High drama unfolds as O’Connell, Aschenbach win GT, GTS titles

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The 2013 Pirelli World Challenge championships in the GT and GTS classes went down to the final laps of the season yesterday at Houston’s Reliant Park, but in the end, it was Johnny O’Connell (GT) and Lawson Aschenbach (GTS) that clinched the titles in their respective categories with race wins.

James Sofronas entered the race with a slim edge over O’Connell in GT points, but after leading early on, his Audi R8 faltered as the 1.7-mile street circuit began to dry out from earlier rains.

Randy Pobst and O’Connell would get past Sofronas for first and second on Lap 23, and then on Lap 25, things went from bad to worse for Sofronas when he suffered a left tire puncture and was forced to pit; one of the drivers he’d been racing with at the time, Andy Pilgrim, was tagged later with a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.

O’Connell would then take the lead from Pobst on Lap 26, and go on to claim the win in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R, marking a successful defense of the GT title he won in 2012. Sofronas finished fifth in the race.

“Coming down to the wire, I lost a lot of sleep over it,” said O’Connell, who had lost the GT points lead in the previous event at Sonoma Raceway. “That’s really the way a championship should be decided. When you have a great car, it makes things a lot easier. I’m emotionally tired just because your guys, they’re counting on you.”

In GTS, Jack Baldwin held the championship lead going into Houston. But Aschenbach (No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro) took the point from Baldwin on Lap 3 and would keep it for the remainder of the race.

However, he still needed Baldwin to finish outside the Top 2 to stand a chance at the title. Then, as the final minutes ticked away, Baldwin – who had been running in second – was passed by seven-time Pirelli World Challenge champ Peter Cunningham, as well as Mark Wilkins.

As a result, Aschenbach was able to claim the GTS crown by a mere 12 points over Baldwin, who finished fourth in the race.

“I have to say to everybody at Blackdog Speed Shop, ‘Job well done this year’ – they flat out worked their butts off from November last year, when this deal came together, to today and we’re champions,” Aschenbach said.

“That shows you how much hard work, patience, late nights – everything – that they did to make this happen.”

You can watch the 2013 PWC finale from Houston on Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

F1 Paddock Pass: United States Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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As Lewis Hamilton took another step towards his fourth Formula 1 World Championship Sunday at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas, plenty of other topics of discussion emerged in the wake of Round 17 of the season from Austin.

Hamilton’s win came as his Mercedes AMG Petronas team claimed its fourth consecutive Constructor’s Championship, Scuderia Ferrari came up short once again despite a valiant effort in second and third, and Max Verstappen’s penalty after the race was the major talking point.

Elsewhere Valtteri Bottas struggled again, the Sahara Force India twins continued to pick up points, Carlos Sainz Jr. made a major positive impact in his first start with Renault, Brendon Hartley impressed on debut at Toro Rosso and Romain Grosjean and Haas F1 Team endured a tough weekend on Haas’ home soil.

Check out all the recap from the latest USGP in the latest post-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, below.