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St. Pete: Team Cadillac preview

Team Cadillac Prepared for "Battle by the Bay" in St. Petersburg Grand Prix O'Connell and Pilgrim Primed for Fight in the Streets of St. Pete ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - One year ago, Team Cadillac ventured into uncharted territory for the...

Team Cadillac Prepared for "Battle by the Bay" in St. Petersburg Grand Prix

O'Connell and Pilgrim Primed for Fight in the Streets of St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - One year ago, Team Cadillac ventured into uncharted territory for the inaugural SCCA SPEED World Challenge GT race at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Now armed with experience and a thick notebook of data, the team relishes its return to St. Petersburg's downtown streets and bayside boulevards for the first of two back-to-back races on temporary courses.

The "Battle by the Bay" in St. Petersburg will start at 4:45 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 1. Eight days and a cross-country haul later, the SCCA World Challenge will race in the streets of Long Beach, Calif., on April 9.

"St. Petersburg is fast, and I love fast corners," declared Team Cadillac driver Andy Pilgrim, the reigning World Challenge GT champion and runner-up in the season-opening round in Sebring. "That's why it's one of my favorite street courses.

"The circuit has three really fast turns, and you don't often see that on a downtown street course," Pilgrim explained. "There's a fast fourth-gear corner coming out of Turns 2 and 3, then you've got the left-hand kink on the back straight and a high-speed chicane going into the airport section. They're all 120+ mph corners lined with barriers, so a driver must be really committed. Believe me, St. Pete is an eye-opener."

As a veteran of the street race wars, Pilgrim knows what to expect this weekend: "On any street course, there is always an element of danger and the potential for contact with a lot of cars in a very confined space," he observed. "My strategy is to get my race car working as well as possible, hope for a good qualifying position, and stay out of trouble."

Johnny O'Connell will join Pilgrim in the Team Cadillac lineup for the battle of St. Petersburg. O'Connell, the 2003-04 ALMS GT1 co-champion, three-time class winner in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and six-time class winner in Sebring, has one previous appearance with Team Cadillac. He finished ninth at Road Atlanta in September 2004.

O'Connell is also an accomplished street fighter. He's won street races in Miami and Washington, D.C. with Corvette Racing, and won an open-wheel Formula Atlantic race in St. Petersburg in 1987.

"The last time I raced in St. Pete, I won," O'Connell recalled. "Of course, it was a completely different course back then, but it was in the same neighborhood.

"I've always done well on street courses, but the competition is going to be tough," O'Connell predicted. "The Corvettes and Vipers are very strong under the current rules. When I tested with Team Cadillac earlier this year, I was reminded just how well the Cadillac handles, so I'm very much looking forward to the race. I'd love to help Cadillac win the drivers and manufacturers championship again in 2006."

The race car drivers will have to contend with the same variety of road surfaces - concrete, asphalt, steel manhole covers, and painted lines - that commuters encounter daily. The event will spotlight Cadillac's performance credentials by demonstrating how the production-based CTS-V race cars perform at the limit.

"I anticipate another terrific event in St. Petersburg with a festival atmosphere and a lot of interaction with the fans," commented Team Cadillac program manager Dave Spitzer. "The course has some slow sections that are tough for the Cadillac CTS-Vs because they're carrying so much more weight than the competition. But it also has some very fast corners, which is encouraging because our drivers have great car control. They love to race on the edge, and there are several turns that reward courage and commitment."

The St. Petersburg event will also mark the start of the year-long Cadillac Champions Tour. Scheduled for Thursday evening, March 30, at Dew Cadillac in Pinellas Park, Fla., this invitation-only event will introduce selected customers and prospects to the Team Cadillac racing program and the Cadillac V-Series production models, a family of performance luxury vehicles that includes the CTS-V, STS-V and XLR-V.

"The Cadillac Champions Tour provides an opportunity for current and prospective customers to meet Team Cadillac and see the Cadillac CTS-V race car in an informal, upscale atmosphere," said Tim O'Neill, Cadillac marketing manager. "The event is designed to highlight the connections between racing and production and to showcase the exceptional attributes of the new V-Series Cadillacs."

The 50-minute/33-lap World Challenge GT race at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is scheduled to start at 4:45 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 1. The race will be televised tape-delayed on Sunday, April 2, at 3 p.m. ET on the SPEED Channel.

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About this article
Series PWC
Drivers Johnny O'Connell , Andy Pilgrim , Tim O'Neil
Teams Corvette Racing