Cadillac at Le Mans: The journey is part of the story

Cadillac Racing principals from 2000-02 LMP program talk about return to France

Cadillac Racing enters the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time in 21 years with three Cadillac V-Series.Rs in the Hypercar class and ambitions to fulfill. Interviews (below and links) with individuals at the heart of Cadillac Racing’s 2000-02 LMP program for editorial use:

Q&A with Jeff Kettman, the GM Racing Le Mans Prototype manager for the start-up program who previously was the GM NASCAR program manager:

Knowing the teething pains of a new program and watching the Cadillac V-Series.R from afar, what are your thoughts?

“I see parallels to what we went through in the late ‘90s, early 2000s in that it is new technology for the time. I have a lot of respect for the program, and it blows me away the amount of technology they are doing with the hybrid. As far as the teething pains, it’s chewing off a lot to run in two series on two continents. We did that a little bit with hiring the DAMS team to help us. A big part of the reason we did that was to have a French connection so that it would ease our path into Le Mans after 50 years away. The DAMS team was both a good team and also had more knowledge of how things operated in Europe. Running two programs does enhance the knowledge base. However, it was also challenging to support four cars. We were being outspent by Audi by a large margin and that also showed in their presence at the track.

Many design and development aids today were either in their infancy or not available yet, right?

“We were using computer-aided engineering, but we didn’t have CFD back then. We were still doing 40 percent scale models. We didn’t have the simulation that they have today. There definitely wasn’t a driver simulator where they could sit in it, so everything was more like the old school way of building parts, going to the track and testing. Obviously, making sure they were structurally sound before they were built through computer engineering, but there wasn’t the simulation like you have today.”

Cadillac Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

How do you regard the three-year program with the emphasis on Le Mans?

“The return from 50 years was a big deal and I would say from a marketing perspective it succeeded because back then ‘Arts & Sciences’ was the Cadillac marketing theme and this was the bridge from the vinyl top Cadillacs to the CTS-V, which 2003 was the first year of the production car. The whole reason that Cadillac got involved in motorsports was to shift the public perspective of Cadillac to more of a sporty vehicle. We didn’t have the results on the track but the fact that we didn’t have major problems was impressive. We really didn’t have that much time; less than a year before the first race from getting the car built from the ground up.”

What did Max Angelelli bring to the program?

“Wayne (Taylor) wasn’t afraid to say what he was thinking. Max, coming from where he was, would tell it like it was and pushed us to really get better in a lot of areas in the car development. Max, being from Italy, kind of had the tie with Pirelli tires. They did develop a tire specifically for us and we thought that could be an advantage. Everybody else who was successful, including Audi, was running Michelins, so we thought that the Pirelli tie-in would give us an advantage. In reality, it was a disadvantage because we couldn’t compare ourselves. We didn’t know if our speed was the car, the tire or something else. So, we got some Michelins and ran a test and found that we were faster. That was part of the decision in year two to switch to Michelins. There were a whole lot of changes after year one. Max, I still appreciate. He was a very aggressive driver. Wayne was more of the endurance driver and could keep a car together for the long period and Max would be more of the let’s push it and see how hard it can go, and we needed that. It was a good balance.”

What was your initial thoughts about the spectacle of Le Mans?

“I had a background in IMSA road racing with Peerless Racing; we ran a Corvette GTP car in the late ‘80s, so I had been to the 24 hours of Daytona, Sebring, but the whole pageantry and spectacle of Le Mans – the scrutineering downtown, the parade with the drivers and just the history – was definitely noticeable. The first year it was a lot of things that were above and beyond for me as a program manager because I was involved in marketing and things like that, so it was a lot of involvement beyond the actual racetrack event. The amount of interest that we had in us as the American team as General Motors and Cadillac was kind of surprising. We were quite well-received. They like the American V8. The fact that the Corvettes were coming too was a big thing.”

What does it take to win Le Mans?

“The perspective I like is that between the 24 hours of Daytona and 24 hours of Le Mans the amount of daylight is a big difference. Le Mans, it’s not getting dark until 10 o’clock at night and the sun is coming up at 5. So, you do look for the car setup in the sunny, warmer weather ideally, but you also don’t know what you’re going to get at that time of year. In our era, it was already shifting from you couldn’t just sit back and ride for 22 hours and race the last two. It was getting in the early 2000s you had to go hard much the whole time, and I see it that way today, too. It’s a combination of the ability of the cars and the ability of the drivers. You see the drivers that are pushing it from the beginning.

“It’s always preparation and being ready for any unexpected event – having spare parts, having everything already laid out and tested – that’s where you can gain an advantage.”

— Jeff Kettman

“It’s always preparation and being ready for any unexpected event – having spare parts, having everything already laid out and tested – that’s where you can gain an advantage. There’s no substitute for miles on the track, which again because of budget reasons and other reasons we were not running a full schedule back then. But after Sebring we stayed a couple of extra days and ran another 12-plus hours to get real track miles on the car. You can simulate as much as you want in a lab or computer, but it doesn’t match what you run into. And even then, it’s not the same as running in a race. That is the other part – getting your crew sharp – and that only comes from running in a race.”

How did the car between the first year and 2002 change?

“The car evolved. We worked with Riley & Scott in the beginning because they were very successful and were probably the top U.S. constructor at the time. They did a new carbon monocoque, which was new for them. But the reality was they were a couple years behind when we looked at what was going on in Europe. So, Wayne put together 3GR with Nigel Stroud and Jeff Hazell and they were based in England right in the heart of the F1 cottage industry. We didn’t have enough time to do a complete new car for ’01 so they modified what we had and made some improvements. The car basically became a European design for ’02 and made leaps and bounds improvements in car handling. The engine was kind of tweaked and fine-tuned. It was figuring out where the weak links were, just like any racing program. The engine itself always seemed to have enough power and durability-wise I don’t recall us having any major engine issues. In the first year of the program, we learned about the level of competition we faced. In the second year, we focused on collecting data and accumulating experience while racing a highly modified LMP01 chassis. In the third year, we introduced the new Cadillac Northstar that incorporated the lessons we learned and embodied the knowledge we gained.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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