Two American Drivers Hope to Put Stars & Stripes in Winner’s Circle Again
LE MANS, France – Pirelli World Challenge GT Champions Johnny O’Connell and Patrick Long will look to add another 24 Hours of Le Mans title to their impressive racing résumés this weekend (June 18-19) when the two American racers compete in the world’s most prestigious sports car race.
In the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the two veteran racers, currently in a fight for the 2016 PWC GT Driver’s Championship points lead, will continue to battle in the LMGTE-Am category this Saturday and Sunday over the legendary 8.47-mile, 38-turn Circuit de la Sarthe when the green flag drops at 9 a.m. EDT on Fox Sports 1.
O’Connell, driving this year in the No. 57 Team AAI Corvette C7R with Oliver Bryant and Mark Patterson, makes his 15th career 24 Hours of Le Mans start with the popular Flowery Branch, Ga., driver seeking his fifth Le Mans class victory. Johnny won his division in 1994, 2001, 2002 and 2009 and has also placed runner-up there on four other occasions.
This week’s return to Le Mans for O’Connell marks a six-year absence to concentrate on the Pirelli World Challenge with Cadillac in North America. Johnny’s last Le Mans appearance was in 2010 with Corvette.
“I’m very excited to go back to Le Mans,” said O’Connell, the four-time PWC GT champion. “Pratt & Miller (his former Corvette team as well as his current Cadillac squad) filled me in with what was going on, and then it was a matter of me letting the team know I was available. If I hadn’t been racing, I would be nervous, but the past five years have been highly productive for me. That’s why I’m very anxious to run Le Mans again.”
O’Connell knows Le Mans is a special place for him as he looks for win No. 5.
“Racing at Le Mans is one of those special moments in life,” he said. “The spectacle of the entire world focusing on the challenge of running 24 hours flat out on an amazing circuit makes for an incredible atmosphere. It’s impossible to really put into words winning there. And finally, I’m going back.”
O’Connell still understands his No. 1 job in 2016 is driving for Cadillac Racing. But he couldn’t turn down this opportunity at Le Mans.
“I race for Cadillac, and I love showcasing to the world on the race track that Cadillac stands for performance, engineering and style,” O’Connell remarked. “I can’t thank them enough for allowing me to take another run at Le Mans. The same can be said for Jim Campbell (GM U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports) and Mark Kent (GM Director of Racing) who understand the significance of Le Mans and what it means to a driver. Finally, the folks at Corvette Racing who also have supported and helped along the way. Although I am no longer driving for them, I know we will always be family.”
For Long, this is the 13th consecutive start at Le Mans and he hopes to improve one more position from last year when he teamed with Patrick Dempsey and Marco Seefried for second in the LMGTE-Am category.
The 34-year-old California native is a two-time Le Mans class winner (2004 and 2007) and twice runner-up all in Porsche machines. Long was the 2011 Pirelli World Challenge GT champion and has recorded three wins already in 2016 in his Porsche 911 GT3 R.
This year at Le Mans, Long will drive the No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR with Khaled Al Qubaisi and David Heinemeier Hausson in the 84th 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I finished on the podium in Le Mans last year,” said Long, “and that’s where I want to go this year, too. I’m very familiar with the circuit and its quirks – after all, I’ve raced here 12 times before. But it’s still one of the toughest challenges you can imagine as a racing driver. I’m feeling very confident. Our class is very competitive, but we have good chances.”
Long is no stranger to the Proton team, having driven for the Germany-based outfit since 2010.
“I’m excited to continue with what we built on for a lot of years, I’ve driven for Christian (Ried, Proton team owner) on and off since 2010 and it’s great to just continue the momentum. I think the class is in a great place.”
With Long concentrating on the Pirelli World Challenge in 2016, he is anxious to get back to Le Mans with a chance for a third class championship this weekend.
“The car was really competitive last year. We had a pole, two podiums and a win at Fuji. It was a great season and it would have been tough to close the chapter completely. Khaled and David are two guys that I know really well. So as a driver, there’s not much more than I can ask for. I’m ready to get down to business and get after it.”
Following this weekend’s Le Mans classic, both O’Connell and Long return to the Pirelli World Challenge on June 23-26 at the legendary 14-turn 4.048-mile Road America circuit in the Elkhart Lake, Wis. The IndyCar Series/Pirelli World Challenge doubleheader weekend is expected to draw record attendance.