver wants to compete there.
“Every year I got deals that were close but nothing good. Then as the years go by, my becoming more of a Cadillac driver… that’s my job. That’s who my priority is.
“We learned about this team several months ago that they were considering being in a Corvette. So there was some conversations and it gradually moved towards this situation.
“Like most guys, I’d rather be running in the Pro category. But I’m grateful to be back there and I’m optimistic that we’ll have a good car.”
O’Connell, who hasn’t competed at Le Mans since 2010 with Corvette Racing, will be making his 15th start — just one shy from the all-time start record for an American driver — currently held by Masten Gregory.
“For a driver to make one appearance at Le Mans, and American driver, it’s special and a career achievement,” O’Connell said.
“To have been blessed enough to get to race there 15 times, you appreciate those things. Especially as you get to the back side of your career.
“This is not doing Le Mans just to make an appearance. This is me going to Le Mans with a Corvette that’s capable of winning.”
While having made the majority of his previous Le Mans starts with the factory Pratt & Miller squad, O’Connell, said he’s grateful to GM for allowing him the opportunity to return to La Sarthe, while in the middle of his Pirelli World Challenge title defense.
“When I first mentioned it to Jim Campbell [VP Performance Vehicles and Motorsports] while I was working on things was at Long Beach,” he said. “His first response was to smile big and say the Corvette fans would go wild.
“I’m thankful for the leadership at General Motors, but I do this 100 percent with the approval of Cadillac as a Cadillac racing driver.”
O’Connell said his first laps in the Corvette C7.R will come at the official Le Mans Test Day on June 5.