IN THEIR OWN WORDS: JOHNNY O'CONNELL AND DAVID BRABHAM
Braselton, Ga. - David Brabham and Johnny O'Connell go back awhile. They were teammates with Panoz Motor Sports for several years before going their separate ways. Two years ago, they found themselves on opposing sides - O'Connell with Corvette Racing, Brabham with Prodrive. Now, they're together again.sort of.
O'Connell still is with Corvette and Brabham remains with Prodrive. The only exception is that Prodrive's effort this year are two Aston Martin DBR9s, which have provided the stiffest competition. The third matchup of the year is this weekend at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. We peppered both Brabham and O'Connell with a few questions.
Question: Both of you have been part of Corvette/Prodrive battles in the past. How does this version compare to past duels with the 'Vettes and Ferraris?
JO: The rivalry is really just a continuation. The cars might be different but for sure it is the same talented, hungry team that we raced before. The big difference now is that we both are on Michelins. Thus I expect the races to be very close. Certainly at Laguna we will be stronger than we last raced against them in the Ferraris.
DB: The battles we had in 2003 were very intense and very entertaining, very enjoyable. Obviously Prodrive IS now part of the Aston Martin name. Although this is the first year for Aston Martin, but we have been competitive out of the box and we just continued where we left off in 2003.
Q: Has it been hard trying to live with the hype surrounding Round 3?
JO: No. Personally I like the hype...this is really the best of the best: Europe's best taking on America's best. Both teams very strong and hungry...the fans I know are in for a treat.
DB: No it hasn't, because the hype has been generated by people outside of the teams. We've come to another race to win another battle. So as far as that is concerned, it's no different than any other race. People are getting enjoyment from thinking of it as a Round 3, which is OK.
Q: Does one car have any advantage over another at either Road Atlanta or Laguna Seca? How, if any, will the cars be set up for the longer Petit race versus the 4-hour race at Laguna?
JO: I would say that our car might be just a tick stronger on both circuits, as at Le Mans it was how quick they were on the straights against us where they could gain time. I think in braking and cornering we should be a touch better. But we'll find out soon if that is the case.
DB: With the current regulations as they are now, and the way the car has developed over the year, we're probably a little behind the Corvettes. The Corvette team continually is racing in a series while Aston Martin is doing selective races. So when it comes to doing a race against a slick team like Corvette, they're drilled in after every race where we have to pick things up a little bit. It's easier to keep your skills sharper in a racing situation. But when we got to Sebring, we thought we would be behind quite a bit, but we found we were quite competitive and won the event. So anything can happen.
Q: You'll have three former Panoz mates at PLM in the Corvette-Aston battle. What's the relationship between you like these days?
JO: David and I don't really stay in touch much...but are good friends. We were both lucky to be at Panoz during the days when the team was very strong, and we both enjoyed great success with them. I enjoy racing him as he is very clean, but also very strong.
DB: The Panoz days were very memorable days for all of us. Johnny and Jan and myself were the core part of that team for quite a long time. I've enjoyed working with Johnny and Jan in that time. We live in separate countries but have remained good friends.
Q: The Astons tested here last weekend while the Corvettes didn't. Were these different lines of thinking?
JO: I think that with us having run the spring race we know what to do with our cars. So I don't think it is a disadvantage to not have tested.
DB: Not for Corvette because they've raced here many times. This was our second real test for us with the car. We're still probably on a steeper learning curve with the car.
Q: David, how long has it been since you've raced at Road Atlanta? For both, how do approach the track in a GT car compared to the LMP1?
JO: Well with the LMP cars you really don't have to worry about what is behind you. The hard part of being in a GT car is that you have to watch both front and rear as we are both passing and being passed. Staying out of trouble is a key ingredient to winning
DB: The last time I drove was here was last year in the Lamborghini. The only real difference is the issue that GT1 cars have is traffic with LMPs. The LMPs pass everything, where in the GT1 car we have to be aware of traffic and have to pass people at the same time. It makes it more difficult, and you have to be more aware of what's happening around you than you would have before.
Q: Best qualities about the other's car?
JO: I think the Aston strengths are horsepower and straight-line speed. If they are in front of us it will be difficult getting by for sure.
DB: Corvette's straight-line speed. Our high-downforce aero package is more "draggy" than we would like compared to our Le Mans aero. But we have quite good downforce at the same time.
Q: And finally, are you looking forward to continuing the battle in 2006, perhaps??
JO: It is our biggest hope that they compete in the ALMS in 2006. They are a world-class team, and I think the series benefits greatly from their presence.
DB: That I can't answer at the moment because I just don't know. My wish list would be to come here with the Aston Martin and have a battle with Corvette in 2006. I think it would be a fantastic experience, one that Aston Martin and Corvette not only would enjoy, but also the fans and the series would, too.
Petit Le Mans is the ninth round of the American Le Mans Series. The annual 1,000-mile/10-hour race is scheduled for 11:20 a.m. EDT Saturday at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. SPEED Channel will provide live television coverage. Qualifying is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. EDT Friday. American Le Mans Series Radio, and IMSA Living and Timing Scoring will be available at www.americanlemans.com.