O'Connell leads World Challenge qualifiers at Sonoma
Johnny O'Connell earned the first pole of the season for Cadillac on Saturday morning in qualifying for Saturday afternoon's Pirelli World Challenge Round Nine race at Infineon Raceway. Peter Cunningham extended his career poles mark with a GTS class pole, with Lawson Aschenbach taking the top spot in Touring Car.
O'Connell, driving the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, laid down a lap of 1:33.732 (86.225mph) nine minutes into the 20-minute qualifying session From there, the Cadillac returned to pit lane to see if anyone else could match the time around the 12-turn, 2.22-mile circuit. When no one could, Cadillac earned its first pole in World Challenge competition since Aschenbach accomplished the feat in 2007 at Mosport.
“It's nice to finally get a pole for Cadillac,” O'Connell said. “I don't think there are too many guys who have more laps around this place than I do, having taught for so many years for Bondurant [Driving School]. I had high expectations, but the guys gave me a good car and with my tire pressures, I just timed my lap perfectly. It was my second or third lap, which is what I was thinking going into it.
“There are a lot of ‘what ifs' for me. What's my car going to be like in the race, and all of that kind of stuff. But I'm proud of everyone at Cadillac Racing who have been working so hard.”
Championship leader Patrick Long ended the session in his No. 45 Privacy Star/TruSpeed Porsche 911 GT3 just 0.321sec behind O'Connell to earn the front row starting position, lapping the circuit in 1:34.053 (85.930mph).
Randy Pobst, the defending GT Drivers' Champion, posted a time of 1:34.147 (85.844mph) and will start third in the No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60. Sharing row two with Pobst is O'Connell's teammate, Andy Pilgrim, with a 1:34.500 (85.524mph) in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V Coupe.
Tomy Drissi earned his best career Pirelli World Challenge starting position in the No. 47 Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked Porsche 911 GT3, with a time of 1:34.631 (85.405 mph).
Cunningham's GTS pole extends his Pirelli World Challenge career record to 44 fast qualifiers after the six-time champion posted a 1:42.846 (78.584 mph) in the No. 1 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX.
“It was a little bit slippery this morning for everybody because of the track temperature, so it took a while to get the heat in the tires,” Cunningham said. “Once the heat was in the tires there was a lot of grip, and everyone went a lot faster than we did in the heat of the day the last couple of days. The RealTime Acura is running great, thanks to the crew, HPD, and Eibach Springs for all they do, and we're looking forward to the race.”
The Acura just topped four Mustangs hot on his heels, with the closest challenge coming from local driver Greg Liefooghe, just 0.325-second back. The Sonoma-native lapped his home circuit in 1:43.171 (78.336 mph) behind the wheel of the No. 16 Red Line Oil Ford Mustang Boss 302S to earn the front-row start in his first World Challenge appearance.
A similar Boss 302S Mustang, driven by GTS Championshp leader Paul Brown, will start third on Saturday afternoon. The four-time winner posted a time of 1:43.195 (78.318 mph) in the No. 50 Lucas Oil/K&N Filters/Wellendorf Ford Mustang Boss 302S.
Two Ford Mustang FR500S machines completed the top-five in GTS, led by Eric Foss in the No. 73 Traxxas/St. Jude Hospital/SPX Ford Mustang FR500S. Foss turned a lap of 1:43.510 (78.079 mph) in the session to qualify fourth. Rookie Ben Crosland earned the fifth qualifying position with a time of 1:43.702 (77.934 mph) in the No. 25 RaceWithRP.com Ford Mustang FR500S.
Aschenbach topped the session with a flying lap that was completed just after the checkered flag flew. Aschenbach crossed the stripe in 1:47.171 (75.412 mph) to earn his fourth career pole, this one in the Touring Car Championship-leading No.71 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si.
“First and foremost, that was a wild session,” Aschenbach said. “It was super cold out, so that took a little bit of time to get the car up to temp. But that last lap, I just gave it everything I had. It's one of those laps that are tough to repeat, so I have to thank Compass360 Racing and Honda HPD. Our Civic was just awesome again, we just have to keep going and hopefully we can take it to them in the race and see what happens from there.”
Aschenbach topped Aaron Povoledo to end the Toronto-native's string of four consecutive pole positions in the No. 88 K-Pax Racing Volvo C30. Povoledo's time of 1:47.209 (75.385 mph) was just 0.038-second shy of the pole.
Tristan Herbert's No. 33 GermanAutoParts.com/Techtonics Volkswagen GTI was the third manufacturer in the top three in Touring Car qualifying. Herbert turned a lap of 1:48.365 (74.581 mph) and will start on the inside of row two for Round Nine.
Two more Hondas completed the top five. Patrick Seguin, driving the No. 80 Theberge Homes/capparts.com Honda Civic Si, posted a 1:48.845 (74.252 mph) and will start fourth. Brett Sandberg, teammate of the polesitter, will start fifth after a 1:48.852 (74.247 mph) in the No. 70 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic.