With the season ending PWC finale weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca now in the books, the Drivers’ Champions across the series’ seven classes have had a few days to reflect on their success in 2015. Johnny O’Connell in GT, Frankie Montecalvo in GTA, Colin Thompson in GT Cup presented by MOMO, Michael Cooper in GTS, Corey Fergus in TC, Jason Wolfe in TCA and Johan Schwartz in TCB received their championship trophies in front of a large gathering Sunday night at the series’ awards banquet in Monterey, California.
For O’Connell it’s his fourth consecutive GT Drivers’ Championship and arguably one of the toughest championship wins of his career in what was an emotional up and down 2015. O’Connell and his Cadillac Racing team persevered though. “I am proud of everyone at Cadillac Racing. This whole team is made up of Joe Montana’s, we are a fourth quarter team,” said O’Connell. “We had some adversity this year, the crash at Long Beach while running upfront. I had a car that could have won that race. When I got taken out, I got a huge fine and hit in the points. Then at Barber we were running fast and burned a car down. The spirit of the team came to the front at that point. What people don’t see is the hundreds of thousands of hours that the Cadillac Racing crew put into those race cars. I am just the guy who gets to put it on display for 100-minutes on the race weekend.”
When the dust settled on a dramatic GT race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca that saw O’Connell, in his No. 3 Cadillac Racing ATS-V R battle fiercely with his arch rival, Olivier Beretta, O’Connell finished with 1679 points, a mere 61 points ahead of the driver of the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia to win the championship. O’Connell recorded four wins on the season enroute to the championship.
For Montecalvo, the mid-point of the season at Road America marked the point at which the driver of the No. 66 Bayshore Racing DragonSpeed Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 started his charge to the top of the GTA Drivers’ Championship standings. Up to that point, the Highlands N.J. driver had had an up and down season winning Round 4 at St. Petersburg only to record a DNF at Long Beach scoring zero points after some bad luck getting collected in a crash started by a number of other competitors. Starting with back-to-back wins at Road America, Montecalvo went on a roll scoring seven wins in the final nine races. Montecalvo overtook Henrique Cisneros, driver of the No. 30 NGT Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia finishing the season with 2073 to Cisneros’ 1767 points.
“I’m delighted to be taking home my first championship in my first season as a solo driver,” said Montecalvo. “My goal is to earn a factory drive in the future, so that’s really important. But for today, I just hope everyone who’s helped me get here – Elton and the fantastic DragonSpeed crew, the Jeannettes, and my family most of all – feels that it’s been as worthwhile as I do; I’m grateful to all of them.”
Thompson, in the No. 11 Kelly-Moss Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup took the inaugural GT Cup presented by MOMO drivers’ championship in dominating fashion with an impressive 13 wins in 18 races. Thompson finished with 2309 points, 665 points ahead of second place finisher Sloan Urry who finished with 1644. “It feels incredible,” Thompson smiled. “We’ve had a ton of different people engineering and managing the team due to conflicts with Kelly Moss Motorsports’ GT3 Cup schedule, so I have to thank literally the entire team from Jeff Stone and Alec Stone, to Jeff Segal and Ken Swan, Kiel Boss, Torsten who is Kiel’s right hand man, Henk my main mechanic and car chief, and Gary who has been working with Henk to keep my car winning day in and day out. We had different guys from all over the place every few races. It’s been tricky to manage the chemistry between everybody, but we’ve been very fortunate to have the best people in place. We kept bringing home wins and that led to our second-consecutive championship (2014 IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup).”
Cooper secured his second career Pirelli World Challenge drivers ‘championship (Touring Car, 2012) in GTS on the strength of four wins. After winning the Touring Car championship, Cooper unfortunately fell into the challenge many other young talented drivers do — looking to secure funding for another ride. Cooper essentially sat on the sidelines for two seasons, picking up a single race here and there looking for an opportunity to get back into racing. That opportunity came when Cooper was asked to join the BlackDog Speedshop team for 2015 looking to continue the string of success the team had enjoyed the last couple of seasons with Lawson Aschenbach winning back-to-back championships. “I wasn’t with BlackDog in their first two championships but this team is a dynasty. They know what they are doing. They have a consistent and reliable car always. I want to thank BlackDog Speed Shop and Chevrolet. This championship feels different than in Touring Car. This comes after two years of being in and out of racing. It’s definitely sweet. After I won the title in 2012, I thought I had a ride but things switched. And I changed my focus too. I was getting some calls but nothing on a regular basis. I was getting in and out of a car about every six months for a year and a half was tough going. Just getting a car cold is hard. Especially something that’s faster than you have driven is a challenge. Clearly I did well enough to get this ride this year.”
In his rookie season, Fergus battled with No. 98 Breathless Racing/Time4 Learning MX-5 pilot Ernie Francis Jr., another young up-and-coming driver for the championship in TC. Fergus had three wins and won over Francis Jr., winning by a mere 33 points. “This championship was a very special one for the whole family. The crew is all family and friends and my team owner is my dad,” said Fergus. “It’s dad’s 15th championship but first professional one as team owner and my first professional championship. So it was a double championship in our family. It was also mom’s 60th birthday the day we won, so we will never forget this one. We came to race in Pirelli World Challenge this year because it looked like a great racing series and a place where a driver could show their talent better with the single driver format. I’m sure glad we did because what a great season it was. We were shooting for the championship before the season began, but it sure it nice when your dreams actually do come true. Winning the championship as a series Rookie is even more special, which won us the Rookie of the Year award in TC. There’s not much more you can accomplish as a Rookie so I’d say we had a pretty amazing year. What an amazing way to finish the season with a win and a podium at the finale weekend. We also had the best race of the season in Race 2 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Ernie Francis, Jr. What a battle that was, and ultimately winning that race was the deciding factor in winning the championship. It really capped off an impressive season for us.”
Wolfe secured his second consecutive TCA championship scoring eight wins on the season piloting the No. 36 Wolfe Trucking Kinetic Motorsports Kia Forte Koup after holding off heated challenges all season from Tony Rivera, in the No. 86 Brass Monkey Racing Scion FR-S and Patrick Seguin, in the No. 39 helpkevinproject.com Team Ost Racing Honda Civic SI. Wolfe’s wins in Rounds 16 and 18 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca sealed the deal, and Wolfe won the championship with 1951 points, over Seguin with 1742 and Rivera with 1510.
“It was a heck of a year for us to say the least, but the Kinetic Motorsports team is truly a world-class organization. It’s extremely hard to win a championship, let alone finding the motivation, drive, and focus to repeat,” said Wolfe, who earned Rookie of the Year honors last season, along with the Driver title. “I had a great time driving for Kia last year; it’s an ideal atmosphere for learning, and the Forte Koup is a great platform for racing. I wanted to come back this season and clinch this championship for Kia, Kinetic Motorsports and my family.”
Schwartz won his first drivers’ championship in TCB piloting the No. 25 TechSport/CASgroup/Promatex/Serengeti/ZEROcancer Chevy Sonic, with an impressive nine wins on the season. Schwartz scored 2081 points to win over rival No. 58 LaptopScreen.com/ClubRacing.com/Nixon Prosports/HPD Racing.ca Honda Fit driver Glenn Nixon who scored 1964 points.
“The effort that went into winning the Pirelli World Challenge Championship in TCB showcases our competitive drive, consistency on the track and ability to prove that even under less than ideal conditions at times, we were still able to put out a great performance,” said Schwartz. “Racing is my absolute passion, it has been since a very young age and winning this championship has been a pinnacle moment for sure! As fun as the celebration has been we have made a quick turn-around, looking forward to 2016 and working on finalizing sponsorship and cars available to drive.”
With just over 160 days to the first race weekend of 2016 at the Circuit of the Americas, team and driver preparation has already begun to defend or challenge for the championships.