Team Cadillac Wins Round 1 of World Challenge at St. Petersburg
For Release March 25, 2012, 10:30 a.m. EDT
O’Connell Wins Again for Team Cadillac in World Challenge, Pilgrim Fourth at St. Petersburg Grand Prix
O’Connell Wins After Post-Race Penalty Shifts Standings
• Team Cadillac wins for the third time in last five World Challenge Races
• Late restart key to victory for O’Connell
• Pilgrim to start second, O’Connell third in Sunday’s Round 2
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Team Cadillac picked up where it left off last season, winning the opening round of the Pirelli World Challenge Series on the Streets of St. Petersburg.
It was not without controversy, however.
Johnny O’Connell won for the third time in five World Challenge races, despite finishing second on the track in his No. 3 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe. Posted winner Lawson Aschenbach was penalized one minute for an infraction, moving O’Connell up one step on the podium to first.
The penalty also moved Team Cadillac teammate Andy Pilgrim to fourth in the final rundown. Aschenbach finished 26th overall, 10th in the GT class.
“It was a great improvement by everybody on the Cadillac team,” O’Connell said. “We battled for this victory. We earned it. Last year, we were fourth in the first race and seventh in the second.”
The race started with second-place Pilgrim in good shape for the lead into Turn 1. Unfortunately, Volvo’s Alex Figge leaped away off the line and took the lead from Pilgrim in the run toward Turn 1.
It stayed that way, barring a couple of full-course cautions for accidents, until the 17th lap, when another crash set up the race’s biggest turning point.
Pilgrim was running second behind Figge with O’Connell right behind. Two yellow flags in the corners before and a blue flag for a slower car right at Turns 3 and 4 caused Figge to slow, and that meant both Cadillacs had to slow down as well, lest they pass the leader.
A slow-moving Touring Car was right in the middle of all that, and Aschenbach had a big run going. It carried him past O’Connell at the entrance to Turn 4 and eventually past Pilgrim and the still-slowing Figge to the lead.
Pilgrim said the slow car really confused things. “We had a Touring Car in the middle of it and we all had to slow down. Figge had no option, and I’m right behind him. I’m like, ‘what do I do now?’”
Aschenbach was able to stay on top the remaining nine laps, though he had heavy pressure from behind most of the way.
The race was marred by several crashes among the GTS and Touring Car fields, resulting in four full-course yellows, and that meant the race came down to who was best on restarts.
O’Connell, running fourth on the last restart, took a shot at the lead by diving all the way to the right down the wide front straight and sticking the CTS-V to the inside of James Sofronas’ Porsche. Three-wide, with Figge on the outside and Pilgrim right behind Figge, O’Connell made it through.
“On the last restart, I timed it well, took some chances and it worked out,” O’Connell said. “This was a great race. This was classic. I had a great battle with James Sofronas, racing so hard and so clean. It was a great day all around. Andy qualified super well and it really came down to restarts.”
Pilgrim, who was stuck behind Figge in the mad dash to Turn 1, faded to sixth once it shook out ahead of him, and spent the remaining laps trying to get back those lost positions.
“I got totally balked on the restart,” Pilgrim said. “Three cars had a run, nothing I could do, and I just got stuck behind Figge. Couldn’t go left, couldn’t go right. Top-five is fine, but I am disappointed in that restart. “
He eventually got past Steve Ott’s Porsche for fifth, but could gain no more before another big crash ended the race.
In all, the opening race of the 2012 season was a great deal better than the opening race of the Team Cadillac era last season.
The race, however marred by cautions, also was a chance for O’Connell and Pilgrim to test their CTS-V Coupes in battle for the first time.
“We’re going to be able to improve our car a little bit, I hope,” O’Connell said. “I was not pleased with my start, and we can improve on the setup a little bit. One of the bad things about weekends like this is you never get enough track time.”
O’Connell leads the driver points with 146, while Pilgrim is fourth with 97.
Team Cadillac will try to make it two straight in Sunday’s second round, set for 11 a.m. on the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg course.
Pilgrim will start second again on Sunday by virtue of posting the second-fastest lap time in Saturday’s race. O’Connell will start third and Aschenbach will have the pole.
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