OLD FRIENDS BRING THE FIREWORKS
eammates, friends, rivals…Johnny
O’Connell and Olivier Beretta have run
the gamut as racers, so when the Pirelli
World Challenge GT Championship came
down to these two determined
competitors in the finale, fireworks were
pretty much guaranteed.
Even when the two were teammates
with Corvette Racing in the American
Le Mans Series and at the 24 Hours of
Le Mans, they had their on-track clashes
– most famously at Mid-Ohio in 2008.
Seven years later, at this year’s Long
Beach PWC round, O’Connell spent some
time nosed into a tire barrier after
Beretta – whom he had just passed – went
inside Kevin Estre’s McLaren, which was
inside O’Connell’s Cadillac, wrecking both
drivers. Everyone was penalized, but
O’Connell left Long Beach – where he
says he thought he had a car to win – with
100 points less than Beretta.
And in the closing minutes of the 2015
season, they hit again as the Monégasque
driver made a desperate attempt to pass
O’Connell in Turn 8 at Mazda Raceway
Laguna Seca, where Beretta needed a
win to have any hope of claiming the title.
They slid sideways in tandem down the
Corkscrew, with O’Connell’s Cadillac ATS-V
GT3 sitting idle for a few seconds while he
watched his championship hopes slipping
away. Even after serving a drive-through
penalty, Beretta remained in the title
frame…until a final twist saw him park his
R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia at
Turn 11 after making contact with the
wall. That gave the title to O’Connell,
despite finishing more than a minute
behind the leaders in 12th.
“He wasn’t even close to me,” said
O’Connell of the Beretta incident. “When
I crested the hill, he was four or five car
lengths back. It was the biggest Hail Mary
attempt in history. I’m disappointed in him.”
“We want to do well, and we need to
do well,” says Beretta. “It’s our job on the
line, it’s our life. When I’m in the car, it’s
not that I say, ‘He isn’t my friend…’ No.
I have no enemy; I have no friend. I just
try to do the best I can in that moment.”
O’Connell echoes that, saying: “I don’t
One’s the king of Pirelli World Challenge, but entered 2015 in
reset mode. The other was new to it all. Cue drama to the end.
Pre-finale, buddies and PWC GT class title
contenders O’Connell (LEFT) and Beretta
hammed it up for the cameras. Come the
race, the gloves came off for real...
FRIENDS AND RIVALS