BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Cadillac Racing driver Johnny O’Connell finished fourth in the first of two races in the Pirelli World Challenge Series GT race this afternoon at Barber Motorsport Park. Teammate Andy Pilgrim had shifting issues and was classified 26th.
In qualifying this morning, the changing conditions of wet to dry challenged the Pirelli World Challenge competitors. O’Connell (Flowery Branch, Ga.) and Pilgrim (Boca Raton, Fla.) both went out on wet tires and were running in the top five early in the session. With about 10-minutes remaining, O’Connell brought the No. 3 Cadillac ATS-V.R into the pits with a data anomaly that resulted in the Cadillac Racing crew changing the LF4.R engine. Pilgrim remained on track on wet tires and posted a time of 1:31.416 that had him start from the fifth row in 10th. O’Connell took the green flag from the last place on the grid in 27th due to the engine change.
The World Challenge officials decided to have a rolling start for the first race. O’Connell started from the 13th row on the grid and steadily made his way through the field. On the last restart with just one lap remaining he took the green in seventh. Going into Turn One the GT competitors in front took to the inside to defend their positions. O’Connell drove his Cadillac ATS-V.R around the outside and exited Turn One three places ahead in fourth.
“It is a team sport,” O’Connell said. “When the guys dig deep and do a four hour engine change in 90-minutes so you can make it to the grid you want to reward them with a good run. We were very lucky. The guys gave me a great car and I was able to seize on opportunity. Barber is a place where they say you can’t pass, well I managed to pass 23 cars. This team is strong. I am very proud of them. On the last restart the Porsche in front of me had a flat tire. I knew he would have issues. Guys instinctively go to the inside to protect, when we got to Turn One I felt like Moses, the sea just parted, everyone boxed up and I went right. People think your best races are the ones you win, well this was the best race we ran where we didn’t win. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.”
Pilgrim’s gearbox started to act up around lap 20. On the final restart the car was locked in third gear. As opposed to trying to take the restart the Cadillac Racing team brought him to pit lane.
“The Cadillac ATS-V.R was pretty good in the early running,” Pilgrim said. “I was racing with Chris Dyson in the Bentley and Ryan Eversley in the Acura. Then later in the race when I would shift gears I would hear a sound from the gearbox. As the race went on I wasn’t able to shift at all and I had to come in as opposed to being in the way on the restart. The car was handling good, so I am optimistic for tomorrow’s race.”
Based upon their fast laps in the first race, O’Connell with start tomorrow’s race in ninth with Pilgrim in 12th. The race will take the standing start at 10:55 a.m. CT.
The Pirelli World Challenge Series will travel to Barber Motorsports Park this weekend, Apr. 24-26 for a double race weekend. The races from Barber will be aired on CBS Sports Network, Sunday, May 3, 2 p.m. ET.