Andy Pilgrim has been here before, driving in SCCA Pro Racing's World Challenge Championships for Cadillac Racing, but things are different now. Obviously, the series sponsor has changed from SPEED to Pirelli, and the car is different – it's now the latest version of Cadillac's potent performance flagship, the CTS-V, and also now utilizing the coupe body – but it's more than that; it's altered circumstances, a slightly different reality.
When the manufacturer entered the series for its first go-'round in 2004, they came in with a bang, finishing one-two in the season opener at Sebring. The car was potent and appeared further removed from its road car base than its competitors. Rival teams complained and everyone believed the championship would be dominated by these sedans.
And yet, ironically, Cadillac didn't win the championship that year. It wasn't until the following year that Pilgrim captured the driver's title and, with Max Papis, helped Cadillac win manufacturer honors.
Nevertheless, the series was determined not to see a repeat of that controversy when Cadillac returned to the track in 2011, with fresh Pratt & Miller-built cars. As spec'd in the rulebook, the car was heavy and its engine choked with a restrictor. Coupled with an extremely short development time preseason, Cadillac Racing, with Pilgrim and new teammate Johnny O'Connell, fought an uphill battle.
“The SCCA is very aware of the potential of the factory team and they've got a total responsibility to all the other teams – factory, semi-factory and privateer – to not let us come in and do any kind of dominating,” said Pilgrim, the one constant for Cadillac in World Challenge over the years, early in the season at Long Beach. “I totally respect that and we're working on getting up to speed. That's a big difference for us this time. We're not up front, we're not going to be up front this weekend.”
Not that weekend, the second round of the season. But the team eventually found the sharp end of the grid through steady work and, more importantly, rules adjustments from the sanctioning body. O'Connell scored a lucky win in the second of two races at Mid-Ohio in August but dominated the season finale at Road Atlanta, days after the series increased the Cadillac's restrictor plate size by less than two percent.
Early in the season, Pilgrim predicted Road Atlanta and Mosport would play to the CTS-V's strengths and downplay its weaknesses – namely the long wheelbase compared to the Porsche, Corvette, Viper and Volvo competition – that hurts the Caddy on tight tracks. The Cadillac is simply better suited to big, sweeping turns. Street circuits like Long Beach and tracks with many slow-speed turns such as Mid-Ohio and Infineon Raceway mean a struggle for a bigger car.
The difference between cars is both the appeal of the World Challenge series and the source of frustration as the rule makers try to balance the competition. In the GT class, there's the Porsche 911 GT3 with its rear-mounted flat-6; the Dodge Viper with a big V10 in front; the Corvette with its mid-front V8; and the Volvo S60 with its all-wheel drive and turbo five-cylinder engine. It then falls to the sanctioning body to try to keep things level and the teams to make the most of what they have.
In the case of Cadillac, that means starting with a CTS-V coupe body-in-white which Pratt & Miller then disassembles to add the roll cage structure. The suspension is essentially the same as used on the previous generation, in part because it worked and in part because of the short lead time, explains Steve Cole, Pratt & Miller program manager for Cadillac Racing.
“The suspension cradles have to be moved to get the geometry in the right place for the rules,” says Cole. “The upper control arms have to be fabricated, but the lower control arms start out as an Original Equipment Manufacturer [OEM] part. The engine and gearbox are set back a little. It uses a racing gearbox and differential, and racing brakes. The body is, except for the fender flares, almost stock shape. It's carbon instead of steel, and the front and rear fascias are carbon instead of plastic. But it's very close except for the splitter and the wing.”
One thing the road car has that the racers really wish their cars had is the supercharger that takes the 6.2-liter LS3 V8 to 556hp. That much power would overwhelm the competition, however, so the racer sucks in air at atmospheric pressure.
In basic form, the car was pretty good but development and rules changes throughout the season turned it into a winner. “You always learn and there are small things you gain,” says Cole. “But the big gains came from the sanctioning body – two things they finally allowed us to have. Twice during the season they increased the size of the restrictor, and eventually we were allowed to make a radiator outlet duct. We'd had lift at the front of the car, so that change gave us some downforce.”
With the luxury of time this off-season – something that didn't exist before the 2011 season began – the team is making a couple of other improvements. One is adding ABS to the brakes, which rival cars already have. The other is that the electronic throttle has been approved for the car. That's something GM lobbied for, explains Cole, because it not only gives the car more OEM content, but also allows more control over power delivery for traction control than the mechanical throttle.
Cadillac's two ace drivers have been an important part of the development process. Their long experience with GM racing programs, yet diverse backgrounds, have combined to aid the improvements to team and car. Pilgrim has been involved with Cadillac's World Challenge efforts through both phases, even racing the previous generation car when it was in privateer hands. O'Connell came from the Corvette endurance program, also run by Pratt & Miller, where he won ALMS GT1 titles and a trio of class wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. For him, the sprint format required some adjustment.
“I'm just learning this World Challenge stuff,” he said early in the season. “There was an amazing intensity when I was at Corvette, especially at Le Mans. Perhaps they wanted me on this Cadillac program to bring that intensity to this, so that we can raise the level of everybody. When you've been doing it a long time, you know what a car is supposed to feel like and how to get there. And every time you go out and make the most of your track time and always push hard. We've got such a good group, it really is a neat deal. With everything Cadillac is doing, I think we will get results.”
That was then, this is now, and although results have been achieved, there's more to come. Bring on 2012.
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the January 2012 issue of RACER magazine, which is NOT available on newsstands. CLICK HERE to subscribe.