AUSTIN, Texas – Johnny O’Connell led all the way to win Saturday’s Pirelli World Challenge GT Cadillac Sports Car Challenge Round Four race at Circuit of the Americas. Lawson Aschenbach captured the GTS class win, holding off a charging Andy Lee at the finish.
O’Connell started from the Motul Pole Position in his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R and got to Turn One first off the standing start. From there, the defending series Champion led all the way, weathering a pair of restarts and temperatures in the mid-90s to take his first win of 2013. O’Connell finished 1.107-seconds ahead of point leader James Sofronas, averaging 75.788 mph around the 2.3-mile, 20-turn road course.
“I had a really good start,” O’Connell said. “We usually lose out to the Volvos on the starts with their four-wheel drive. My objective was to just keep him behind me or to the outside going into Turn One. When I got that launch, and I saw that the Volvo was not going to be able to get me into Turn One, that was the defining moment to the race.
“After the start I had to just hit my marks. I wanted to push hard early. I brought my front tires in early and wanted to get a gap in the first couple of laps. When the Audi got by the Volvo I had to push because he was coming fast.”
The win comes one month after O’Connell and the Team Cadillac crew watched victory slip away in Long Beach. On the final lap, while leading under caution, the Cadillac’s engine expired due to a radiator punctured by debris.
“I had a good race car from the Team Cadillac guys. They’ve worked hard to get these cars to handle in this heat. It was good to get the victory after my near win at Long Beach a couple of weeks ago. It is also special to get the first World Challenge Series GT win at a new track. I am looking forward to the second race tomorrow.”
Sofronas benefitted from O’Connell’s retirement at Long Beach to score his second win of the season. Saturday, he started second in his No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8, but fell to third on the start, behind Randy Pobst’s No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60. Sofronas spent 14 of the race’s 25 laps trying to find a way around Pobst, and finally made the move stick, setting his sights on O’Connell.
Despite closing the gap considerably, Sofronas ran out of time, and had to settle for the runner-up finish, his second of 2013 to go with a pair of wins.
“The heat affected our strategy, much like everyone else,” Sofronas said. “We had to manage the tires, brakes and engine temps. We had a strong car for the first half of the race. We got held up by Randy Pobst. I was all over him. The car was fast in the high speed turns, but I just couldn’t get around him, and that was enough for Johnny [O’Connell] to get away. When I was able to get by Randy, I was able to get some clean air and run hard, but at the end, with eight laps to go, I began to lose the front tires and just drove through it.”
O’Connell’s teammate Andy Pilgrim started fourth in his No. 8 Team Cadillac Cadillac CTS-V.R but fell to 13th after bogging down at the start. He worked back up to eighth by the second caution to remove the stricken No. 85 Racing for Our Heroes Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Craig Stanton. Following the lap-11, restart to he gained two positions to sixth and was fourth three laps later. With three laps remaining, he was able to move around Pobst’s Volvo for the final position on the podium, earning the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race in the process.
“I didn’t get a good start,” Pilgrim said. “The clutch was dragging and stalled the engine. I had to switch the power back on, the car fired up, by then the field was gone.
“This is a tough place to pass. I had to wait for people to make a mistake. I made some good moves, while trying to be patient. Randy was really fast on the straight, but he seemed to be having trouble through the Esses. I just bided my time and was able to get him. It was good to get a double podium finish for Cadillac. We will get it right for the race tomorrow.”
Pobst held on for fourth, followed by a charging Tim Pappas Pappas started 11th in the No. 54 Black Swan Racing Mercedes-Benz SLR but steadily moved up to score the best finish for a Mercedes-Benz in Pirelli World Challenge GT competition. It was Pappas’ second-career top-five finish and first since his return to the series following a 10-year hiatus.
O’Connell’s fastest lap of 1:34.126 (87.967 mph) will place him on the pole for Sunday’s Round Five race. Sofronas will again start second.