Johnny O'Connell is an American racing driver who served as GM factory driver from 2001 to 2017, achieving impressive results in that period. He was the American Le Mans Series GTS/GT1 champion three times with Corvette Racing and Pirelli World Challenge GT champion four times with Cadillac Racing.
In major endurance races, O'Connell scored one overall victory and seven class wins at Sebring 12 Hours, more than any other driver. At Daytona 24 Hours, he scored an overall victory in 2001. At Le Mans 24 Hours, O'Connell recorded four class victories and five more podiums, all but one with Corvette Racing.
Formula Atlantic champion early in a career
Born in July 1962 in Poughkeepsie, Johnny O'Connell started his racing career in the mid-1980s, first entering the Formula Super Vee in 1986 and then Formula Atlantic Championship in 1987. Scoring four race wins in Formula Atlantic, he won his first championship title.
In the following four seasons, from 1988 to 1991, he competed in the Formula Atlantic, American Racing Series or Indy Lights Championship but without notable results.
Switching to sports car racing in 1992
In March 1991, O'Connell made a sports car racing debut with Cunningham Racing at Sebring 12 Hours, finishing 11th overall and 2nd in GTO class in the #75 Nissan 300ZX Turbo. He completely switched to sports car racing in 1992 and achieved some fantastic results with a Nissan 300ZX Turbo in the following years.
In 1992, he participated in four races of the IMSA GT Series, scoring one podium, and then the full season in 1993, scoring two GTS class victories in a Nissan 300ZX Turbo. He was fourth overall and GTS class winner at Sebring, together with John Morton and Steve Millen. Later in the season, he won at Laguna Seca and finished second in the final standings of GTS class.
Victories both at Sebring and Le Mans in a Nissan 300ZX Turbo
In the 1994 IMSA GT Series, O'Connell was a race winner three times in GTS class, including a sensational overall victory at Sebring 12 Hours, together with John Morton and Steve Millen in the #75 Nissan 300ZX Turbo.
Three months after Sebring's victory, the same trio scored GTS class victory at 24 Hours of Le Mans in the #75 Nissan 300ZX Turbo, finishing fifth overall. In the IMSA GT Series, O'Connell added wins at Laguna Seca and Phoenix to finish again second in the points.
O'Connell, Morton and Millen reached the podium at Sebring for the third year in a row in 1995, finishing fifth overall and the first in GTS-1 class. Later in the season, Johnny scored two more wins at Halifax and Sears Point. It was his last season with Nissan.
A short stint in the Indy Racing League
In 1996 and 1997, O'Connell had a double programme in the IMSA World Sports Car Championship and Indy Racing League. He raced with Screaming Eagles Racing's Riley & Scott prototype in 1996 and with Support Net Racing's Hawk C-8 prototype in 1997 but without any notable result.
On the other side, he made three starts in the 1996 Indy Racing League season with Byrd-Cunningham Racing's #75 Reynard-Cosworth. He finished 7th at Walt Disney World Speedway, 5th at Phoenix Raceway and then 29th in his first and only race at Indianapolis 500. He finished 9th in the points of IRL standings.
For the 1996-1997 IRL season, O'Connell joined Treadway Racing to drive the #6 Reynard-Cosworth at Las Vegas, where he crashed on lap 185. For Indianapolis 500, he joined AJ Foyt Enterprises and failed to qualify after a crash in practice. After four IRL starts, O'Connell's open-wheel racing career was over and he returned to sports car racing.
Racing with Panoz Motorsports from 1997 to 2000
O'Connell made his first start in a Panoz GTR-1 in September 1997, then joining Panoz Motorsports next time at 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours. He was sharing the #44 Panoz GTR-1 with Eric Bernard and Christophe Tinseau, not finishing the race. Later that year, O'Connell scored GT1 class victory in the US Road Racing Championship race at Minneapolis.
In 1999, O'Connell joined Panoz Motorsport as a full-time driver in the inaugural season of the American Le Mans Series, driving the #2 Panoz GTR-1 in LMP2 class. He and Jan Magnussen won a race at Mosport, finishing seventh in the final standings. At Le Mans 24h, they were ninth in LMP class.
Victory at Daytona 24h in the first race with Corvette Racing
For the 2001 ALMS season, O'Connell joined Corvette Racing but he also raced in the season-opening round of the Grand American Rolex Series, at Daytona 24 Hours. It was his first race with Corvette Racing and he scored a sensational overall victory in the greatest American endurance race, sharing the #2 Chevrolet Corvette C5-R with Ron Fellows, Chris Kneifel and Franck Freon.
In the ALMS, O'Connell was a winner five times in GTS class but finished only fourth in the points.
Two consecutive class wins at Le Mans 24h
In 2001, O'Connell also scored one great victory in Europe, at 24 Hours of Le Mans. Sharing the #63 Chevrolet Corvette C5-R with Ron Fellows and Scott Pruett, he finished 8th overall and the first in GTS class.
A year later, in June 2002, O'Connell and Fellows repeated GTS class victory at Le Mans in the #63 Corvette. This time, their partner was Oliver Gavin.
American Le Mans champion in 2003 and 2004
In the 2002 ALMS season, O'Connell was a race winner six times in GTS class, including Sebring and Petit Le Mans, finishing second in the championship, behind his teammate Ron Fellows as a champion.
In 2003, O'Connell finally captured his first ALMS title. He won three races in GTS class in the #3 Chevrolet Corvette C5-R, including a victory at Sebring 12 Hours together with Ron Fellows and Franck Freon. In 2004, O'Connell defended ALMS GTS title with five victories in the #3 Corvette. He repeated a win at Sebring, the sixth in a career.
Corvette Racing continued a domination with new Corvette C6.R
The new Chevrolet Corvette C6.R came in 2005 and the team continued its domination. O'Connell and Fellows scored three ALMS GT1 class victories with that car to finish second in the points, behind their teammates Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin.
In 2006, O'Connell was a winner just once, at Road America, finishing fourth in the championship. In 2007, Jan Magnussen became O'Connell's full-time co-driver and they won three races, finishing second in the championship behind a duo Beretta/Gavin.
Five more Le Mans podiums for O'Connell and Fellows
After scoring two GTS class wins at Le Mans in 2001 and 2002, Johny O'Connell and Ron Fellows recorded five more visits to the podium at Circuit de la Sarthe between 2003 and 2008, becoming one of the most successful pairs in the history of the race.
They were third in 2003, sharing a Corvette with Franck Freon. Then, in 2004 and 2005, they were second together with Max Papis. They missed the GT1 podium in 2006 but scored two more second-place finishes in 2007 and 2008, sharing a car with Jan Magnussen.
Eight victories for one more ALMS title in 2008
In the 2008 ALMS season, his second with Jan Magnussen as a co-driver, Johnny O'Connell captured his third ALMS title in a dominant fashion, winning eight out of eleven races in GT1 class. Among those wins, there was also his triumph at Sebring 12 Hours.
In 2009, O'Connell scored his seventh and record-breaking GT1 class victory at Sebring, together with Jan Magnussen in the #3 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R. Later in the season, they scored GT2 class victory at Mosport.
Last victory at Le Mans 24h in 2009
In 2009, O'Connell also scored his fourth and last victory at Le Mans 24 Hours. Sharing the #63 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, he was 15th overall and the first in GT1 class.
O'Connell's last Le Mans attempt with Corvette Racing was in 2010 when he didn't finish the race. Ha has an impressive record of eight podiums, including three wins, in ten Le Mans races with Corvette Racing.
Last American Le Mans Series season in 2010
O'Connell's last season in the American Le Mans Series was in 2010. He scored no wins in that last season, sharing a car with Jan Magnussen, finishing ninth in the final standings of the GT2 class.
That year, he also made two starts in the Rolex Series with Autohaus Motorsports' Chevrolet Camaro GT.R but without notable results. He also joined Autohaus Motorsports at 2011 Daytona 24 Hours, finishing 14th in GT class.
Four championship titles in the Pirelli World Challenge
In 2011, the Pirelli World Challenge became O'Connell's main competition. He continued to serve as GM factory driver, competing in the #3 Cadillac CTS-V for Cadillac Racing. In his first season, he won two races in GT class to finish second in the points, behind Patrick Long.
Then, he became Pirelli World Challenge GT class champion in 2012 and three more times from 2013 to 2015. He won three races in 2012, five races in 2013, three races in 2014 and four races in 2015.
He was a race winner three times in the 2016 PWC season but finished fourth in the points. His last PWC season was 2017 when he scored no wins in a Cadillac ATS-V.R.
One NASCAR start in 2013, return to Le Mans in 2016
While collecting victories and championship trophies in the Pirelli World Challenge, O'Connell recorded two interesting attempts outside series. In June 2013, he participated in NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America, driving the #5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. He finished the race in 12th place.
In June 2016, O'Connell recorded his last Le Mans attempt, driving the #57 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R for Team AAI in GTE Am class. Sharing a car with Oliver Bryant and Mark Patterson, he finished ninth in class.