Looking Back on a Great Pirelli World Challenge Season

Boca Raton, FL -

It was just a couple of days earlier in October after being in Las Vegas for the Cadillac Dealer show when I got a call from John Kraemer, GM Marketing Manager for Cadillac’s race team.

John asked me if I could write a story about the race season as a wrap up, now that the season had finished. Our last race had been a few days earlier at Road Atlanta, with our best results of the year. My teammate Johnny O’Connell won the race and I stood with him on the podium in third. It was a fabulous end to the 2011 Pirelli World Challenge race season for the Cadillac Racing team.

Then I got a call from Dave Drimmie of Pirelli World Challenge fame, asking for a recap, so of course I’m thinking two for one recap, perfect.
Oh, then Mr. Drimmie tells me he wanted some different perspectives about the season. Great! So in fact this article is quite a bit different; so much for me using one article. Best laid plans of mice and blah, blah, blah.

As I do when given a writing task, I asked how many words people need me to write. That’s what we writers do, we ask things like that. I jest – I really don’t consider myself a writer but I do get to write quite a lot these days. I ask how many words as I sometimes get carried away, sorry Dave! Experience has taught me to ask up front, as opposed to carving the article up later. The older I get, the smarter I know I used to think I was, or something like that.

Before I go any further, I want to give credit to the 2011 Pirelli World Challenge Champions … in GT Patrick Long in his TruSpeed/Privacy Star/EnTrust Porsche 911 GT3, in GTS Paul Brown in his Lucas Oil/K&N Filter/Luminox Ford Mustang Boss 302S and in TC Lawson Aschenbach in his Compass 360 Racing Honda Civic Si. Congratulations to all three of them and their teams. It is incredibly difficult to win Championships and all three drivers did a superb job of running hard when they could and keeping things on track to get the best result they could, when a win wasn’t in the cards. That’s how you win Championships. Well done all.

Throughout the season we’ve posted write up’s for the In the Driver’s Seat section about individual races so I will give the season recap as an overview from a different perspective. I hope you find this different perspective interesting.

The 2011 race season with Cadillac has been a great one. Personally, I would have liked to get a win or two, but finishing up with a couple of podiums in the last three races certainly helped end the season on the right note.

I have been lucky enough to be a professional race driver on many factory and factory-assisted teams. I even ran with General Motors in the Corvette and Cadillac teams from 1999 to 2008. But this year was different, I mean really different.

It all started for me with a phone call from Mark Kent around November last year. Mark is the head of GM Racing. Mark asked me if I was signed up with any race teams for 2011 and I told him no.

I was in negotiation with another factory-supported team and of course I told Mark this. He told me he would get back to me within two weeks and that I was in the running for a position with the NEW Cadillac Pirelli World Challenge race team. I was more than a little excited and nervous, wondering if I would get the call back.

Luckily for me, Mark contacted me within a few days and offered me the job. This was really good as I only had a week’s supply of Pepto-Bismol left over. His phone call started a train running that has not even slightly slowed down as I write this, almost a year later.

Within minutes of me putting down the phone with Mark, I got a call from Gary Pratt of Pratt and Miller Engineering. Gary and Jim Miller are the owners of Pratt and Miller Engineering and I have worked with them with all my GM racing involvement since 1999.

In his inimitable way, Gary said congratulations, welcome back and what are you doing for the next couple of days in the same sentence. It quickly became obvious that time was of the essence.

I was molded into the seat for my new No. 8 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe race car within 48 hours of getting the call and informed that the first test would be very soon. Well, as soon as they had finished building the car that is. My car was the first one finished so that was the first car we tested. My new teammate Johnny O’Connell’s car was a week or so behind mine in the build process. The excitement about the coming season really kicked up when I found out my old teammate from Corvette racing and I were partnering up again.

We first ran the new race car down in Sebring. We broke some parts we couldn’t replace with only an hour or so of track time on the car. This was not a bad test. Anytime you learn from breaking things and don’t crash the car, it’s not a bad day of testing. Of course we had hoped to run longer but we would be back at Sebring again very soon, it was now after Thanksgiving 2010.

The reason the testing was going quickly was because we had precious little time. The program was authorized by GM very late relative to making the first race of 2011. The first race being in late March 2011 on the St Petersburg, FL street course.

The cars had to be completed from scratch very quickly. There were now only about 12 weeks before the first race. As anyone in racing will tell you, there are very few racing and engineering entities that would even attempt this. Pratt and Miller are one of the very few organizations who could pull this off.

The second test at Sebring told us we had a reliable car and also a car that we felt could be competitive.

In testing I was personally very happy to be on the new-for-2011 Pirelli racing tires. These tires were going to be significantly faster than the Toyo street tires that were the spec tire of World Challenge for years.
Johnny and I were excited to get the season going and our feeling that we had a competitive car made things even better. Things were about to change.

After the second Sebring test Pratt & Miller got a phone call. The Series’ Technical department contacted our team manager Steve Cole. They informed Steve that our Cadillac’s would receive 100lbs of extra weight and use a restrictor that capped our horsepower around 470.

This was a massive change. We were talking way more than a second a lap, possibly as much as two seconds on tracks with long straights. What the series’ technical department didn’t want to do was alienate the other GT teams with Cadillac possibly having an over-dog car, so TC Kline (Pirelli World Challenge Competition Director) and his team decided to bring the No. 3 and 8 cars up to speed slowly to insure they didn’t have an unfair advantage.

This move by the technical department was understandable to some degree, I didn’t agree with it, but I did understand it. A factory team coming into a series where mostly privately sponsored teams run can certainly cause alarm.

Many times in professional racing series, I have seen the entry of two- or four-factory cars cause a mass exodus of private teams within a couple of seasons. The reason the private teams leave is because they really cannot compete against factory team budgets. In order to stop any mass exodus the sanctioning body needs to be tough and the series’ technical staff were up to the task.

I imagine the new restrictions were also there to make sure there was no repeat of 2004. The original Cadillac race team first entered the World Challenge in 2004. In that first Sebring race in 2004, Max Angelelli and I finished 1, 2 for Team Cadillac. In that race I had come from the back of the grid and made up 40 seconds on the leaders through the race to finish second behind my teammate Max. The series was NOT going to let something like that happen again and again, I understood it.

This decision to add weight and take away power before the start of the first race weekend shaped our Cadillac season from start to finish.
From the first race in St. Petersburg to the final race in Atlanta the technical staff made adjustments to most cars along the way, our Cadillac’s included. It is no easy task to keep so many cars and classes at a competitive level. Thank you to TC Kline for your incredible patience and skill in the face of such incredible odds and childish behavior.

As a driver it’s always frustrating to know you cannot compete up front but along the way I had some fun and exciting races wherever I was in the pack. Johnny O’ had a really good season managing to squeeze out another win along the way at Mid-Ohio, finishing up the season 2nd in the GT Drivers’ Championship.

TC and his team gave us a final little restrictor increase before Round 12 at Road Atlanta, realizing we were still not capable of running out front in our Cadillacs.

Some racecars are better suited for some tracks. Road Atlanta is a Cadillac track. Every year that Cadillac has run at Road Atlanta in the World Challenge series, we have won. 2011 was no different. Johnny qualified on the pole position and led every lap. I had a great race coming from 7th at the first corner to finishing 3rd by the end; it was indeed, a great end to the season for our Cadillac race team.

I have driven for many different manufacturers over my years in professional racing. I have been lucky enough to win Championships with four different manufacturers out of my five championship total, which is quite unusual. I want to say that this year I saw some amazing determination and plain old hard work from the Cadillac team.

The crew and engineers got down to work from the minute they knew this race program was a go. Our team has a great manager in Pratt and Miller’s, Steve Cole. Steve gets a ton of respect for his engineering brilliance but he is also a great motivator and extremely passionate about his mission.

Having raced for two different teams the last two seasons, I really think the Cadillac Racing and K-Pax Volvo guys were all cloned from some planet where nobody ever sleeps.

I know that many other teams have similar stories of crew endurance. I want to give a big shout out to ALL the crew people who work on the Pirelli World Challenge racecars. I want to say a sincere thank you to each and every crew and a thank you also to their families for supporting the work that they do.

Also on a positive note, I want to mention something else. I already mentioned earlier that a factory team coming into a series can cause alarm in many privately-sponsored teams.

There is something else that a factory team brings to the series that, in fact, can help everybody and that is visibility. Cadillac marketed the heck out of their involvement in the Pirelli World Challenge series this year. Cadillac sponsored several of our races which of course helps everyone. Also, the fact that another major manufacturer is in the series can be leveraged by all the teams as they look for sponsorship. This is a very good thing.

The Cadillac Marketing team members were one of our biggest cheering sections. At some races we had an extra 30 people just doing giveaways. It was truly amazing, at several races we gave away over 6,000 Cadillac Racing t-shirts.

It was just awesome as a driver to be a solid part of the Cadillac marketing effort. Johnny and I saw our racing efforts used to entice and excite Cadillac customers all over the US. When this year is over, Johnny and I will have done over 40 marketing days extra to our racing days. I have never done this many pure marketing days for a manufacturer in all my years of racing.

Cadillac has always been the standard of the world in luxury and engineering excellence. In my humble opinion, if Cadillac continues this leading edge marketing effort into 2012; then the Marketing team can start talking about standard of the racing world also.

I cannot end the year without saying a huge thank you to both WC Vision and SCCA Pro Racing for continuing to make the series stronger and more viable for the future. It is pleasure for me to run in the Pirelli World Challenge Championships.

I want to say a huge thank you to the fantastic volunteer corner workers and medical staff who help to keep us safe out on track. Thanks for all you do for us and I hope all of you have a great holiday season.

Finally and most importantly in many ways, thank you to all the great race fans who came to see us run during our 2011 Pirelli World Challenge season. Pirelli World Challenge fans are some of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic in all of racing. See you all next year.
Bring on 2012, I can’t wait.

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