June 1, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Johnny O'Connell sweeps Pirelli World Challenge races on Belle Isle

Detroit – It would be easy to say Johnny O’Connell knows his way around Belle Isle.

O’Connell led the GT class field from start to finish on the 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course to win the Pirelli World Challenge sports car race Sunday afternoon to sweep the series’ two events on Belle Isle.

O’Connell averaged 91.467 mph for Cadillac Racing and was followed by teammate Andy Pilgrim to give Cadillac a 1-2 finish in Chevrolet’s backyard. Andrew Palmer finished third in an Audi R8 Ultra. The last 10 minutes of the 60-minute timed race was run under caution.

“There are certain tracks that you know you have to do well,” O’Connell said. “The hardest thing for any driver is winning for the first time at a track. Once you win, you wake up in the morning knowing you can do it again.

“I came into this weekend knowing on the street circuit we have a shot. We have incredible competition, Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, Mercedes, the list goes on in high-end performance cars. But when we’re on the street circuits we have an opportunity. It really came down to just executing flawlessly. I think Andy was quicker today, but again I was able to get the lead at the start and that’s where I thought the race was won.”

It was O’Connell’s second weekend sweep in the series on Belle Isle in the last three years. He won one race and finished second in the other last season on the island.

O’Connell and Pilgrim were followed by Palmer, Mike Skeen and James Sofronas when rookie Geoff Reeves hit the wall on Lap 2.

When green flag racing continued six laps later, the top five drivers continued to run in that order until Lap 22.

Westland native Dean Martin proved to be as dominant in the GTS class as O’Connell is in GT, winning for the second consecutive day in the Ford Mustang Boss 302S, averaging 83.982 mph. He was followed by Tony Buffomante in a Ford Mustang and Mark Wilkins in a Kia Optima.

Martin was involved in a crash involving multiple cars at the previous event in Alabama last month. He was forced to build up his show car and convert it into the race car in which he competed on Belle Isle.

“We’re committed to doing the series full-time in the Ford Mustang and it was great to have the Mustangs really show their strength in Detroit on our home territory,” Martin said. “Hats off to the crew for tearing it (show car) down and putting whatever was left from the car at Barber (Alabama). It was just a perfect weekend.”

Martin also won on Belle Isle last year.

Johnny O'Connell lifts Cadillac model Anne Marie Morin of Rochester Hills on Sunday following his win in the Pirelli World Challenge race. / Steve Perez / The Detroit News