TOOELE, Utah – For the first 10 laps of Saturday’s PrivacyStar Utah Grand Prix, it appeared that Team Cadillac had a shot at a third victory in four races.
But in the end, the team had to settle for second and fourth places, plus a solid points day toward the Pirelli World Challenge Series championships.
Johnny O’Connell took advantage of a standing-start stumble by polesitter Patrick Long to jump to the lead, edging out a gaggle of cars at the entrance to the super-fast Turn 1. For the next 10 laps, the No. 3 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe driven by O’Connell led the way around the 3.048-mile Miller Motorsports Park course until Long got close enough to challenge.
Long dived to the inside into Turn 1 on Lap 11 and completed the pass through the tricky-fast turn complex and raced away to victory.
“It was a really good race with Patrick,” O’Connell said after the race was over. “With us carrying all the weight, I figured out pretty early that he [Long] was just going to try to wear me down, make me use up my tires and then have his way with me. I actually backed my pace off a little to let him get close. I figured eventually he would make a run at me going into Turn 1.”
He did, but was not successful the first time he tried it. Long actually led Lap 7, but O’Connell kept his foot in it and wound up keeping the top spot for another three laps.
“We raced each other super clean, and I think the fans enjoyed watching that,” O’Connell said. “I was just hoping for traffic that never came. You have to give it to them. They were a little bit stronger today, but shoot, with 144 pounds…we were carrying a lot of weight.”
That weight, called REWARDS weight, came from O’Connell winning at St. Petersburg to open the season and finishing second in the second race at St. Pete and third at Long Beach.
Andy Pilgrim, who was carrying 96 pounds after winning at Long Beach, started fourth, lost a spot in the gaggle at the start, and then advanced to third place by Lap 5, chasing O’Connell and Long.
He made up a ton of time through the middle portion as O’Connell and Long battled for the lead, his No. 8 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe shadowing his teammate and looking for opportunities to advance.
But a hard-charging Mike Skeen came from 13th on the grid to fourth place with a handful of laps remaining and passed Pilgrim on the penultimate lap to knock Team Cadillac out of another double- podium finish.
“It was a good race,” Pilgrim said of his battle with Skeen. “I knew [Skeen] was coming; there was nothing I could do. He didn’t have any weight on his car, and we know the Corvette is good. He was really good through the fast corners.”
Pilgrim got a touch loose on the next-to-last lap and Skeen pounced.
“I got a big slide out of Turn 6 and it killed my momentum for that long straight up to Turn 7,” he said. “He got to the inside and there was nothing I could do. He just accelerated faster than I did. I had to let him go. I couldn’t have turned in, and if I had tried to go around the outside I would have just punched right off the track. There’s a lot of stuff on that corner.”
At the end of the day, O’Connell was pragmatic about the result.
“For me it was very difficult, watching my tires and saving some for the end,” he said. “Right now, I am driving as strong if not stronger than I ever have in my career. It was really hard for me to sit back and manage everything, but I was very proud that I was able to do that.”
For Pilgrim, it was a good result, for the big picture, but not the one he was looking for on Saturday.
“I didn’t want top-five, but when you come into one of these races, you want to come away with top-five points if you’re in the championship. That’s all you want.”
Long’s Porsche beat O’Connell to the flag by 3.032 seconds, and Skeen, Pilgrim and David Welch in a Ferrari rounded out the top five. Randy Pobst headed the second five in his Volvo, with the Porsches of Steve Ott, James Sofronas and Madison Snow seventh through ninth. Tony Gaples rounded out the top 10 in another Corvette.
In the points, it was a banner day for Team Cadillac. O’Connell now leads the World Challenge GT driver’s points by 49 over Pilgrim, 501-452. Sofronas is a distant third with 354, Lawson Aschenbach is fourth with 342 and Pobst is fifth with 333.
In the Manufacturer’s points, Cadillac leads Porsche by 2, 32-30, after four rounds.
Next action for Team Cadillac and the rest of the Pirelli World Challenge Series competitors will be May 10-11, the Cadillac Sports Car Grand Prix at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif.
The Grand Prix of Utah will be telecast on NBC Sports, Sunday, May 27 at 11 p.m. EDT. View live streaming on www.world-challengeTV.com day of races and continuously on demand after races.