Johnny O'Connell wins race,Andy Pilgrim third, Cadillac wins manufacturer title.
HOUSTON, Texas -Team Cadillac driver Johnny O'Connell defended his Pirelli World Challenge GT Driver's Championship by winning today's FOAMETIX Grand Prix of Houston. Teammate Andy Pilgrim finished the race in third, closed the season third in the driver points and Cadillac won the manufacturer title, second in two years, as well.
The 90-degree temperatures with the high humidity of the practice days gave way to mid-60s and rain on race morning. Track action was delayed for more than an hour as rain blanketed the greater Houston area. The Pirelli World Challenge race started in the rain and would end in drying conditions.
The early going had the drivers adjusting to the wet conditions on the 1.7-mile, 10-turn track that runs alongside Reliant Field, home to the Texans NFL team.
In the early laps O'Connell fell back to fourth position. As the rain stopped and the track began to dry the temperature rose and so did the level of on track action. Rene Rast, No. 95 Audi R8, was brought in to help Sofronas secure the championship. Rast was lapping in the rain better than three seconds faster than the field. Early contact by Rast and Volvo driver Alex Figge had him chasing the field.
Rast was able to catch O'Connell on lap 17 and get in front of the No. 3 Cadillac CTS-V, doing his job as a "blocker" for points leader Sofronas. As the Volvo S60 with its four-wheel drive driven by Randy Pobst was passing Sofronas for the lead O'Connell was battling with the two Audi R8s. As the track began to dry O'Connell began to make his moves. O'Connell went by Rast on lap 21 for third place.
On the next lap the Flowery Branch resident passed Sofronas for second. The points scenario dictated that O'Connell win as he set his sights on Pobst. On lap 26 going into Turn Two O'Connell took the Volvo deep under braking making the championship winning pass to take the win, his fifth on the year, and the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge Driver's Championship.
"When it started raining at 8:30 this morning I thought that the Volvo guys did a better job of praying than we did," O'Connell said. "The rain just added another challenge to the day. Team Cadillac had done a lot of work on wet set-up during the off season and that paid off today. In the opening laps when it was raining it took everything I could not to wreck. Sofronas really had a good car in the rain.
Once I got my traction-control system set, I started to go. At that time Rast caught back up. He made a semi late move and got by me going into Turn Six. Then he started to play games by slowing down at the apex, trying to give his teammate a little bit of a gap. I couldn't tolerate that and give up a win. I knew what game he was playing.
I started racing him aggressively and got by him and James. As the track dried out I was able to catch Randy. With seven minutes to go I got a good run off of the last corner and made a move on him going into the chicane and got it done for the win."
O'Connell wins his second GT Driver's Championship in as many years and his sixth as a General Motors driver, previously with Corvette.
"The championship, both drivers and manufacturers, means a lot to the team and everyone at Cadillac," he continued. "They give Andy and I amazing race cars and support. As a driver you spend all winter working out and training with the big picture of the possibility of winning a championship in October.
This one came down to the last race and the last few laps, which is the way you want it to in racing. When you have a great car like the Cadillac CTS-V and a great team behind you it makes it things a lot easier. Everyone at Cadillac puts a lot of work into this effort and we were able to reward them today."
Teammate Pilgrim (Boca Raton, Fla.) had a very busy race as well.
Andy Pilgrim: "The rain makes things very intense," Pilgrim said. "You don't know what level of grip there is, where the puddles are and everything that goes with racing in the rain. The guys who knew the track and had raced here before were now on a more level playing field with the rest of us. We didn't know how good or bad the cars would be. The Cadillac wasn't great when it was very wet. Once the rain stopped and it was drying I was able to drift the car a little bit and go faster.
The guys told me I had to get by both of the Audi R8s or Johnny would not be the champion. Rast short braked me and was blocking me. I managed to get by him. He was right on me and I knew what his job was - basically the same as mine. I got inside James and we touched and they brought me in for a drive through penalty. I hated that James got a flat. Congratulations to Johnny on the championship and to Cadillac on the manufacturer title as well."
Pilgrim closed the season with a win at Sonoma Raceway and finished third in the driver's standings.
Jim Campbell, General Motors vice president performance vehicles and motorsports, is proud of Team Cadillac. "What a race," Campbell said. "Congratulations to Johnny O'Connell and Andy Pilgrim on a great season and helping Cadillac secure its second manufacturer's championship. Johnny showed today what it's like to drive like a champion. The entire organization had excellent preparation all season. They came into Houston with a plan, executed the plan and won the race and the championship. It is a great team win."
"That was a fierce battle," David Caldwell, Team Cadillac technical program manager, said. "This race demonstrated some of the best racing that can be found in any series and at any level! I'm so proud of our drivers - they raced with precision and executed every lap without error.
Johnny was able to take the lead for the final laps and clinch the driver's championship with Andy close behind finishing third. I want to thank every member of the Team Cadillac for putting in the extra effort all year long to deliver both the Manufacturer and Driver's championship titles for Cadillac."