SALINAS, Calif. – Ferrari had a 1-2 finish in GT at the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca but after a spirited race by #61 Olivier Beretta, a podium finish and perhaps the championship was not in the cards. Johnny O’Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga. clinched the title in a dramatic race.
With O’Connell and Olivier Beretta of Monte Carlo, Monaco, separated by just a handful of points all eyes were on the Championship contenders as the lights went off on the standing start. It was Alessandro Balzan, however, getting a jump from the outside of the front row into the Andretti Hairpin in the No. 29 NGT Motorsport MOMO Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia.
O’Connell took advantage of the clean start by rocketing to second place on the opening lap from his fifth grid position. Pole sitter Alessandro PierGuidi, of Tortona, Italy, in the No. 30 NGT Motorsport MOMO Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia found himself third after the opening lap.
Rival Beretta, in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari of Ontario/Toronto/Alberta Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, also made moves on the opening lap, charging from 12th on the grid to eighth, earning him the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start Award.
By lap three, Beretta was on the move, and was already in sixth position having passed Kevin Estre of Lochau, Austria, in the K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 and Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., in the CRP Racing DeVilbiss/Hawk Performance Audi R8 LMS Ultra.
Five laps later, Beretta was in the top five, underscoring the fact he needed to score more points than O’Connell in the race to take the Championship.
On lap 16, Beretta passed Windermere, Fla.’s Ryan Dalziel in the No. 31 EFFORT racing World PMO Porsche 911 GT3R to move into fourth place.
By lap 25, Beretta had reeled in O’Connell and attacked going into the Andretti Hairpin in a bid for third place. Corners later, the two Championship protagonists made contact in the Corkscrew. Beretta was able to continue and took third place but O’Connell was momentarily stopped, dropping him to 14th and provisionally handing the Championship to the Ferrari pilot.
While O’Connell mounted his rebound effort, Beretta had to serve a drive-through penalty for the contact in lap 25. Beretta was able to emerge from the penalty into seventh place, well in front of O’Connell who had only mustered up to 12th position.
However, five minutes from the end, on the last turn, Beretta made contact with the Acura of Peter Cunningham and was forced to pull out., rendering the Ferrari undriveable and forcing him off course. The DNF for the Beretta and the Ferrari meant O’Connell and Cadillac Racing had captured four consecutive Pirelli World Challenge Championships.
Balzan would stand atop the round 20 GT podium joined by teammate PierGuidi in second and Dalziel, in third.
A difficult end to a fantastic season for the R.Ferri Motorsport Racing with Ferrari team as we finished 2nd overall GT. A great effort from our team all season long, we’re already looking forward to next year. Forza Ferrari.