O'Connell and Pilgrim qualify ninth and tenth.
AUSTIN, Texas - Cadillac Racing drivers Johnny O'Connell and Andy Pilgrim will start the Pirelli World Challenge Series Nissan Grand Prix at the Circuit of the America's from the fifth row in ninth and tenth this afternoon.
The all-new ATS-V.R race cars are making their competition debut this weekend at the track located southeast of Austin. Fifty GT class competitors will take the standing start this afternoon at COTA. O'Connell (Flowery Branch, Ga.) posted a qualifying time of 2:05.237 that has him ninth on the grid in his No. 3 Cadillac ATS-V.R. Teammate Pilgrim (Boca Raton, Fla.) will start next to O'Connell in tenth in his No. 8 Cadillac ATS-V.R. Today's race will mark the culmination of a two-year development program on the all-new ATS-V.R and its twin-turbo LF4.R engine. The ATS-V.R is the racing version of the Cadillac ATS-V road car that goes on sale this spring.
"I am really pleased with the first race weekend laps in the ATS-V.R," said O'Connell. "I am getting more familiar with the car every session. This is like a first date. We are getting to know her and the team is getting more familiar with the car. Cadillac Racing is data driven. We are early in her life cycle so the more data we can gather the better our relationship is going to be in the long run. I am proud of the team and all of the hard work they have put into this new car."
O'Connell likes the series' standing starts... "It is going to be pretty crazy," he continued. "Having so many cars on the circuit invites trouble. With a standing start, especially at the first race of the season, it is going to be exciting. The starts are one the most exciting aspects of World Challenge racing and this one is sure to be spectacular."
Pilgrim will start next to his teammate and likes the progress of the team heading into the first race.
"Practice went really well the last two days," said Pilgrim. "The track has been pretty cold so we are dealing some changing conditions. The car is reacting well to the changes that the team is making. Our testing was done in warmer temperatures, so the team is adjusting well and the car is reacting positively to the input. When you have a new car you are very happy to complete all of the practice laps. We have good reliability, so it is nice to focus on tuning the car to the track conditions. In qualifying we are going as hard as we can go. We will find some more speed in qualifying as the season goes on, but having a new car and qualifying the top 10 is a good opening result."
Pilgrim is weary of the 50-car field... "When I started out in the 80's in endurance racing we had 100 car fields," he continued. "But in a sprint race with 50 cars there is a lot of traffic. You have to have a little different mentality. Some drivers tend to make low percentage moves early to gain a little track position. It is a head game. You have to be smart. You can't make low percentage moves to hurt your race and take someone out and get a penalty. We can race ourselves forward from the firth row."
Cadillac Racing competed at the 3.4-mile, 20-turn COTA circuit located southeast of Austin in 2013. O'Connell won the first race (classified 17th in the second) and Pilgrim finished second in race two (third in race one) on that weekend. The first visit to COTA in 2013 had the series running the abbreviated track layout. This weekend the 48 car GT field will race on the full length Formula 1 circuit.
The Pirelli World Challenge Series season opening Nissan Grand Prix of Texas at the Circuit of the America's will run March 6-8. The GT races from COTA will be televised on the CBS Sports Network Sat., Mar. 14 at 11 am.
Since the team's inception in 2004, Team Cadillac has amassed 26 wins, 91 podium finishes (including wins) and 22 pole positions. The team won the World Challenge Manufacturer Championship in 2005, 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Team Cadillac drivers have won the World Challenge Driver's Championship in 2005 with Andy Pilgrim and in 2012, 2013 and 2014 with Johnny O'Connell.