O’Connell back at Le Mans for first time since 2010, while Long seeks win he missed in 2015

Photo: PWC
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When it comes to this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Pirelli World Challenge GT Champion Johnny O’Connell has some time to make up for, while Patrick Long is looking to pick up from where he left off last year.

O’Connell is seeking his fifth GTE-Am class win on the 8.47-mile, 38-turn Circuit de la Sarthe, but also his first since his last win in 2009. He also won in 1994, 2001 and 2002, as well as finished runner-up four other times.

The Corvette Johnny O'Connell will race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Corvette Johnny O’Connell will race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

This will be O’Connell’s 15th start at Le Mans, but his first return to competing in the legendary event there since 2010.

“I’m very excited to go back to Le Mans,” said O’Connell, the four-time PWC GT champion. “Pratt & Miller (his former Corvette team as well as his current Cadillac squad) filled me in with what was going on, and then it was a matter of me letting the team know I was available.

“If I hadn’t been racing, I would be nervous, but the past five years have been highly productive for me. That’s why I’m very anxious to run Le Mans again.”

And now that he’s back, win No. 5 is his top priority.

“Racing at Le Mans is one of those special moments in life,” O’Connell said. “The spectacle of the entire world focusing on the challenge of running 24 hours flat out on an amazing circuit makes for an incredible atmosphere. It’s impossible to really put into words winning there. And finally, I’m going back.”

Patrick Long seeks to turn last year's runner-up finish into a win in this year's 24 Hours at Le Mans.
Patrick Long seeks to turn last year’s runner-up finish into a win in this year’s 24 Hours at Le Mans.

Long, meanwhile, is making his 13th career start at Le Mans and hopes to finish one position higher than he did in last year’s race, when he and teammates Patrick Dempsey and Marco Seefried ended up second in the LMGTE-Am class.

Long is a two-time winner at Le Mans (2004 and 2007) and a two-time runner-up, as well. The 2011 PWC GT champ will drive for the No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR with Khaled Al Qubaisi and David Heinemeier Hansson.

“I finished on the podium in Le Mans last year and that’s where I want to go this year, too,” Long said. “I’m very familiar with the circuit and its quirks – after all, I’ve raced here 12 times before.

“But it’s still one of the toughest challenges you can imagine as a racing driver. I’m feeling very confident. Our class is very competitive, but we have good chances.”

This will be the seventh straight 24 Hours at Le Mans that Long has driven for Germany-based Proton Racing.

“I’m excited to continue with what we built on for a lot of years,” Long said. “I’ve driven for Christian (Ried, Proton team owner) on and off since 2010 and it’s great to just continue the momentum. I think the class is in a great place.”

The No. 88 Porsche that Patrick Long will drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The No. 88 Porsche that Patrick Long will drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Long (second place) and O’Connell (third place) are currently fighting for the 2016 PWC GT Driver’s Championship. Long already has three wins in the series in his Porsche 911 GT3 R, while O’Connell has one win.

PWC next races as part of the Verizon IndyCar Series weekend June 23-26 at Road America in Wisconsin.

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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”