MONTEREY, Calif. – Johnny O’Connell entered the Pirelli World Challenge season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with a 26-point lead and has ended it with a 61-point lead over title rival Olivier Beretta to claim his fourth straight GT class championship.
Yet that points gain does not tell the story of what was a dramatic, tense, action-packed 20th and final race.
While the pair of NGT Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s dominated the race – Alessandro Balzan winning from Alessandro Pier Guidi – the story of the title came down to O’Connell and Beretta, after Beretta had cleanly driven from 12th place up to fourth in the 50-minute race.
On Lap 25, Beretta made a passing attempt of O’Connell at the Corkscrew, with O’Connell concerned the damage would be too much to knock him out of the race.
Beretta seemed to poise to seize the title at that point, but was issued a drive-through penalty from Race Control for avoidable contact.
Beretta then retired at Turn 11 with just over five minutes remaining, and O’Connell’s title was secured, despite a 12th place finish.
In the race, Balzan beat Pier Guidi, Ryan Dalziel, Andy Pilgrim and Michael Lewis. Eric Lux (GT) and Colin Thompson (GT Cup) claimed additional class victories.
The title for O’Connell marks his fourth consecutive championship in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing entry, although first in the first year of the new FIA GT3-spec Cadillac ATS-V.R.
Frankie Montecalvo (GTA) and Thompson (GTC) secured the other class titles.