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.

Seattle Supercross by the numbers: Three riders separated by 17 points


Three riders remain locked in a tight battle with 17 points separating the leader Cooper Webb from third-place Chase Sexton and these are only a few Supercross numbers to consider entering Seattle.

Seattle Supercross numbers
Chase Sexton made a statement in Detroit with his second win of 2023. – Feld Motor Sports

For the fifth time in 10 rounds. Sexton, Webb, and Eli Tomac shared the podium in Detroit. Between them, the trio has taken 23 podiums, leaving only seven for the remainder of the field. Jason Anderson, Ken Roczen and Justin Barcia have two each with Aaron Plessinger scoring the other.

Webb and Tomac won the last four championships with two apiece in alternating years, but they were not one another’s primary rival for most of those seasons. On the average, however, the past four years show an incredible similarity with average points earned of 21.0 for Webb and 21.3 for Tomac. With five wins so far this season, Tomac (23 wins) leads Webb (19) in victories but Webb (43) edges Tomac (41) in podium finishes during this span.

Tomac has won two of the last three Seattle races and those two wins in this stadium are topped only by James Stewart. Fittingly, if Tomac gets a third win this week, he will tie Stewart for second on the all-time wins’ list. Tomac tied Ricky Carmichael for third with 48 wins at Oakland and took sole possession of that spot with his Daytona win.

Sexton still has a lot to say and after winning last week in Detroit, he is speaking up. The Supercross numbers are against him entering Seattle, however, because a points’ deficit this large after Round 10 has been erased only once. In 1983 David Bailey was 47 points behind Bob Hannah, and like Sexton he was also in third place. Bailey took the points’ lead with one race remaining.

The seven points Sexton was penalized last week for jumping in a red cross flag section in Detroit could prove extremely costly.

In fact, it has been a series of mistakes that has cost Sexton the most. In the last two weeks, he lost 10 points with a 10th-place finish to go with his penalty. Erase those, and all three riders hold their fate in their hands.

Plessinger’s heartbreak in Detroit is still fresh, but the upside of his run is that was his best of the season and could turn his fortunes around. Prior to that race, he led only seven laps in three mains. He was up front for 20 laps in Detroit with five of those being the fastest on the track.

Last week’s win by Hunter Lawrence tied him with his brother Jett Lawrence for 17th on the all-time wins’ list. With the focus shifting to 250 West for the next two rounds, Jett has a great opportunity to pull back ahead. The real test will be at the first East / West Showdown in East Rutherford, New Jersey on April 22.

Last Five Seattle Winners

2022: Eli Tomac
2019: Marvin Musquin
2018: Eli Tomac
2017: Marvin Musquin
2014: Ryan Villopoto

2022: Hunter Lawrence
2019: Dylan Ferrandis
2018: Aaron Plessinger
2017: Aaron Plessinger
2014: Cole Seely

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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Chase Sexton wins in Detroit, penalized seven points