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GT World Challenge America

O’CONNELL: Miller Debrief

Johnny O’Connell files his final Pirelli WC column of the year…

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Wow! What a year! We had an incredible team weekend at Miller Motorsports Park to close out the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge Series year.

I came into the weekend with just a 42-point cushion for the driver’s championship. We did get a little break from the series allowing us to drop 75 of the 130 lbs. we had been carrying since Road America in July.

I qualified eighth for the first race. At Miller there is a long straight section that leads to the first turn, this was key. If we would have had the last race at Lime Rock, for example, things may have went differently. I was able to get a good start and a clear run down to the entry of Turn 1.

When I exited that first turn I was in second place. I was laser focused on pushing my CTS-V.R as hard as I could. My engineer, John Lankes, radioed in that my chief rival for the championship, Mike Skeen, was limping his Audi down the front stretch and pulled off. Unfortunately he had an issue with a half-shaft.

From there our goal for the race changed. I basically had to finish the race in the top five and I would be GT champion. However, we were also fighting with Audi for the manufacturer championship.

This meant we had to keep the other five Audi R8s in the field behind me. I just focused on keeping the CTS-V.R under me, managing my tires, and it worked out – I ended up on the podium in second and won my third World Challenge GT Driver Championship.

With my championship in hand we made a plan to win the manufacturer title for Cadillac. I had another good start in the second race the next day. I exited Turn 1 in second with my teammate Andy Pilgrim in fourth.

As the race continued Andy had a little better CTS-V.R than me and he put a nice move on me going into Turn Five and he just took off. It was kind of cool as in my mind I was thinking great move Andy and then I was thinking dig Andy dig. As we needed him to get a good gap over the guys who I knew would soon be all over my back.

Our goal was simple, no Audi could finish in front of us. Mission accomplished. Andy went on to finish third and win Cadillac their third consecutive manufacturer title.

This year had been trying. We were running our four year old cars up against the latest and greatest FIA GT3 cars from around the world. I was happy to finish the year with three wins, one at Long Beach and two in Detroit.

I also had six second place finishes and two thirds to go along with four pole positions on the year. Not too bad. It was also great to get a third straight drivers’ championship trophy.

I want to thank everyone at GM, Jim Campbell, Mark Kent, David Caldwell and all of the guys who make the CTS-V.R go. Steve Cole with whom I’ve now won six championships with as our team leader and Mike West, my chief mechanic who’s been with me since my Corvette days, and the whole Cadillac Racing crew.

Equally important is the team at Cadillac marketing, Jim Vurpillat and John Kraemer. These guys are the best as they understand that through racing we not only improve the street cars, but we also demonstrate to the world that Cadillac stands for athletic luxury and performance.

It’s truly an honor representing the brand on and off the race track because when you narrow it down it is about selling cars. We had a great following with the CTS-V owners group at every race and hopefully put on a nice show for the fans at the track and those who watch on TV.

Not long ago I used to think that when I’m done racing, I would be remembered for all that I achieved with Corvette. It’s a pretty cool feeling realizing that it might just be that I’ll be remembered for what I did with Cadillac.

The one common theme with Corvette and Cadillac is the teams. Surround yourself with good people and good things happen. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by the best. I’ve had speedy cars. A strong team. Brilliant engineers and top mechanics.

One lucky redhead? You bet.

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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