Defending four-time GT driving champion Johnny O'Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga., dominated Sunday's 50-minute GT sprint race in the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Sonoma presented by Cadillac with an impressive first turn move and never looked back for his second win of the weekend. In addition, Michael Schein of Glen Cove, N.Y., and Alec Udell of The Woodlands, Tex., scored double victories in the GTA and GT Cup divisions, respectively.
O'Connell, the sports car legend driving the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R., started third behind K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S teammates Austin Cindric and Alvaro Parente at the drop of the green flag. But Johnny slid his Cadillac inside Cindric into turn one and took the lead up the hill into turn two.
O'Connell then jumped out to a 4.6-second advantage by lap three and ultimately extended his gap to 11.386 seconds at the checkered flag in the 31-lap GT main event at the 2.38-mile, 12-turn permanent road circuit north of San Francisco. Few drivers have as much experience at Sonoma Raceway as O'Connell, who served as a driving instructor at the Sonoma facility decades ago in the Bob Bondurant Driving School.
Since then O'Connell has established one of the U.S.' greatest sports car resumes including recording his 61st win in a General Motors race car. Sunday's victory was the 20th in Pirelli World Challenge competition in 98 starts. O'Connell won the GT drivers' championship in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
"My eyes were like a laser on the starter and the second his hand started to move, I went," said O'Connell. “I timed that just about perfect. The speed for the start is supposed to be around 45 miles per hour and we have been running it a little lower. And that allowed me that quick shot out for the start. Then, once I got inside of Austin (Cindric) in turn one, I have been around this place enough to know what I had to do. I then saw there was little bit of monkey business on the first lap behind me and opened the gap as quickly as I could. I then wanted to take care of my tires. I knew that I had a good gap right after the first or second lap, and that was a huge luxury."
The GT action behind O'Connell was wild early in the race with veteran sports car racer Jon Fogarty of Bend, Ore., having his No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance hit in the carousel and spun around on the first lap. Several GT drivers were involved in the mishap including two-time 2016 winner Michael Cooper of Syosset, N.Y., in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. and Adderly Fong of Hong Kong in the No. 88 Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3.
With O'Connell well on his way to victory, Parente, the five-time GT race winner from Porto, Portugal, held the second spot in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S with pole winner Cindric third in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S. Late in the contest, Cindric applied the pressure to his teammate but had to settle for third at the checkered flag.
The drive of the day in the GT event was by 2011 GT champion Patrick Long of Manhattan Beach, Calif., who started 14th in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. Long, a three-time 2016 winner, gained ten positions to finish fourth Sunday.
Entering the Pirelli World Challenge season finale set for Oct. 7-9 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Parente unofficially leads Long by nine points, 1554 to 1545. O'Connell and Cooper are now tied for third place in GT points at 1451.
Schein, Long's teammate in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, posted his eighth 2016 win in the GTA (Amateur) class with an impressive win over Andrew Kim of Seoul, South Korea, in the No. 78 Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3 and college student Cooper MacNeil of Hinsdale, Ill., in the No. 79 WeatherTech/Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.
"I got a good start today but I saw cars and dust in the carousel and Fogarty was parked in the middle of the track," said Schein. “I had to check up and slow through that area, but I was able to make a move on the outside in turn seven and passed some cars. Once I was in the GTA lead, I noticed that the car was much better today than Saturday. Then I was able to hit my marks and open up a gap. It is great having Pat onboard with the Wright team. Having a guy with his knowledge and experience is a great advantage and great stuff can come from it. We are good buddies and we have gelled together this year."
In the GT Cup division, Udell drove his No. 17 GMG Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car to a 12th 2016 victory in another sensational performance for the Clemson University mechanical engineering student. Udell battled with his season-long rival Sloan Urry of Salt Lake City, Utah, in the No. 20 TruSpeed Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup before winning by five seconds. Third place went to Mike Hedlund of Redwood City, Calif., in the No. 35 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.
Unofficially, Udell clinched the GT Cup driver's point championship.
"I got a two second gap on Sloan early in the race," said Udell. “I was able to hold that advantage for about 40 minutes. Then, at the end of the race, a bunch of the GT cars were coming through our race and I was a little bit better at conserving my tires. So the gap got bigger and I was able to run harder in the last five minutes of the race. It was a great season for GMG and myself and I'm hoping to move into the GT division next year. I have tested a few times in the Porsche 911 GT3 R and I'm excited to run that car in the future."
Other race awards and recognitions were determined as follows:
The Optima Batteries Best Start award was given to GT No. 13 Colin Thompson in the K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 for a seven position gain at the start of the race.
The Cadillac Move of the Race was determined to be GT No. 58 Patrick Long's passing move on Michael Lewis (GT No.98) in Turn 8.
The KIA Turning Point was determined to be the first lap incident between GT No. 8 Michael Cooper and GT No. 88 Adderly Fong for its implication on the GT points championship.
The VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger award was given to GT No. 58 Patrick Long for his ten position gain throughout the race.
MotorTrendOnDemand.com Clean Pass Award was given to GT No. 58 Patrick Long for his pass of GT No. 33 JD Davison in turn 11.
GT rounds from Sonoma Raceway premiere on CBS Sports Network on Sunday, September 25th, 2016 at 4:00 pm EDT; check your local listings for channel and alternate broadcasts. The 2016 championships close out with the season finale rounds at MAZDA Raceway Laguna Seca on October 7-9, 2016.
Pos. PIC, Class, Name, Hometown, Car, Laps, Status
- 1, GT, Johnny O'Connell, Flowery Branch GA, Cadillac ATS-V.R. GT3, 31, Running
- 2, GT, Alvaro Parente, Porto Portugal, McLaren 650S GT3, 31, Running
- 3, GT, Austin Cindric, Charlotte NC, McLaren 650S GT3, 31, Running
- 4, GT, Patrick Long, Manhattan Beach CA, Porsche 911 GT3 R, 31, Running
- 5, GT, Bryan Heitkotter, Fresno CA, Nissan GTR GT3, 31, Running
- 6, GT, Michael Lewis, Laguna Beach CA, Porsche 911 GT3 R, 31, Running
- 7, GT, JD Davison, Denver CO, Nissan GTR GT3, 31, Running
- 8, GT, Jonathan Summerton, Highlands NJ, Mercedes AMG SLS GT3, 31, Running
- 9, GT, Colin Thompson, Doylestown PA, McLaren 650S GT3, 31, Running
- 10, GT, Peter Kox, Eindhoven NL, Acura TLX-GT, 31, Running
- 11, GT, Kyle Marcelli, Barrie ON, Audi R8 LMS GT3, 31, Running
- 12, GT, Ryan Eversley, Atlanta GA, Acura TLX-GT, 31, Running
- 1, GTA, Michael Schein, Glen Cove NY, Porsche 911 GT3 R, 31, Running
- 2, GTA, Andrew Kim/Andrew Kim, Seoul South Korea, Bentley Continental GT3, 31, Running
- 3, GTA, Cooper MacNeil/Cooper MacNeil, Hinsdale IL, Porsche 991 GT3 R, 31, Running
- 16, GT, Gunner Jeannette/Gunner Jeannette, Salt Lake City UT, Porsche 991 GT3 R, 31, Running
- 4, GTA, Brent Holden, Newport Beach CA, Porsche 911 GT3 R, 31, Running
- 5, GTA, Drew Regitz, Denver CO, Audi R8 LMS GT3, 30, Running
- 6, GTA, Andy Wilzoch, Aurora CO, Porsche GT3R, 30, Running
- 20, GT, Adderly Fong, Hong Kong, Bentley Continental GT3, 30, Running
- 1, GT Cup, Alec Udell, The Woodlands TX, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 30, Running
- 21, GT, Michael Cooper, Syosset NY, Cadillac ATS-V.R. GT3, 30, Running
- 2, GT Cup, Sloan Urry, Park City UT, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 30, Running
- 3, GT Cup, Mike Hedlund/Mike Hedlund, Redwood City CA, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 30, Running
- 4, GT Cup, Corey Fergus, Columbus OH, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 29, Running
- 5, GT Cup, Preston Calvert, Potomac MD, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 28, Running
- 27, GTA, Tim Pappas, Boston MA, Porsche 911 GT3 R, 6, Tires
- 28, GTA, Martin Fuentes, Mexico City Mexico, Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, 1, Contact
- 29, GT, Jon Fogarty, Bend OR, McLaren 650S GT3, 0, Contact