O’Connell’s Cadillac Sizzles At COTA

Johnny O'Connell en route to the pole for Saturday's Pirelli World Challenge race at Circuit of The Americas. (SCCA photo)
Johnny O’Connell en route to the pole for Saturday’s Pirelli World Challenge race at Circuit of The Americas. (SCCA photo)

AUSTIN, Texas — Defending GT drivers’ champion Johnny O’Connell notched his first Pirelli World Challenge GT Motul Pole of 2013 on a sweltering Friday afternoon at Circuit of The Americas.

Lawson Aschenbach took the Motul Pole in GTS for Saturday’s Cadillac Sports Car Challenge.

Behind the wheel of the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, O’Connell took the pole with a quick lap of 1:33.539 (88.519 mph) around the 2.3-mile National Course.

“We made some changes to the car to make it fast over a couple of laps, and it worked,” O’Connell said. “Even though we didn’t test here, I have run a thousand laps in my head and about five hundred laps since yesterday. I did what I had to do to lay a lap down, and we got it done. This track requires the driver to be soft and smooth. My engineer said before qualifying to use slow hands. Make slow soft inputs into the car and it will reward you. We had a great qualifying car. We will have to make changes to make it a great race car.”

The strong performance helps ease the sting of a tough finish from Round Three, at Long Beach, where O’Connell’s engine expired under caution on the last lap following a puncture of the cooling system, robbing him of victory.

James Sofronas turned a lap of 1:33.587 (88.482 mph) in the 17-minute qualifying session, just 0.068-second off the pole. The time was good enough to put the No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8 second on the grid, and is the third-consecutive front row-start for the Championship point leader.

Randy Pobst will start Saturday’s race inside row two. Pobst, in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, turned a time of 1:34.087 (88.003 mph.

In his flat black No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, Aschenbach has been flat-out fast this weekend, earning the GTS Motul Pole after also setting the quickest GTS time in Thursday’s practice. Aschenbach’s time of 1:40.400 (82.470 mph) was 0.4-second clear of the second-place car of Mark Wilkins.

“Our Chevy Camaro has been fast all weekend,” Aschenbach said. “We expected to be able to compete here. Coming and testing was a huge benefit to us. Not a lot of teams came [to the test]. I think that’s the big difference right now. We’ve really got a handle on the track. It’s going to be a long race. We have a very heavy car and tire conservation is going to be very important for us. We’ll see what happens. I think we have a good car and a good shot at it.”

Wilkins credited his team’s hard work on the No. 38 Kia Motors America Kia Optima to get back to the top of the time charts in 2013. After turning a lap of 1.40.828 (82.120 mph), Wilkins will line up second in GTS.

The No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX will line up third with Peter Cunningham behind the wheel.