O’Connell & Wilkins Rule Belle Isle

Johnny O'Connell led wire-to-wire in the GT class during Saturday's Pirelli World Challenge event at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Johnny O’Connell led wire-to-wire in the GT class during Saturday’s Pirelli World Challenge event at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. (Al Steinberg Photo)

DETROIT – Johnny O’Connell and Mark Wilkins stood on the top step of the podium after winning Round Six of the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS Championships in the Cadillac V-Series Challenge, part of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

O’Connell, in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, is half way to defending his Belle Isle sweep in 2012. He led from the pole, never relenting the lead in the 25-lap race that averaged 69.083 mph around the 2.35-mile, 14-turn street course.

The race was slowed by two cautions lasting a total of 10 laps. The first of those cautions was brought out on lap one when the No. 36 Kia Motors America Kia Optima GTS car of Nic Jonsson made heavy contact with the right-side retaining wall less than 100 yards past the green flag.

The second caution was thrown for two separate incidents involving lead-pack cars in each class. The first incident occurred when Alex Figge, running in fifth at the time, collided with the wall on the exit of Turn 13 in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60.

The second collision, which happened almost simultaneously, involved the No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX of Peter Cunningham. Running third in GTS at the time, Cunningham’s machine came to a rest up against the tire barrier in Turn 11, with the left front wheel completely disconnected from the car.

“The two caution periods help me out,” O’Connell said. “I was having some issues with the tires, so the yellows allowed me to cool them down and manage them to the end. We don’t have a lot of tuning in the car to change the handling. I was working with my brake bias knob to improve the handling, but a long run under green worked against me. I think my advantage to the Volvo was the ability to dig deep in the opening laps of the race and on the restarts to get a gap. Then they had to worry about everyone behind them.

“You want to do well when you race in your own back yard. The front five cars were nose to tail around here. We have some work to do to make the car better for tomorrow. Everyone will be a little faster on Sunday.”

Randy Pobst made up for a trying Detroit race weekend in 2012 where he finished last in Race One as a result of a collision on the start, and ninth in Race Two. Saturday, he finished second in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, only 1.188 seconds behind the winner.

“I really enjoy being in Detroit,” Pobst said. “I’m a car guy. I want to thank my K-PAX Volvo Racing team for putting together a great car today. A lot of things about that car are so different from the competitor’s we race against. Makes for an interesting race, I think we over achieved a little bit in qualifying then think we missed it a little bit in the race.

“I looked at the forecast and figured it was going to be wet. There was a giant storm headed straight for Detroit. I don’t know what kind of deal Cadillac has with the weather gods, but the track dried right up. It was a tough race with Andy [Pilgrim] giving me hell the entire time with James Sofronas right behind him. I’m happy with second place and will look for that first place finish tomorrow.”

Andy Pilgrim backed up the performance of his teammate finishing third in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R. He captured the position, and the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race, by getting around James Sofronas on the first restart.

“The setup on my Cadillac was really good,” Pilgrim said. “At the end, James [Sofronas] in the Audi was all over me. I think I have some white paint on the back of my car, but it was a good, competitive race. I couldn’t get close enough to Randy [Pobst] in the Volvo to make a move on him. There was less rubber down on the track from the rain washing it off last night. The track will get faster with the more rubber that gets put down. The job that the Penske organization has done with the track is just great. There are several passing zones, which makes things more exciting for the fans and us drivers.”

GT Drivers’ Championship leader James Sofronas finished off the podium for the first time this year, crossing the line fourth in the No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8.

Tim Pappas was the benefactor of Figge’s late-race retirement. Finishing fifth, Pappas scored his fourth-career top-five in the No. 54 Black Swan Mercedes AMG SLS.