O’Connell Wins Road Atlanta GT1 Qualifying Battle
Georgian Takes GT1 Pole for ALMS Petit Le Mans with Record-Setting Last Lap
BRASELTON, Ga. – Hometown hero Johnny O’Connell won the GT1 pole for Saturday’s 10-hour/1,000 mile Petit Le Mans endurance race at Road Atlanta, the 10th round of the American Le Mans Series. The racer from nearby Flowery Branch put the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R at the head of the GT1 class with a record-breaking 1:16.542 (119.464 mph) time on his final qualifying lap on the roller coaster 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course. He edged teammate Olivier Beretta by .047 seconds to claim his third pole of the season, his third pole at Road Atlanta, and the fifth pole of his career.
“It doesn’t get any closer than that,” O’Connell said. “That just shows how equal these Corvettes are. I’ve never been one to get a lot of poles, so I have to thank the crew and my engineer, Ken Flory, because I’ve won more poles this year than I did previously in my entire career.”
The two Corvette drivers traded fastest times throughout their six-lap qualifying runs. Beretta was quicker on the first three flying laps, but O’Connell took the point with a 1:16.917 lap on his fourth circuit. Beretta responded with a quicker 1:16.589 on his fifth timed lap, but O’Connell had the final word with a pole-winning 1:16.542 time on his last lap.
“Olivier has more poles than anybody in the series, so whenever you qualify ahead of him, you’ve had a good day,” O’Connell noted. “Qualifying was something that I wanted to improve in my game this year, and I think I have.”
O’Connell eclipsed the 1:16.627 (119.331 mph) track qualifying record set by Beretta in September 2005.
“Hats off to all the guys at Corvette Racing for their dedication to making these cars faster and faster,” O’Connell said. “Some people think that because there are just two Corvettes racing in GT1 that we’re standing still, but this team is constantly raising the bar. We’re very excited as we look to the future of this program.”
Beretta’s run for his 23rd career pole was stymied by a slower GT2 car.
“I did a fast lap, and then the next lap could have been the one to go for the pole, but then I had traffic,” Beretta said. “It was just a question of traffic. The track was good, my Corvette was very good, and I have no complaints.”
Saturday’s race will mark the final appearance by Corvette Racing’s twin C6.R race cars in the GT1 class at Road Atlanta. The team will begin its transition to the GT2 category after next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I think this was the closest margin between the two Corvettes this season,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. “It’s amazing when you think about how complex the race cars are that you can put two different drivers on a race track that’s two and half miles long, and have them end up just 47 thousandths of a second apart. I’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s still just remarkable to me. It’s a testament to the quality of the cars and the quality of the drivers.”
O’Connell’s loyal fans cheered his success today at his home track.
“You always want to do well at your home track,” O’Connell said. “If I didn’t get the pole, would I have been upset? No. Am I happy that I got it? Yes!”
The 1,000-mile/10-hour Petit Le Mans endurance race is scheduled to start at 11:15 a.m. EDT on Saturday, October 4. SPEED will televise the race live from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. – 11 p.m. EDT.
Petit Le Mans GT1 Qualifying:
1. O’Connell/Magnussen/Fellows, Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, 1:16.542/119.464 mph
2. Gavin/Beretta/Papis, Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, 1:16.589/119.391 mph
Release Date: October 3, 2008