Johnny O’Connell and Ryan Dalziel led the GT practice action Friday at Sonoma Raceway as the final two rounds of the GT championship come to a close in the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Sonoma.
O’Connell, the four-time PWC GT champion from Flowery Branch, Ga., paced the 21-car field Friday in his popular red No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. with a best lap of one minute, 33.320 seconds (92.00 miles per hour) as the sports car legend seeks his first 2017 PWC win in Rounds 18 (Saturday at 2:15 p.m. PDT) and 19 (Sunday at 10:15 a.m. PDT). O’Connell recorded his best clocking in the 30-minute morning session at the 2.35-mile, 12-turn road circuit.
Unfortunately, O’Connell’s Cadillac made contact with the turn six wall in the afternoon practice and the Cadillac Racing team is currently assessing the damage for Saturday’s Qualifying round and Round 18 50-minute race.
“It doesn’t happen often but everyone falls off and I’m disappointed in myself (for the crash)," said O’Connell, a 20-race winner in PWC GT competition. "I just understeered into turn six and hit a bump. The next thing I know I was in the air and face first into the wall. Very grateful that Cadillac Racing builds one heck of a strong car. That was a huge one. I haven’t had a huge one like that since my IndyCar days (in the 1990s)."
Dalziel, the Scotsman now residing in Windemere, Fla., paced the 30-minute afternoon practice round in the No. 2 CRP Racing/DeVilbiss Mercedes-AMG GT3 sports car with a best lap of 1:33.511 (91.81 m.p.h.) as he attempts to score his third PWC GT win of the year.
“It was a great day for us as we started the day with the setup from COTA where we won the SprintX race," said Dalziel. “We changed things from Practice 1 and we didn’t run new Pirelli tires until Practice 2. I don’t know where everyone was with tire wear today, but, if everyone was on stickier tires in the afternoon, it was good day for the CRP guys. We aren’t in the GT Overall point fight but I would like to fight for the double win this weekend."
In the fight for the coveted GT Overall and GT Sprint point battle, Patrick Long of Manhattan Beach, Calif., leads reigning GT champion Alvaro Parente of Portugal by five points (157-152) in the GT Sprint points and Long, in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, leads Parente, in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S, by 28 in the GT Overall standings.
In 2017, the GT Overall championship is determined by all 19 Pirelli World Challenge GT rounds (10 in SprintX and 9 in GT Sprint).
Long was second fastest to O’Connell in the first Friday GT practice with a 1:33.584 (91.74 m.p.h.) while Parente was sixth at 1:34.430 (90.92 m.p.h.). In the afternoon practice runs, Long was eighth at 1:34.534 (90.82 m.p.h.) with Parente tenth at 1:34.658 (90.70 m.p.h.).
Michael Cooper, this year’s co-champion in the SprintX division with Jordan Taylor in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. and third in GT Overall points, posted consistent laps in each of the two Friday practices with a 1:33.755 (91.57 m.p.h.) for third best in the morning. In the afternoon, the Syosset, N.Y., driver was fifth best in GT at 1:33.895 (91.44 m.p.h.).
Other top performers on Friday at Sonoma Raceway included three-time SprintX race winner Daniel Mancinelli of Italy in the No., 31 TR3 Racing/The Collection Ferrari 488 GT3 at second in the afternoon practice at 1:33.580 (91.75 m.p.h.) followed by Pierre Kaffer of Germany in the No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi RS 8 LMS at 1:33.716 (91.61 m.p.h.) and college student Alec Udell of The Woodlands, Tex., in the No. 17 Euroworld Motorsports/GMG Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:33.833 (91.50 m.p.h.).
Top runners in the morning practice after O’Connell, Long and Cooper were GTA star Michael Schein of Glen Cove, N.Y., in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:34.017 (91.32 m.p.h.) and Jon Fogarty of Bend, Ore., in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing “Red Dragon" Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:34.265 (91.08 m.p.h.).
In addition to Schein in the GTA category Friday morning at Sonoma Raceway, point leader James Sofronas of Villa Park, Calif., was the quickest GTA runner in the afternoon session in the No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:35.068 (90.31 m.p.h.)
Qualifying in GT/GTA for Round 18 will take place Saturday at 10 a.m. PDT.