PWC: Johnny O’s last stand as GT champ?

Photo: PWC

Johnny O’Connell has won four straight Pirelli World Challenge GT championships for Cadillac Racing, first in the venerable CTS-V.R and now in the new ATS-V.R GT3.

Down over 100 points this weekend, he needs to win and hope the two drivers in front of him, Alvaro Parente and Patrick Long, don’t score any points.

It’s a longshot, but it’s not impossible. Here’s more from the series:

Sports car driving legend Johnny O’Connell enjoyed a wild finish in last year’s Pirelli World Challenge Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca when the Cadillac Racing driver scored his fourth consecutive GT point title.

O’Connell recalls that it was not easy as he was in a fierce battle with former Corvette Racing teammate Olivier Beretta, who was driving a Ferrari last year.

“I got a great start last year and I knew Olivier would be coming up to challenge after he had a disappointing qualifying run,” said O’Connell, the four-time 24 Hours of Le Mans champion. “He made a wild move entering the ‘Corkscrew’ and his car hit mine from behind. I wasn’t sure if my Cadillac was damaged but I had to keep going to finish the race. He felt he had to win the race to win the championship. He made another wild move later in the race and he didn’t finish. But I did finish and we won our fourth straight crown. It was a crazy race.”

Now, the Flowery Branch, Ga., driver needs another crazy race this weekend (Oct. 7-9) in the PWC season finale at the famous 2.238-mile, 11-turn Northern California permanent road racing circuit. Johnny is in third in the current GT point standings behind leader Alvaro Parente and second place Patrick Long.

“I’m in a ‘must-win’ situation this weekend,” said O’Connell, who trails Parente by 104 points entering Sunday’s 50-minute GT sprint event. “It will be hard to match the drama of last year with Olivier, but we aren’t mathematically out of the title chase yet. We’ll need some luck to win the title but, hey, I’m Irish. Who knows?”

O’Connell, who’s tied with his Cadillac Racing teammate Michael Cooper at 1451 points, vaulted back into the GT points hunt with a sensational double win weekend last month at Sonoma Raceway. Now Johnny needs another win for a shot at a spectacular fifth straight GT championship in the highly-competitive Pirelli World Challenge.

“We had a very strong car at Sonoma and (Mazda Raceway) Laguna Seca has always suited me very well,” he said. “I have won there and have been on the podium a lot over my racing career. We’ll need that performance again and some tough luck for the point leaders. But it’s racing and anything is possible.”

At age 54, O’Connell proved at Sonoma that age is not a factor as he defeated a driver three times younger in talented Austin Cindric (age 18). And the New York native is looking to add to his PWC victory total of 20 when the green flag drops this Sunday (Oct. 9) at 1:05 p.m. PDT.

“It has been a season of some great competition and I am proud of how everyone at Cadillac Racing has risen to the challenge all year,” said Johnny. “Michael and I have five wins for Cadillac this year and I thought I had another one at Long Beach. We both want one more before the 2016 campaign is complete.”

With O’Connell attempting to continue his title reign this weekend, Parente and Long, two factory drivers with solid operations behind them, are just nine points apart (1554 – 1545) when official practice runs begin Friday (Oct. 7) at 10:15 a.m. PDT.

Parente, the factory McLaren driver with K-PAX Racing, has been sensational as a GT rookie in PWC with five wins and six pole positions in 2016. And the 31-year-old racer from Porto, Portugal had not seen any of the PWC tracks previously except for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. In 2007, Parente drove in the A1GP event at MRLS.

“I was in a single seater at Laguna Seca several years ago,” said Parente. “It was a A1GP race back in 2007. Then I drove to Las Vegas to see that city. Until this year, I had never been at another race track in U.S. It will be fun to return to (Mazda Raceway) Laguna Seca now.”

For Long, the 2011 PWC GT champion, he returned to the GT series for a full season for the first time since his title run and scored three wins despite a mid-season team switch.

After winning at the Circuit of the Americas in March for Effort Racing, the Manhattan Beach, Calif., factory driver for Porsche saw his team close down operations in May. But the determined two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans champion was able to join Wright Motorsports later in the month and continue his championship fight.

“The level of competition in the Pirelli World Challenge has vaulted since I was here in 2011,” said Long. “The drivers, cars and teams are so competitive now and it has been a real fight to race for wins and championship points. I look forward to returning to (Mazda Raceway) Laguna Seca for the season finale and the battle for the championship.”

With Parente, Long, O’Connell and Cooper all still with a chance for the GT title, other GT drivers could throw a wrench in their quest for the crown this weekend.

Nissan and Always Evolving brings the duo of Bryan Heitkotter of Fresno, Calif., and Australian JD Davison to the GT action at MRLS along with the Acura and RealTime Racing pair of Ryan Eversley and Spencer Pumpelly both of Atlanta.

Parente’s K-PAX teammates, Cindric of Charlotte and Colin Thompson of Doylestown, Pa., figure to be in the GT mix on Sunday as well as Canadian Kyle Marcelli with Audi, Gunnar Jeannette of Salt Lake City, Utah, with the WeatherTech/Alex Job Racing Porsche and Switzerland’s Fabian Hamprecht in the popular Team Absolute Bentley.

Practice for the 122 Pirelli World Challenge (8 classes) entries begins Friday morning (Oct. 7) with racing set for Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 8-9) to complete the 26th season for North America’s leading production-based sports car series.

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023


Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.