A Fast Five With A Former Champion

16 December 2022 GT America

If you are a fan of GT racing you certainly know the name Johnny O’Connell.  O’Connell has been a winner at virtually every major road course in North America and more than a few abroad.  He was a factory driver for Chevrolet, Cadillac, Panoz, and Nissan.  He has won at Le Mans, Sebring, and Daytona.  He also won four consecutive Pirelli World Challenge GT Championships from 2012-2015. In addition to racing, O’Connell has been an in-demand driver coach.  He was an instructor at Jim Russell, Skip Barber, as well as the Bob Bondurant School where he later served as their Vice President.  2023 will see O’Connell back in competition as his “retirement” was more of an extended sabbatical.

SRO: What have you been doing since you were a World Challenge regular?

JOHNNY: Aside from missing racing myself, I’ve been doing a whole lot of individual coaching. One of my clients is a young guy trying to make a career over in Europe, and I work with a really great guy in Ferrari Challenge.   All of those years working for Bondurant as an instructor and then the vice president, really gave me a lot of understanding on how to best teach a person to get to the front. But yeah, I really missed racing myself

SRO: Any favorite memories of the past with World Challenge?

JOHNNY: I’ve been lucky to have a very long career, and the old World Challenge stuff are some of my favorite memories.  I was a huge fan of the standing start, the amount of intensity and focus required was awesome. My favorite year was probably 2015 when we came out with the ATS. There was a lot of pressure from corporate to win, and the battles that I had with Olivier Berreta, and Kevin Estre were mega. 2016 was also a great year, racing with Patrick Long… Alvarro Parent…. and a young Austin Cindric… all great drivers.   

SRO: What made you want to return?

JOHNNY: Bottom line, is I’m still very hungry. I love racing, and still feel that I’m pretty close to the top of my game.

SRO: How did you connect with SKI AUTOSPORTS?

JOHNNY: I need to thank my very good friend and old teammate Andy Pilgrim for that. I believe there was a weekend that he could not be in one of their historic cars, and with it being at Road Atlanta he recommended me. Kent and Melissa, are two of the best people I’ve come across and racing, and I very much look forward to sharing success with them.

SRO: Since you are missing the first two weekends, how will that impact your approach of points vs wins?

JOHNNY: Well certainly we will be starting off with a pretty big deficit point wise for the championship. As I’ve driven the car before, and we will have some testing before our first race, I would like to think that from the get-go we should be in a position to run at the front. The wins will come I’m sure. 

SRO: Thank you Johnny.  We’ll see you at NOLA.