“It’s so difficult,” O’Connell said. “When you have Peugeot and Audi [prototype teams] joining in the fight for the first time this year since Sebring, they’re going to be on total kill.
“That is always one of our biggest fears -- one of them making an overaggressive move and pushing us off. The disparity of speed between classes is enormous.”
And those speed differences, about 30 mph on the straights and 15 seconds per lap, are magnified when the layout of the track is taken into consideration.
“You have long sections of racetrack where it’s difficult to pass, like the esses, and guys lose their patience,” O’Connell said. “But on the other end of the spectrum you do have a long straightaway where they can normally get by you.”
But avoiding contact with the prototypes isn’t the only challenge facing O’Connell and the Corvette team, which is one of the more popular in the paddock at Road Atlanta and other American tracks.
Since they moved to the GT2 class at the end of last year, they have faced some of the strongest competition ever and had to do it with a different engine, one that is 5.5 liters compared to six before.
“I think us entering the class forced the other manufacturers to really up their game,” O’Connell said, adding that the competing Porsche, Ferrari and BMW teams all show up with a cadre of their manufacturers’ top engineers. “The manufacturer involvement in GT2 has probably quadrupled what it was last year. There’s so much pressure on everyone to perform, and everyone is constantly improving.”
O’Connell’s experience at Road Atlanta could become a factor in his battles with the Porsches and Ferraris, but in Petit competition, he has not racked up the wins like he has in other premier sports-car races.
“In 12 Petit Le Mans, I’ve won twice,” he said. “A lot of people would be happy with that, but to me it’s a pretty poor percentage.”
But he said that one way of looking at those numbers is encouraging. His bad luck surely will end sometimes.
“That just means we’re that much closer to winning again,” he said.