O'Connell won Saturday's Cadillac V-Series Challenge at Belle Isle (Weber photo)
O’Connell’s No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V led all 23 laps of the race, though only six were run under green-flag conditions around the 14-turn, 2.08-mile temporary street circuit as part of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.
The Cadillac started second and took the lead when polesitter Randy Pobst’s No. 6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 stalled at the start and was collected by the GTS class No. 95 Swisher Racing Mitsubishi Evo driven by Bill Ziegler, shoving him across the track and into the path of Roger Miller’s No. 23 Ford Mustang Boss 302S and Robert Stout’s No. 52 Nissan/SPL Pro/Sparco/Motul Nissan 370Z. The collision ended each of their days and immediately put the race under a full course caution for cleanup. The move into the lead by O’Connell was the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race.
The race went green again on lap 12, but a second incident involving the GTS cars of Richard Golinello (No. 55 Grand Sanitation Ford Mustang Boss 302S) and Michael Galati (No. 36 Kia Motors America Kia Optima) also collected Alec Udell’s No. 16 MDG/Ford Racing/KART NATION Ford Mustang Boss 302S and brought out a second yellow on lap 18.
Time expired while clean-up continued, ending the race under caution. O’Connell averaged just 53.339 mph in the time-shortened race.
It’s the second win of the season for O’Connell, who keeps the GT Drivers’ Championship lead and also earned the pole for Sunday’s Round Seven for turning the fastest green flag lap of the race in 1:27.582 (85.497 mph).
“When you’re racing in front of your world headquarters, you want to do well,” O’Connell said. “This was a race that was, in many aspects, won in qualifying. We really put in one of my better laps this morning, and that allowed us to get on the front row.
“When that start happened, I saw Randy out of my peripheral vision not go, I knew that bad things were likely to happen. When I got into Turn Two, that’s really the first time I took a look at what was around me and Lawson was the only one there, so I realized it was probably pretty big. I’m grateful that nobody got hurt.”
While O’Connell was ready for a race, a win is a win and he’s already started looking for tomorrow.
“That last caution, you hate that stuff to happen, but I’m excited because we’ve got a great car tomorrow,” O’Connell said. “We should have a lot of fun.”
Aschenbach pushed hard in the No. 1 Privacy Star/Entrust Porsche 911 GT3, starting fourth but simply didn’t have the time to make a serious run at the top step on his way to a second-place finish.
“The beginning was a pretty crazy start, and it ended up coming to our benefit,” Aschenbach said. “I was able to slide in behind Johnny there. The green flag was a big issue today, I think we might have been able to play for the win, especially toward the end of the race. But we have to be pretty happy with it, we had an issue in qualifying that put us fourth. We should have been a little bit further up, the Privacy Star/Entrust Porsche was fast.
“We just needed a little bit more green to get up to Johnny and try to make it a good old battle. Hat’s off to them, they did a great job.”
Andy Pilgrim put a second Cadillac on the box, finishing third in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V. Like Aschenbach, there simply wasn’t enough time for Pilgrim to make a run at the lead.
“I was lucky to miss Randy,” Pilgrim said of the start. “When someone stalls in front of you on a very close grid like that, you’re just thankful to get by. Lawson got a good start and he just got away.
“We didn’t have many green laps, it would have been interesting to see where things layed out. It’s a shame for the fans that we didn’t do better. We will do better, we’ve got a great racing series. It was just very unfortunate that that happened. I hope the fans stick with us and we’ll give them a much better show tomorrow.”
Alex Figge, teammate to Pobst, avoided the same fate and his stalled teammate on the start, earning the Cadillac CTS-V Move of the Race as he swerved, then finished fourth after a battle with Steve Ott’s No. 85 Racing For Our Heroes/Loctite Porsche 911 GT3.
Lee earned his second win of the season in GTS competition, leading wire-to-wire in the No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro for the victory. During the short green flag run, Lee turned the fastest lap of the GTS field in 1:34.948 (78.864 mph), also giving him the class pole for Sunday’s race.
“The start was definitely crazy, having cars stalled and things all over the place that we were trying to avoid,” Lee said. “It’s a shame that there wasn’t more green flag racing, it would have nice to have more a battle with some of the other drivers, but it’s good to bring home a win here in Detroit with an American made car.
“It seems like luck is on our side sometimes, definitely at Miller. It would be nice to win a race without some sort of crazy scenario involved in it. I’m excited just to be up front, I think even if it had gone green I had a decent enough pace that I could have stayed ahead. I think we have a car to beat tomorrow.”
Peter Cunningham was fourth in the No. 42 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TSX on the restart, but moved around both the second-running No. 26 Total Lubricants/Dell Cherries Ford Mustang Boss 302S of Aaron Povoledo and Jack Baldwin's No. 68 Hot Wheels/Voodoo Ride/Invoice Prep Porsche Cayman when the green flag flew to move into second. Cunningham finished in that position, holding his Drivers’ Championship lead.
Povoledo and Baldwin finished third and fourth, respectively, followed by the No. 19 Steeda Autosports Ford Mustang Boss 302S of Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Jason von Kluge. Baldwin won the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start for his improvements on the opening lap.
Don Istook, who improved 11 overall positions in the race behind the wheel of the No. 01 Revo Technik Audi TT, was the Sunoco Hard Charger.
After Round Six of 12, O’Connell holds the GT Drivers’ Championship lead with 735 points, followed by Pilgrim with 663. Despite the 15th-place finish, Pobst (562 points) remains in third, with Aschenbach (543) and James Sofronas (481) completing the top five. Cadillac holds the Manufacturers’ Championship with 46 points, followed by Porsche (40), Volvo (29) and Corvette (8).
In GTS, Cunningham has 718 points to hold the lead over Lee (667). Baldwin (637), Justin Bell (598) and Galati (468) follow. Acura leads the GTS Manufacturers’ Championship with 39 points, just ahead of Ford’s 36 and Chevrolet’s 30. Kia is fourth with 13 points.
The Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS field returns to action with a Round Seven race on Sunday in Detroit at 12:10 p.m. EDT. The race will be streamed live on www.world-challengetv.com.
The Cadillac V-Series Challenge at Belle Isle will air on NBC Sports, July 7 at 5:00 p.m. EDT.
More information is available at www.world-challenge.com. Follow Pirelli World Challenge on Twitter @WCRacing.