Cadillac Racing drivers Johnny O’Connell and Michael Cooper will enjoy their first outing of the 2017 racing season this weekend, the double-header Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The ATS-V.R returns for 2017 virtually unchanged from last year save for new liveries that saw O’Connell’s car painted red once again and Cooper’s car change from black to blue. The driver pairing took podiums in last year’s season opener at St. Pete, with O’Connell scoring third in Race 1 and Cooper taking third in Race 2. The two are looking to improve on the result this year, but recognize the challenge that lies ahead of them in 2017.
“The first race of the year is always interesting as some guys are knocking the rust off and others are pretty dialed in,” O’Connell said. “I always enjoy racing at St Pete. Hard to believe my first win there was in Formula Atlantic in 1987. Luckily for me I’m just as hungry as I was back then.”
“I hope the fans can appreciate the talent in this GT Class, I have not seen a name on the entry list that made me say – that guy can’t win,” added Cooper. “With that said, I don’t think I need to remind anybody how strong Cadillac Racing is, we’ll be ready.”
O’Connell believes he could have won his fifth PWC championship with Cadillac last year if it weren’t for a short string of bad luck late in the season. Despite the growing PWC GT field and the fierce competition, the 54-year old racing veteran believes Cadillac can lock down another championship in 2017.
“(Save) for a flat tire at Lime Rock and an electrical issue at Road America last year I feel we would have won number five,” he said. “So the goal is what it always is, win races and the championship as well as represent Cadillac and the series at the highest level.”
Bentley’s Aderly Fong was fastest in Thursday’s PWC GT practice ahead of this weekend’s double header, with the always quick Patrick Long slotting in behind him in his Porsche 911 and JD Davison rounding out the top three in his Aston Martin Vantage GT3.