Johnny O'Connell scored a dominating win in the Cadillac World Challenge Road Atlanta Grand Prix, the final round of the Pirelli World Challenge Championship. Eric Foss and Aaron Povoledo won the GTS and Touring Car class races, respectively.
Starting from the pole in his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, O'Connell got the jump on the GT field at the standing start and sped away on the opening lap. Two separate Touring Car incidents brought out the full- course caution as the first lap was completed. But, even after the lap-six restart, O'Connell was never seriously challenged, scoring a 0.901sec victory behind the Volkswagen Golf R safety car over the No. 2 CRP Racing/Cragar Wheels Chevrolet Corvette of Charlotte's Mike Skeen.
O'Connell completed 29 laps (73.66 miles) of the scheduled 31 laps, in a race that ran against its 50-minute time limit, averaging 88.489mph.
“You always want to win your home race, and the biggest thing is the accomplishment of the team,” O'Connell said. “We're improving the car, we still have a lot to learn but I'm so excited about what everyone is doing at Cadillac.”
Skeen started second but got away slowly, allowing O'Connell to comfortably lead the opening lap as the caution came out. O'Connell similarly pulled away after the restart, until lap 14, when Skeen closed the gap in traffic to less than a second. As the lead pack got back to clear track, O'Connell was able to stretch the gap, leaving Skeen all by himself in second. It was Skeen's sixth podium finish.
“I'm really proud of Cragar and CRP Racing to be back up front again,” Skeen said. “We started second and finished second, it was kind of a boring race as these World Challenge races go. We got close to Johnny a couple of times in traffic, but the Cadillac was just way too strong for us this weekend. Congrats to Johnny and those guys for getting a win here at the end of their first season, but we'll back next year and go after it then.”
O'Connell's teammate Andy Pilgrim won the race-long battle for third with Patrick Lindsey, putting two Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V cars on the podium in the race that their brand sponsored.
“We had a bit of a problem in qualifying and the guys made a massive change to the car for the race,” Pilgrim said. “I'm very, very happy we've got such a great crew. They made a big change and it worked, so I got something to work with. I had a good run with Patrick, I had a good run with Eric Curran at the beginning and Randy Pobst. This car almost stalled on the freaking line, so I dropped back to sixth. It was really a fun race. I couldn't see these guys out front once I got by Patrick, but congratulations to Mike and Johnny. It was a good run, and a great weekend.”
Lindsey brought the No. 12 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette home fourth, giving General Motors a top four sweep. Patrick Long, of Bellaire, Fla., was able to finally get his No. 45 TruSpeed/Privacy Star/EnTrust Porsche 911 GT3 around the similar No. 14 GMG Porsche 911 GT3 of James Sofronas, a move that earned him the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race, to finish fifth.
Long clinched the Pirelli World Challenge Drivers' Championship one race ago, and finished the season with 1,327 points. O'Connell's second win of the season moved him to second with 1,222 points. Skeen finished third, with 1,197, followed by Sofronas (1,112) and Pilgrim (968).
Like Long, Porsche clinched the Manufacturers' Championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and finished with 78 points, followed by Cadillac, with 58, Volvo (31) and Nissan (1).
In GTS, Foss (LEFT) started on the pole in the No. 73 Traxxas/St. Jude Hopsital/SPX Ford Mustang FR500S and led the entire way for his second win of the season over Jason von Kluge and Paul Brown.
“I have to thank Mike Jenkins from TRAXXAS to give me this opportunity to drive the TRAXXAS/St. Jude Ford Mustang this year,” Foss said. “We brought in Capaldi Racing to run the car for us, they did a phenomenal job to win [in the first weekend] and finish the season with a win. You can't ask for more. John Horton is my engineer, he set the car up and it was phenomenal today. I could not do wrong in that car it was so good. The Pirelli tires, they held up so amazing, I've never been on a tire where you can just drive them so hard and so aggressively and they're just there lap after lap. I couldn't even blow them out when I did the big burnout at the end, they're so good.”
Brown started seventh in GTS but worked his way up to second in his No. 50 Lucas Oil/K&N Filter/Luminox Ford Mustang Boss 302S. On lap 20, von Kluge, who started third in his No. 19 JDK/Varsity Ford/Steeda Ford Mustang Boss 302S, was able to work his way by to take the runner-up position away.
Ian Baas finished fourth in the No. 56 APR Motorsport Audi S4 in his first series start since 2007. Nick Esayian finished fifth in his No. 34 RealTime/Acura/HPD Acura TSX.
Brown clinched the GTS Drivers' Championship at Laguna Seca, and finished the season with 1,521 points to Foss' 1,257. Peter Cunningham (1,188), Ben Crosland (1,178) and Esayian (921) completed the top five in points.
Ford earned the Manufacturers' Championship, with 112 points to Acura's 57 and Nissan's six.
Driving the No. 88 K-Pax Racing Volvo C30, Povoledo (LEFT) earned his fourth Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car race win of 2011 after starting from the pole, but unlike O'Connell and Foss, he had to come from behind.
The Touring Car race had a rough start as the Volkswagen Jetta of Ron Zitza and the Honda Civic Si of Brett Sandberg found the gravel trap at Turn 5 on the opening lap. A more serious incident was two corners later, as the Volkswagen GTI of third-starting Kevin Gleason, of Johnstown, Pa., was nosed into the wall with major damage. Gleason was uninjured in the incident, but the full-course caution was required to retrieve the car and repair the wall.
On the lap-six restart, second-starting Josh Hurley was able to put his No. 57 APR Motorsport Volkswagen GTI into the lead in his first World Challenge race. Povoledo looked for a way to get back to the point, and found it exiting Turn 7 on lap 10. From there, Povoledo sped away to the finish and the win.
“The highest note is that we won the most competitive race of World Challenge this year,” Povoledo said. “The Volkswagen came with the big APR team, my good friend Josh Hurley is one of the best drivers in Touring Car racing. It was a real clash of titans, you had Aschenbach, Hurley and myself all going at it and trading the lead back and forth with Josh was a lot of fun.
“It's what 'Sports Car Wars' are all about. I got a very big break in traffic that gave me a four-second gap and if you notice, that's about all it was for the entire race. That was really what broke it down. Otherwise it would have been us trading the lead the whole time and thank God I got that break. Sometimes they hurt you, today it helped a bunch.”
A former SCCA Pro Racing Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Champion, Hurley finished second in his debut. Series champion Lawson Aschenbach finished third in the No. 71 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si.
Robb Holland recovered from an early pit stop to remove parts of Gleason's car from his front bumper to finish fourth in the No. 66 K-Pax Volvo C30. Greg Liefooghe completed the top five in his No. 65 ChrisSmithRacing.net BMW 328i.
Aschenbach clinched his second World Challenge Drivers' Championship, his first in Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car, one race ago, and finished the season with 1,543. Povoledo finished second, with 1,334, followed by Holland (1,080), Rookie of the Year Tristan Herbert (1,015) and Ray Mason (875).
Honda earned the Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship, with 92 points, followed by Volvo (77) and Volkswagen (61).
• The Pirelli World Challenge season finale will air Saturday, Oct. 29 at 4 p.m. on Versus.