Jun. 1, 2013
DETROIT – Johnny O’Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., and Mark Wilkins, of Toronto, 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.
Johnny O’Connell notches a win at Belle Isle.
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, of Sweden, 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, of Gainesville, Ga., 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, of Boca Raton, Fla., 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, of Villa Park, Calif., 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, of Boston, 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.
In GTS, Wilkins also led flag-to-flag in his No. 38 Kia Motors America Kia Optima, finishing 1.078 seconds ahead of Jack Baldwin.
“We were flat out,” Wilkins said. “Lawson [Aschenbach] and Jack [Baldwin] did a great job. Lawson was coming on strong after some adversity throughout the weekend. And Jack’s always strong.
“We had to push. Thanks to Kia Racing and Kinetic Motorsports for a great race car today. The track changes are awesome. We really appreciate those. They really help. We had a good run and a strong car. We are looking forward to it all again tomorrow.”
Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., crossed the line second, adding valuable points to his GTS Driver’s Championship lead. The finish is Baldwin’s sixth-consecutive podium in 2013, behind the wheel of the No. 73 Motul/StopTech/Foametix Porsche Cayman S.
“It feels good to have nice little podium streak going on,” Baldwin said. “The competition is tough, my hats off to Lawson [Aschenbach] and Mark [Wilkins]. Both of them did a great job in the car. Today’s performance, and even at COTA, goes to show what a nice job Mark’s doing in managing that car. Those long straightaways favor his car, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I gave Mark everything I had, trying to keep him as honest as possible. Lawson came up after the caution, poking around. I don’t think either one of us had anything for Mark. It was Mark’s day, and we’ll try again tomorrow.”
Lawson Aschenbach, of Jupiter, Fla., finished third in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. The finish is the fourth podium for Aschenbach this year, and he earned the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race getting around Dean Martin for what would end up being the third position.
“It’s tough,” Aschenbach said. “Street courses are the toughest places to pass. Unfortunately, our car is slowest in the straights, we don’t have that advantage. Our advantage is braking. It’s hard to close on someone enough where you don’t dive bomb them trying to pass. Fortunately, we were able to stay up there and make a couple of good passes. But, once I got up to Jack and Mark there was just nothing I could do.
“Hats off to the Black Dog guys, they’ve been working hard all weekend. We’ve had transmission issues since we showed up. We didn’t even get out for the first practice session, and qualified with just fourth gear, ending up ninth. Fortunately we got it sorted out. We’ve got a good car, but have to work on it to catch these guys.”
Martin, of Westland, Mich., led all Michigan drivers in Race One, finishing fourth in the No. 50 Picture Cars East/Grand Sanitation Ford Mustang Boss 302S.
The most recent GTS winner, Andy Lee, of Colorado Springs, Colo., completed the top five in the No. 20 Best IT/Bondurant/Crown Seven Chevrolet Camaro.
Roger Miller, of Salt Lake City, Utah, captured the Sunoco Hard Charger Award and the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start, en route to finishing 13th in class, passing 13 cars.
Sofronas holds onto his GT Drivers’ Championship lead with 746 points. However, O’Connell has started to make hay in the points, 133 markers behind Sofronas, followed by Pilgrim, with 576.
Baldwin also continues to sit atop the GTS drivers’ leaderboard, having scored 689 points. Wilkins jumped to second, 116 markers behind, with Lee in tow, collecting 488 points.
Qualifying for Round Seven of the doubleheader event is scheduled for Sunday at 8:30 a.m. (EDT), with the race scheduled for 12:00 p.m.(EDT). The race will be streamed live at www.world-challengetv.com and then aired on the NBC Sports Network June 16 at 5 p.m. (EDT).
More information on the series can be found at www.world-challenge.com or on Twitter @WCRacing.