AUSTIN, Texas – Team Cadillac driver Johnny O’Connell drove his No. 3 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe to the Pirelli World Challenge Series Cadillac Sports Car Challenge GT win May 18 at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Teammate Andy Pilgrim finished third.
O’Connell (Flowery Branch, Ga.) got a great start from his pole position. The strong start had O’Connell leading up the steep hill of COTA into Turn One. Just two corners into the race the caution flag flew, the first of two, bunching the field back up. The Georgian’s No. 3 Cadillac CTS-V handled the restarts and led the 50-minute race from start to finish.
Teammate Pilgrim (Boca Raton, Fla.) had to work twice as hard to find his way onto the GT podium in third place. At the start, the No. 8 Cadillac CTS-V stalled on the grid. The stall negated his second row qualifying position as the other 18 cars in the field went by him as he restarted the Cadillac. With nothing but opportunity in front of him, Pilgrim began his drive back through the field. By the restart of the first yellow, he was tenth, by lap 10 he was sixth and by lap 20 he was fourth. He was then locked in a battle with the fast Volvo of Randy Pobst, eventually getting by in the esses with three laps remaining to take the last spot on the podium alongside teammate O’Connell.
“I had a really good start,” O’Connell said. “We usually lose out to the Volvo’s on the starts with their four-wheel drive. My objective was to just keep him behind me or to the outside going into Turn One. When I got that launch and I saw that the Volvo was not going to be able to get me into Turn One - that was the defining moment to the race.”
Following the strong start it was anything but a drive through the Texas countryside for O’Connell.
“After the start I had to just hit my marks,” he said. “I wanted to push hard early. I brought my front tires in early and wanted to get a gap in the first couple of laps. When the Audi got by the Volvo I had to push because he was coming fast.”
A strong Cadillac CTS-V racecar helped O’Connell get a little bit of redemption after a near victory last month at Long Beach.
“The restarts helped to keep the GTS cars back,” he continued. “I didn’t have too much traffic. I had a good racecar from the Team Cadillac guys. They’ve worked hard to get these cars to handle in this heat. It was good to get the victory after my near win at Long Beach a couple of weeks ago. It is also special to get the first World Challenge Series GT win at a new track. I am looking forward to the second race tomorrow.”
Pilgrim had to bring the car back from the back of the field.
“I didn’t get a start,” Pilgrim said. “I was holding the button [on the launch control] and then it just let go and stalled. I had to switch the power back on, the car fired up, by then the field was gone.”
The Floridian had 25 laps of hard work to get to the front.
“This is a tough place to pass,” he continued. “I had to wait for people to make a mistake. I made some good moves, while trying to be patient. Randy was really fast on the straight, but he seemed to be having trouble through the esses. I just bided my time and was able to get him. It was good to get a double podium finish for Cadillac. We will get it right for the race tomorrow.”
The Pirelli World Challenge Series will run the Cadillac Sports Car Challenge at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, May 17-19. The race will be televised on NBC Sports, Sunday, June 16 at 5 p.m. ET. Live timing and scoring can be streamed from world-challenge.com.