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DETROIT, (March 25, 2014) – Team Cadillac’s Johnny O’Connell and Andy Pilgrim are looking for a fast start to the Pirelli World Challenge Series at the season-opening Cadillac Grand Prix of St. Petersburg running this weekend March 22-24.
The St. Petersburg circuit traverses through the streets of downtown surrounding the marina and takes up a runway at the Albert Whitted Airport. Measuring 1.8 miles and 14 turns, the temporary street circuit will have the Pirelli World Challenge GT and FIA GT3 specification cars doing battle for the first time.
New for the 2014 Pirelli World Championship is the advent of two GT classes. One for professional drivers, GT, and the other, GT-A, for amateur drivers. Another significant change is the insurgence of FIA GT3 specification cars into the series. FIA GT3 is an international race car specification that allows manufacturers to build their cars so they can run in multiple series around the world. At St. Pete, 21 of the 25 GT entries are FIA GT3 spec including two McLaren 12C GT3s, four Porsche GT3s, six Audi R8 Ultras, four Ferrari GT3s, a BMW Z4 and two Lamborghini Gallardo FL2s. The four World Challenge spec entries include the two Cadillac CTS.V.R’s, the Acura TLX-GT and the Nissan GTR.
Reigning World Challenge GT driver champion Johnny O’Connell (Flowery Branch, Ga.) is going to see a lot of new cars and a lot of new faces to race against this weekend as he embarks on his attempt to get the GT driver’s championship “hat-trick.”
“Normally at the start of the season you don’t think about points too much, but I think that with the competition we will face this year, every point available will be important,” O’Connell said. “The added horsepower should help with traffic a lot. A driver won’t be as likely to force a low percentage pass on corner entry and be more likely to wait until a straight to make a pass.
“All of the new cars are a threat this year,” he continued. “I’ve seen the Audi in its new configuration and it looks very, very fast. Of course the McLaren and Ferrari will be super quick and I would expect the Porsche on the street circuits to be very formidable. It’s a love/hate thing for me having them all there. Love in that it shows the value of the series and its growth, hate in that I know this will prove to be our most challenging year to date. To the new drivers it is great to know that the World Challenge series is now a destination. Anything other than that they will have to learn on their own.”
Pilgrim (Boca Raton, Fla.) is ready to get down to business at St. Pete.
“World Challenge is all about getting right down to business, we have about a 13-hour race season,” Pilgrim said. “You don’t need to win the first 50 minute race to be in contention, but you can sure hurt yourself if you don’t finish, so we need to push hard, think about points and go for the win if we get half a chance.”
“Patience will be key at St Pete,” he explained. “It is so easy to get impatient in the back side of the track and make a move somebody doesn’t expect. We will now have even greater mid corner speeds with the FIA GT3 cars and greater speed differences on the straights. It will take some getting used to for everyone. Any FIA GT3 car will be a threat. I’m looking forward to seeing who shows up ready to run, I know we’ll be ready.”
“Most of the GT drivers coming in have run in other series,” continued Pilgrim. “I think the difference in our races is the need to push hard every second. You don’t have hours to make up for mistakes and no pit stops either. It is funny to say, but every driver needs to all work together, especially on a street circuit with so much traffic. It’s going to be hard for some guys to race patient, but then again that’s not new. The fans don’t come to watch us run around behind the pace car. I think we owe it to them to race hard, but smart, so they get a great show. We had four of our last five races run all green, I think that’s something to be proud of and to build on.”
The Pirelli World Challenge Championship season opener will take the standing start at the Cadillac Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, March 28-30. The race will be televised on NBC Sports Network Sunday, April 6 at 5:30 p.m. (re-air Saturday, April 12 at 12:30 a.m.).
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