Sometimes you get asked questions that elicit an immediate,
jaw-dropping, “Are you serious?”
reply. I mean that in a good way. Last Thursday upon my arrival at Mazda
Raceway Laguna Seca, I received one of those questions.
After barely unpacking and getting set up in my office for
the weekend in the MRLS media center, Cadillac's PR manager asked what I was
doing at 12:30 p.m. Naturally, I didn't know yet, so the follow-up question,
“Would you like a hot lap in the two-seater Cadillac CTS-V” brought on the
requisite, “Are you serious?” and, “Do
I have a pulse?” replies.
The hour passes and you begin to amp yourself up for the
moment. I'd had a prior hot lap of the track in a Porsche 911 Turbo – no slouch
of a machine itself – thanks to the American Le Mans Series' Vitesse ride
program in May 2010. So that at least provided background and how to handle the
G-loading and force of launching out of the corners and the sensation of what a
lap feels like around this track.
The difference on this particular occasion was the fact this
wasn't the streetcar, but instead the manufacturer's two-seater CTS-V, the same
snorting 6.2-liter V8 which Cadillac races in the Pirelli World Challenge on a
regular basis. Except it's 1,000 lbs lighter than the streetcar (3,200 lbs versus 4,222), and Andy Pilgrim would be driving it.
You get suited up to go, put a helmet on and prepare for the
experience. The thing I'd learned from the Porsche lap was that my videography
skills holding a FlipCam were average at best in keeping the damn thing
straight, and through the Corkscrew, my arm went down just as I felt the lump
in my stomach from sinking into my seat. It's that big of a drop.
So, on this occasion, with more horsepower and the full
chassis and side intrusion panels, I figured it was just best to hold on and
fully enjoy witnessing and feeling the lap rather than trying to
multitask in doing the video. The second individual to have a ride – ace
photographer Camden Thrasher – was able to pull off the double feat of recording
and riding as a passenger simultaneously.
The issue I had at the outset was that because the
passenger's seat is there to accommodate all potential body frames, it was a
bit of a challenge figuring out how to make sure my slender 5'9”, 150-pound
frame would fit in without getting thrashed around a bit.
We had a few minutes taken off the session to begin with and
the delay in making sure I was properly installed with the three-point harness
and not flung around meant our first lap would be Pilgrim's recon lap, then
he'd floor it for lap two.
Even as he warmed up the tires through Turn 11 where we
launched from, you could feel the grunt when he eventually would put the power
down. Shortly thereafter, he did.
The acceleration is one thing, but the braking and the great
grip through Turn 2 as you brake roughly between the 200 and 100-foot signs
really was impressive. Through the left-hander, you feel as if the car is
pivoting, completely on point and without moving an inch up the road. The
handling through Turn 2 was phenomenal, as I'd find it was for the rest of the
lap as well.
The launch out of 2 into 3 is the first of back-to-back
short spurts. Launch, brake, head moves, hang on, and repeat. Same thing after
the right-handed Turn 3 and the right-handed Turn 4, a critical corner, just
past the Cooper Tire bridge.
A cool point as you make the run up to Turn 5 is the
speedometer across another bridge, and we topped out just past 120mph at this
stage. The banking is really obvious at the left-handed Turn 5, before you make
the run up the hill to Turn 6.
Turn 6 was admittedly the craziest corner, even more than
the Corkscrew, I found in this lap. In driving this track on simulations
growing up, I've found a need to brake partially for this corner and back
enough off to wind back up and hit it hard coming up the final crest on the way
to the Corkscrew.
Pilgrim, by contrast – and why he's a professional and why I
merely write about it – went in at full attack mode, and the car bottomed out
massively in hitting the apex but with enough momentum to carry straight up the
hill and at a greater speed. I'm guessing he picks up about three to four
tenths by hitting it that hard.
As we crested the hill toward the Corkscrew, there was that
moment of slight braking, then full braking just at the right-hand kink before
the plunge and left-hander. After the slight deceleration (it was gradual),
Pilgrim again could nail the power down on exit.
To be honest, I didn't slump in my seat anywhere near much
as I had in the Porsche. The Cadillac just pounded through there as if it was
just a normal, flat chicane, rather than one with a six-story drop it would be
Turn 9 is fast but Turn 10 is a freaking legit corner. I'd
argue it's the toughest corner on the track, because you're still carrying the
downward momentum after flowing from the Corkscrew through the left-handed Turn
9. But at 10, the road is still banked, ends flat, and it's a sharper angle
that you have to nail before slowing back down and hitting it hard again out of
11. And going wide puts you into the gravel and almost out of commission as you
come back on.
We ran another lap and Pilgrim could fully bring it, knowing
the heat was in the tires and he had to get back as quickly as possible to make
sure Camden got his hot laps. Everything felt a bit better and at no point was
it scary – it was freaking exhilarating. One thing I did really notice on our
second lap was the smell; you could tell the burning rubber was present as
Pilgrim made sure to push. When we made it back around, we clocked in only a little over 1:30, and considering Pilgrim had qualified second for the race at a 1:26.682, we were largely on pace.
Outside of the fact this CTS-V doesn't have traction control
or ABS, as Pilgrim told me in the aftermath, so much of this car, like its
Pratt & Miller sister car for Corvette Racing in ALMS, is based entirely on
the production model. And the technology transfer is evident with the fact
Cadillac has two former Corvette drivers – Pilgrim and Johnny O'Connell – on
Sincere thanks again to Cadillac's PR rep Ron Lemasters Jr.
and Pirelli World Challenge for what was admittedly one of those downright
awesome “are you serious?!?” moments.
The technical specifications are on the next page, as is the