DETROIT – If you drive a Cadillac in the Pirelli World Challenge Series, there’s no place you’d rather win than in Detroit.
Johnny O’Connell and Team Cadillac did it twice in 24 hours.
“Maybe this is a good time to start talking about next year,” O’Connell cracked in Victory Lane, playing to a crowd that included General Motors President Mark Reuss, Cadillac VP of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports Jim Campbell, Cadillac Vice President of Marketing Don Butler, Cadillac Global Marketing Director Jim Vurpillat and Cadillac Director of Racing Mark Kent, among others.
“You always want to win in Detroit, especially when the president of General Motors comes up to you before the race and wishes you luck,” O’Connell said. “That doesn’t add any pressure at all. But we got it done in Detroit!”
O’Connell, by virtue of setting fastest race lap in Saturday’s event, started from the pole but lost out on the initial start to Lawson Aschenbach, who beat O’Connell’s No. 3 Cadillac CTS-V to Turn 1. From there, it was a waiting game, as O’Connell plotted his strategy.
“Sometimes racing is a chess match, where you’re studying one guy and he’s studying you,” O’Connell said. “There were two corners where I thought I was better than he was and one was the one where he made a mistake and allowed me to get by.”
“Once I got past I knew where I needed to focus on driving fast and once the tires started going off and he started coming back to me, I kind of thought he might get an opportunity to take a peek at me. He did, but again, it was knowing where to push and where not to because you can overdrive the car.”
O’Connell drove a technical race and kept the former Cadillac driver behind him the rest of the way. A crash in Turn 7 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the race sealed the deal, and O’Connell emerged with his third World Challenge GT Series victory of the season and the 46th of his career for Chevrolet and Cadillac.
“Talking with my engineer, knowing what we needed to do with it, and on top of that, the added weight (72 pounds) that we had to put in, there was no way I thought I was going to be able to hold onto that car,” O’Connell said later. “Athletically, it was trying to be just as soft with my inputs as I could, just slow and precise.”
It capped a dream weekend for the Cadillac program, with two victories and three podium finishes in the Motor City. It was the eighth podium finish for Team Cadillac in the 2012 season, and it increased Cadillac’s lead in the Manufacturer’s points to nine, 56-47, over Porsche with five races left in the season.
Andy Pilgrim started third in Sunday’s Round 7 and had a solid day, losing third on the start to the Volvo of Alex Figge and chasing him home in fourth.
”It was disappointing,” Pilgrim said after the race. “Alex got me on the start and they’ve got good power. I had a couple of times where I was side by-side with him, but I couldn’t get him. He drove a good race. Traffic played a part for both of us.
“It was a good race, great for the team, great for Johnny.”
O’Connell continues to lead the driver points over Pilgrim and the margin is now 128, 895-757. Aschenbach is back in third with 675 points.
James Sofronas rounded out the top five finishers, ahead of fellow Porsche drivers David Welch, Tomy Drissi and Madison Snow, the rebuilt Volvo of Randy Pobst and Tony Gaples’ Corvette.
Next action for Team Cadillac is June 20-22 at Canadian Tire Raceway in Bowmanville, Ontario.
Both races of the Cadillac V-Series Challenge from Detroit will be broadcast on NBC Sports, Saturday, July 7 at 5-7 p.m. EDT.