Johnny O'Connell's career as a professional racing driver has taken him to many parts of the world, and he has lived in several different states, but he has never liked an area better than his current address in Georgia. The 42-year-old has lived in the romantically named Flowery Branch since 1999, and has no intention of leaving - even when his racing career is over.

O'Connell has been racing professionally since 1986, and is on the verge of adding to his racing accomplishments as he prepares to compete in the Petit Le Mans marathon at Road Atlanta next weekend. The driver for the factory Chevrolet Corvette team can clinch his second consecutive American Le Mans Series GTS class drivers' title if he and co-drivers Ron Fellows and Max Papis finish either first or second in class in the 1000-mile event.

"We've already won the manufacturers' championship for Chevrolet, and the team championship for Corvette Racing, so the drivers' championship is the next order of business," said O'Connell, who has four wins this season in the seven ALMS events that have been held so far. He finished second in the other three.

"Ron and I won the championship together last year, and it was great to be able to share it with him. He's not only a great team-mate, but also a great person. We'll have Max with us at Petit because it's a long race and we need three drivers - he helped us win at Sebring this year and did a great job in the 24 Hours of Le Mans."

O'Connell and Fellows have been co-drivers for the Corvette team since 2001, and have scored 19 wins together in the ALMS, as well as two class wins at Le Mans. Fellows won the ALMS GTS title alone in 2002, before a change in the points system allowing co-drivers to share the title made them champions together last year.

Fellows is on the verge of becoming the first driver in the six-year history of the ALMS to win three championships, but there is still a race to run, and O'Connell would like nothing better than to win the championship at his home track. He lives less than five miles from Road Atlanta, and counts the win that he and Fellows earned in the 2002 Petit Le Mans as one of his all-time favourites.

"Anytime you can sleep in your own bed on the night before a big endurance race, it's an advantage," he explained, "Plus, I really like racing at Road Atlanta. It's got aspects that drivers really like, including high-speed turns, elevation changes and good passing zones."

O'Connell will be extra busy the week of Petit Le Mans as he operates his annual Johnny O'Connell Charity Auction. Held on the night before the race in the Road Atlanta infield, the auction includes items donated by various racing teams and drivers, with proceeds go to the Alzheimer's charities in the state.

"It's a busy time that week, but it's all worth it," he said, "Winning the race and the championship in one day will be even better."

 

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