World Challenge Crowns 2012 Champions
SONOMA, Calif. – The Pirelli World Challenge Championships crowned its Champions last Sunday night at the season-ending banquet in Sonoma, Calif.
In GT, Johnny O’Connell took home his first ever Pirelli World Challenge title, while Peter Cunningham made it title number seven in GTS, with Michael Cooper and Jonathan Start claiming the Championships in their rookie seasons in Touring Car and Touring Car B-Spec.
O’Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., closed out his 2012 Pirelli World Challenge GT championship-winning season with a fourth-place finish aboard the No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V at Sonoma. It was the first Pirelli World Challenge title for the decorated sports car racer.
“It was a strong year for us,” O’Connell said, following the race. “When we entered last year, we had no dreams of winning a championship. We were highly restricted and needed a lot of development. As the 2011 season progressed, we got to the point where we were able to catch up and have a car that was good, fast and strong. Over the winter, our engineers improved the car so I entered the season with a lot of confidence that, provided I did some pretty simple things, I’d be in a position to win a championship.”
Making it even better, O’Connell’s Cadillac Racing squad also won the team and manufacturer titles for the GT class.
In GTS, Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., made it a record seventh Pirelli World Challenge Championship, also scoring the team title and Manufacturer’s Championship for Acura in the No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX
“This championship sweep is a tribute to the RealTime Acura group,” Cunningham said. “I just do the easy part. The level of preparation, the handling, the reliability and the power are always constant throughout the year. We may not have won the most races, but it’s consistency that wins championships. I want to thank Acura, HPD and the whole RealTime crew for all their hard work and dedication this year. I know I always say I have good luck when I’m running the number 42, but I am looking forward to wearing the number one again in 2013.”
Cooper, of Syosset, N.Y., claimed the Touring Car Championship in his rookie season with a dominating win on Sunday at Sonoma in the No. 03 MAZDASPEED Motorsports MAZDASPEED3.
Cooper’s entire racing career has been less than 50 races, all of them in a Mazda, and all of them since 2009 when he attended the Skip Barber Racing School at Lime Rock Park.
“What an amazing year 2012 has been in the MAZDASPEED3, I couldn’t have done this without everyone at Mazda and Atlanta Motorsports Group,” he said, noting the team title Atlantic Motorsports Group took home. “The incredible passion for what they do ensures success for all of their drivers. Having a car that is as fun to drive as the MAZDASPEED3, just adds to the thrill of victory and this championship.”
The Touring Car Manufacturer’s Championship went to Honda, as did the Touring Car B-Spec Manufacturer’s title.
In Touring Car B-Spec, Start, from Caledonia, Mich., took home top honors in the class in the No. 00 Kawartha Chrysler/FIAT/SpeedlogiX Fiat 500.
“It was a long year of trying to make things happen to allow us to race and have strong finishes,” said Start. “Everyone involved worked hard and produced a great car for me to go out and race in. I hope that we can carry the success of the season into 2013 and hopefully many more. The keys to success were pretty simple: Keep it clean and learn. We came into the year not knowing much about the car and being a rookie I had to have an immediate learning curve to get up to speed. With FIAT still being very new to the states we wanted to make sure that we could represent the brand and show that the car is a strong good car to have in the series and in the states. We took our energy and notes to every race to learn and race hard.”