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O’Connell Fulfills Goal of World Challenge Driver Title for Team Cadillac; Pilgrim Makes It 1-2 Sweep
O’Connell Consistent, Fast In Earning First Career Pirelli World Challenge Crown
SONOMA, Calif. – Johnny O’Connell is a champion racing driver, and as such, he wants to win more championships.
He did so this season, taking Team Cadillac back to the top of the podium in the Pirelli World Challenge Series GT Series on the strength of three victories, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.
“This was my objective since the awards banquet last year when we finished second,” O’Connell said of his first World Challenge championship. “With a year to learn and develop, we figured we would enter this season in a good position. We didn’t make any mistakes this year, and it’s always great when you set a goal to meet it.”
After winning five championships with Corvette, O’Connell tried to put it in perspective.
“This matches those titles I won with Corvette and probably surpasses them, because this one was just me by myself, in terms of driving,” he said. “[Team director] Steve Cole has to get the credit for this, because he’s built an organization here at Cadillac that is second to none.”
After closing 2011 with two victories in the final four races, O’Connell had an inkling that 2012 could be very special for him and the team.
“When we entered last year, we had no dreams of winning it last year,” O’Connell said. “We were highly restricted and needed to do a lot of development. As the season progressed, we got to the point where were able to catch up and have a car that was good, fast and strong.
“Over the winter our engineers improved the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe and I entered this season with a lot of confidence that, provided I did some pretty simple things, I would be able to be in a position to win the championship. Those things were: don’t hit anybody, don’t break anything, stay on the race track.”
He did exactly that, finishing all 12 races in the top 10, nine in the top five.
“It sounds stupid, and it really isn’t that simple, but that’s what we did. We had a good opening round at St. Pete, Long Beach was good, but the key to winning is always being there. The only place I felt super strong was at Detroit, we had a great car at Miller and we had great cars at Mosport.”
The competition was stiff, O’Connell said, and that makes the title so much sweeter.
“The Volvo was super strong, the Porsche was strong and the Corvette had two wins at Mosport,” he said. “There were a lot of cars that were competitive. This championship was won with a combination of speed and wisdom.”
Andy Pilgrim, the only driver to have competed for Cadillac’s GT program in every race of its history, finished second to O’Connell in the driver standings with nearly an identical record. He had one victory, at Long Beach, 11 top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.
“We didn’t dominate,” Pilgrim said of the season. “It was all team. We did not have the fastest cars, we didn’t earn pole positions and it’s all about team and a car that’s reliable. They give us great cars, we do our job and we had to stay out of trouble. “
O’Connell said the Manufacturer’s crown and his driver title are just part of the overall program that Cadillac has for the future.
“If you look at the product, where the CTS-V is, they’re moving toward an athletic platform that takes on and beats BMW. The ATS is a perfect example of that. I’ve driven so many prototype cars for GM…the ATS is insane how good it is. It’s the best car I’ve ever driven as a GM vehicle. That comparison is not even close. They are truly living up to their motto of “Standard of the World,” and using racing as a platform to achieve that.
“It’s a great thing for me and for Andy Pilgrim to represent them. We’re moving forward.”
Cole, who was an engineer in the Corvette program and worked with both O’Connell and Pilgrim in the halcyon days of that program, said the drivers and crews worked so well together during the title run.
“This is truly a reliability and consistency championship, not a performance championship,” Cole said. “The credit goes to Mike West and that crew, the guys at the shop who break their backs when we get back there and cover us when we make dumb mistakes at the track. The engineers are relentless in their pursuit of performance and consistent setups. It’s a great team, we’re happy to be here and glad to have won these titles.”
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