Pirelli World Challenge

Johnny O’Connell on Pirelli World Challenge, Le Mans and More

3 Mins read

Johnny O’Connell is continuing to add to both his and General Motors‘ trophy cabinets, having recently won his fourth consecutive Pirelli World Challenge GT class title.

The Cadillac Racing driver agreed to talk to The Checkered Flag about his continuing success in the North American GT series, the future and his many 24 Hours of Le Mans victories.

“For sure this [championship] was special,” he said. “We had so many obstacles to overcome as a team. From being taken out while leading Long Beach to the fire at Barber, we as a team had many challenges. That we were once again able to close things out really speaks to the character of every member on the team.”

[Coming into the season,] honestly I did think we might have a remote chance. I’ve been pretty pleased with how I’ve been driving the past few years, and figured once we sorted all the bugs out of the new car, good things would happen. Anyway, after the weekend that we had in Utah, where the car was so dialled in, I thought we might really have a shot. 

The championship battle went right down the wire, not only to the final race but to the last five minutes. Heading into the race, the challengers were O’Connell and Olivier Beretta, but James Davison and Ryan Dalziel both had a mathematical chance of securing the GT title. It seemed at first as if the title belonged to Beretta, when the Ferrari driver pushed O’Connell off the track.

“Well first off I was pretty angry at Olivier. And then when I saw Ryan [Dalziel] drive by I figured he’d given the championship back to him. I didn’t think it was over though, as I was pretty confident that Olivier would receive some sort of penalty.”

As predicted, Beretta later received a penalty for this, giving hope back to Cadillac. However, the fight was not yet over, with Beretta exiting the pitlane far ahead of O’Connell. It was only when the Monegasque driver came to a halt on the side of the track that Cadillac and O’Connell could start celebrating.

The ATS-V.R that was new for 2015 has proven a great success for Johnny O'Connell and team-mate Andy Pilgrim

The ATS-V.R that was new for 2015 has proven a great success for Johnny O’Connell and team-mate Andy Pilgrim

With the new-for-2015 Cadillac ATS-V.R having shown itself to be a successful replacement for the ageing CTS-V.R, it isn’t difficult to understand why Johnny would want to remain where he is for next season. “At this point, nothing has really been discussed. I’m pretty confident though that I will be doing something with Cadillac.”

“Honestly, I don’t see myself leaving my team. We’ve had too much success together and I could not ever do that to them. That stated, if the opportunity arose to compete in another series I would definitely be interested.”

It isn’t just in the Pirelli World Challenge where the Poughkeepsie, NY native has had success, though. He is no stranger to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race in which he has scored four class victories and many more podiums over the years, most of which have been in a Corvette, continuing his success with GM.

“Believe it or not, I’ve been on the podium at Le Mans nine times in 14 attempts. Sad as it seems, I’ve yet to receive an offer to compete for somebody. It would of course be something I would love to do again.”

“I wouldn’t say that I prefer GT cars,” he explained, when asked about his switch from prototypes to GT racing. “It’s just that there been more opportunities there. Probably the smartest move I ever made career-wise, was leaving the prototypes and joining Corvette.”

Corvette Racing 2009 Le Mans O'Connell

The most recent of O’Connell’s Le Mans class victories was in 2009 when he won GT1 with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia

One would expect, being such an experienced driver in a series such as the Pirelli World Challenge, where there are lower categories featuring rising stars, there are surely going to be drivers that you would have an eye on. For O’Connell, it is the 2015 GTS class champion. “There are definitely some very strong drivers. Michael Cooper of course comes to mind. Funny story in that I was the one that actually discovered him about six or seven years ago. A very strong natural talent.”

“[In my free time, over] the past few years I’ve really gotten into training. I love going on really long swims in Lake Lanier as well as really long bike rides. To be honest I’m pretty much a homebody, and enjoy doing home repair projects.    

“Like most racers, I follow Formula One, but not to the degree that I used to. Heck I used to wake up at 4am to watch those races. Now the cars just don’t seem as exciting as they once were with so much technology, but that’s just me.

“I also enjoy watching NASCAR, as I know a bunch of the Chevy drivers. And of course, I’m always paying attention to Corvette racing and wishing them the best of success.”

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Jake covers sportscars for The Checkered Flag, mainly Tudor United SportsCar Championship and World Endurance Championship, along with a variety of other series including World Rally Championship.
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