An alternate title for this post could be:
Speed Learning at Circuit of The Americas: Cadillac Style!
At least it FELT like racing! Let me explain…
Last August I heard about this unique driving performance event sponsored by the Cadillac Division of GM. It’s called the Cadillac V-Series Performance Lab. It was set to take place at the Circuit of The Americas (CoTA). I guess I was sliding on my social media reviewing skills – I didn’t find out about it until it was too late to sign up. I was able to get on their waiting list…with fingers crossed!
Well, with less than a week to go before the event, I got an early Christmas present: I was released from the waiting list & allowed access to Saturday (08-DEC-2012) morning’s driving session! Prior to this event I walked on the CoTA track at the Formula Run & 2 weeks later was an über-fan at the Formula 1 USGP weekend. This was to be the first time I (& many others from South/Central Texas) would be able to actually drive on “our” new track AT SPEED!
This event was spread out over 3 days, with 2 sessions each day. A staff member told me they try for an average of 102 per session. I did a general attendee count and estimated about 120 participants in my Saturday morning session. This Austin, Texas event, at CoTA, was the 4th & last stop of a cross country tour, visiting the tracks at:
- Autobahn Country Club – Chicago, IL
- Palm Beach International Raceway – West Palm Beach, FL
- Firebird Raceway – Phoenix, AZ
- Circuit of The Americas – Austin, TX
This event ran as smooth as a very well coordinated machine, almost as smooth as the wonderful track surface of the new CoTA track. After our continental breakfast, Don Harple was introduced. He is Cadillac’s performance driving director. Don explained what we would be doing that morning, along with an invigorating Cadillac video. He has been experienced with events that reveal the capabilities of driving at the limit for 23 years. Don explained that part of learning to drive a track well is to drive with your eyes, to master “eye work”. As a way to further illustrate, he stated: “Look toward hope, not toward reality.” That was a cool revelation of the need to always anticipate by looking ahead! Having you look where you want to go allows your hands and feet to take you there.
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We were divided into 3 groups, designated by different colored lanyards: black, red & white. The groups were then sent out to 3 different modules:
- Module 1: Dynamic Capabilities with the new model Cadillac ATS Sedan. This was to showcase the Stabilitrak/ABS capabilities. This was set up on a modified autocross course (sort of), along with a review of Michelin’s role in tire development technology & an overview of the CUE infotainment control system.
- Module 2: Dynamic Capabilities on track, using both Cadillac CTS-V Sedan & Wagon models (this was a familiarity track session, plus an overview session of the performance advantages of Brembo brakes on Cadillac’s V-Series & ATS Sedan models
- Module 3: The much anticipated CTS-V Coupe track drive (with a video recorded of us driving as an unexpected bonus)! In addition, a further explanation of Stabilitrak & its interaction with the Cadillac ATS Sedan chassis dynamics. We were also given a review of the CTS-V Recaro safest convertible car seat 2014‘ variety of adjustments.
I spoke to Don later & found out he had been contracted by Cadillac to put on these events. His company is Radius, LLC (based in the Atlanta area) & his partner is Tommy Kendall (former 4 time SCCA Trans-Am Series Champion racer). Don facilitates these types of events for various manufactures & stated that Cadillac is his best customer.
Overall impressions by everyone were positive & enthusiastic, both of the Cadillac CTS-V & ATS lineup, along with the state of the art track facilities &, of course, the track itself. The ride along driving instructors (most of them current or former professional racers) were very helpful & supportive. They loved the new CoTA track, too, & were enthusiastic in having us push these Cadillacs to their mechanical limits – they weren’t holding us back!
I appreciated my instructor, Nick, with his positive attitude & encouragement. He introduced me to the CoTA track racing line (at least for the Cadillac CTS-V cars) & was riding shotgun with me during all 3 behind the wheel sessions. Witness all this here in the video they provided later (yes, that’s me driving). Turn it up & enjoy!
Between sessions & other downtime, we were able to hang out & visit with one of the Cadillac GT racers, Andy Pilgrim, #8 racer of the Pirelli World Challenge. He & Johnny O’Connell take turns doing these events during the year. Andy is a very personable guy & shared some great racing anecdotes. In addition, he was accompanied by his actual Cadillac race car #8, based on the CTS-V Coupe.
We were able to ask Andy all sorts of questions about the race car, his involvement with it & racing. Here’s his press release information & which he autographed for me:
In addition to 2 laps around CoTA in a CTS-V Coupe, we were able to put the new Cadillac ATS Sedan through its paces. I left with a good impression of these new mid-sized Cadillac sedans.
They had set up a course for us to do a short drag race & them slam on the ABS brakes. Then we went through an accident avoidance exercise – I was most impressed by what the Stabilitrak did in keeping the ATS Sedan completely composed in that maneuver. Lastly, we went through a short series of chicanes. We were driving the 3.6L v6 model – nice car!
Part of this session was an explanation of what Michelin did to develop tire technology for the Cadillac ATS Sedan. We were ALL extremely surprised to hear these cars were riding on run flat-tires. These were the newly developed Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires, with new sunflower seed oil technology – AKA, grippy in all weather conditions. They handled most famously & we had no clue they were run-flats!
My last module was driving 3 additional laps in a Cadillac CTS-V Wagon; this time I chose the standard transmission edition. Nick explained that the Wagon body is aerodynamically cleaner than the CTS-V Coupe. The wagon was the model that clinched the best track time, for a wagon, at the Nurburgring! The clutch & transmission engagement were fine, but the shift throws were very long & somewhat rubbery (like Nick said, it’s a Corvette tranny). It was still fun, though!
After our last session, we were dismissed to make way for the afternoon group. Going back to the parking lot, I was awestruck by the vast quantity of Cadillac CTS-V & ATS models needed for use that day. They were lined up to be pressure washed, to have their fluids & other maintenance needs addressed. Seeing the large number of Cadillacs & understanding what they had just gone through, it was no surprise that this care was needed.
Racing Ready was honored to be able to attend such an event at a world class racing facility. I will have to say my opinion of Cadillac as a brand has improved. Let’s find & do more of these kinds of events!