Johnny O’Connell secured his fourth straight Pirelli World Challenge GT title in a tense and dramatic final race at Laguna Seca.
The Cadillac ATS-V.R driver appeared to be out of contention after making contact with championship rival Olivier Beretta at the Corkscrew, but a late mechanical issue for Beretta in the R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia with less than three minutes to go allowed O’Connell to pass through.
Italian Alessandro Balzan won the 50 minute race with a dominant display in the #29 NGT Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. He was followed by his team-mate Alessandro Pier Guidi, who had started to mount a challenge on the final lap but ultimately finished 2.7s behind.
The race got underway at a frenetic pace, with O’Connell making a bold but effective move on the outside of pole-sitter Pier Guidi at the start. However, it was Balzan who benefited the most as he slipped through on Pier Guidi’s inside going into turn one, while O’Connell picked up second position.
Scotsman Ryan Dalziel emerged fourth overall in the EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3, while Beretta was left jostling in the middle of the pack.
The order remained as such for the opening 10 minutes, until Pier Guidi made his mark by dispatching O’Connell for second position. Beretta was also making a charge in the other Momo-liveried Ferrari, making a clean dive on the inside of Cadillac driver Andy Pilgrim and a measured pass on Dalziel a lap later.
With Beretta closing in on O’Connell at a rate of 0.7s per lap, the stage was set for a one-on-one dice for the championship, but a misjudged move by the Monegasque driver at the left-hand portion of the Corkscrew sent both into a wild rotation. Without significant damage, Beretta was able to scamper away, while O’Connell took longer to recover – his hopes of another title defence seemingly over.
However, the stewards’ decision to hand Beretta a drive through penalty gave the Cadillac squad renewed hope, although the tables soon turned once again when the Ferrari emerged from the pits ahead with several cars between them. At this point Beretta, who was one of the quickest drivers on track, was expected to take the title despite still being two points behind O’Connell in the live standings.
But, there was more drama to come. With just two laps remaining Beretta’s Ferrari could be seen crawling to a halt at the exit of the final corner after contact with Peter Cunningham’s Acura, prompting vivid scenes of contrasting emotion from the Ferrari and Cadillac camps.
This allowed O’Connell to breeze through and take his fourth successive Pirelli World Challenge title by 61 points, while Balzan held off a late charge from Pier Guidi to take the race win.
In GTA, Eric Lux showed his class by taking a commanding victory in the DragonSpeed Mercedes Benz SLS GT3, while Colin Thompson won the all-Porsche GT Cup class after passing Alec Udell on the 30 minute mark.