Points Leaders Grab World Challenge Poles

Johnny O'connell topped the charts in Pirelli World Challenge GT qualifying Saturday at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. (Mark Weber/PWC Photo)
Johnny O'connell topped the charts in Pirelli World Challenge GT qualifying Saturday at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. (Mark Weber/PWC Photo)
Johnny O’connell topped the charts in Pirelli World Challenge GT qualifying Saturday at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. (Mark Weber/PWC Photo)

SONOMA, Calif. – Class points leaders Johnny O’Connell (GT) and Jack Baldwin (GTS) took the Motul pole positions for round 13 of the Pirelli World Challenge 2013 season, the Cadillac Grand Prix of Sonoma.

The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway weekend is the penultimate stop in the 2013 championship.

Baldwin’s lap of 1:42.863 beat his old track record of 1:43.137 set last year. His new mark, though, was set on a slightly different course configuration of Sonoma Raceway.

O’Connell, in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, set a fastest lap of 1:35.400 around the 2.3-mile Sonoma Raceway to secure the GT class pole. It’s his class-high seventh pole of the season and will allow him the benefit of a clear track from tomorrow’s standing start for the 50-minute race.

“We knew that qualifying would be important this weekend,” O’Connell said. “The biggest challenge was the limited practice time. We really didn’t get a good feel for where the car was with the constant starting and stopping of practice and really only three laps in the last session on Friday. We pretty much reverted back to the original set-up that we unloaded with on Wednesday. My second lap, which was looking like my best, I had to go off line to avoid one of the Audi drivers that had a flat tire. I have a good race car for tomorrow and I have a friendly face in Andy staring next to me.”

Cadillac Racing teammate Andy Pilgrim qualified second in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R at 1:35.433, and was pleased with the result.

“Compared to last year we have softened the car up and it seems to work better that way,” he said. “The track surface is so polished that braking can be difficult. It is easy to over shoot your braking point. The whole race is going to be a crap shoot and it will be very interesting once we get into traffic.”

Third was Randy Pobst in the No. 6 Alex’s Lemonade Stand K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 at 1:35.760. James Sofronas is fourth in the No. 14 The Thermal Club/GMG/Swisher Racing/Mobil 1 Audi R8 LMS (1:36.143) with Mike Skeen fifth in the No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette at 1:36.175.

Entering the weekend, O’Connell led Sofronas by 13 points, 1278-1265 in GT. The battle for third is also tight, with Pilgrim just 14 ahead of Pobst, at 1139-1125.

In GTS, Baldwin in the No. 73 Motul/StopTech/Foametix Porsche Cayman S scored his second pole of the year with his flier.

“I’m telling you, this is a pole we needed. I really wanted to give it to the guys, the team. They’ve worked all year to get us in this position,” Baldwin said. “We just put it all together. One of the key ingredients to a championship team is adapt and overcome, and get it done. We did today, and it boils down to that.”

Brandon Davis has an excellent second place on the grid in his return race in the No. 27 Barracuda Networks Aston Martin Vantage GT4. He qualified the TRG-AMR entry at 1:43.094.

“Big thanks first to Barracuda Networks for letting me compete,” he said. “We tried for pole as best as we could. It’s important for us not to affect the championship, but we’re only here for this weekend. I’ll run hard and run clean, and to me, it should be great racing either way.”

Mark Wilkins starts third in the No. 38 B.R.A.K.E.S. Kia Optima turbo at 1:43.302. Wilkins entered the weekend second in points, 87 behind Baldwin. Lawson Aschenbach, third in points entering at 105 behind Baldwin, qualified his No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro in sixth.