Photo: Richard Prince/Cadillac Racing

Cadillac ends its title-winning PWC program

1 Comment

Cadillac Racing has been a stalwart of Pirelli World Challenge through a couple different periods and with several different racecars.

But as the series moves to a customer-based platform in 2018, the factory-backed Cadillac effort has withdrawn its program at the end of this season. The team debuted its GT3-spec Cadillac ATS-V.R at the start of the 2015 season and won a title with Johnny O’Connell that year; the team also captured the SprintX title this year with Michael Cooper and Jordan Taylor.

This will end Cadillac’s tenure in the series and comes as a bit of a blow to the championship. The Cadillac brand entered the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the start of 2017 with its Cadillac DPi-V.R Daytona Prototype international (DPi) program.

Cadillac’s release is below, followed by a statement from PWC:

Cadillac will place its championship-winning Pirelli World Challenge V-Performance Racing GT team into hibernation, following a September sweep of the GT class at the season-finale double header at Sonoma Raceway.

Since the team first assembled in 2004 to take the first-ever Cadillac CTS-V Sedan sprint racing against the toughest GT competition around, it has amassed 33 wins, 121 podium finishes (including the wins), and 25 pole positions. As a team, Cadillac competed in 332 races across eleven years of competition.

Drivers having contributed to the program include Johnny O’Connell, Michael Cooper, Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor, Andy Pilgrim, Max “the Axe” Angelelli, Ron Fellows, John Heinricy, Olivier Berretta, and Lawson Aschenbach. The team won World Challenge Manufacturer Championships in 2005, 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Cadillac Racing drivers earned the World Challenge Driver’s Championship in 2005 with Andy Pilgrim, and with Johnny O’Connell in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. This year, Michael Cooper and copilot Jordan Taylor earned the first-ever SprintX Driver Championship honors.

“Throughout 11 years of competition with Cadillac Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge Series, we have taken tremendous pride in our successes, including 33 wins, 121 podium finishes and multiple manufacturer and driver’s championships,” said Mark Kent, Director of Motorsports Competition for Cadillac Racing. “We also have taken tremendous pride in the level of technology transfer that has occurred between the Cadillacs competing on track and their showroom counterparts. This technology transfer has helped make the Cadillac ATS-V and CTS-V production models very track-capable and athletic.”

“Cadillac road cars are better than ever thanks to racing with World Challenge,” said Rich Brekus, Global Director of Product Strategy for Cadillac. “Equally importantly, the Cadillac Racing GT Team has earned the enthusiasm of thousands of fans around the world. You will see Cadillac Racing t-shirts in the crowd at LeMans each year, thanks to the GT program. The team has provided excellent representation on and off the track, and perfectly reflects the core of passion in our brand. The drivers and crew have been true ambassadors as we introduced Cadillac V-Performance to the marketplace. In 2018, we will take a pause in Pirelli World Challenge as we focus completely on our effort in prototype sports car racing. However, we maintain a regular and open communication with Greg Gill, the World Challenge CEO, and hope to one day return to the Series in some form.”

Finishing in style befitting Cadillac, Michael Cooper punctuated the success of the Cadillac Racing GT program by winning both of the season-ending races at Sonoma Raceway in the Vector Blue No. 8 Cadillac ATS-V.R Coupe on September 16th and 17th.

In the program’s second and third chapters, rebuilding after the 2008-10 stand down for the Great Recession, the team’s most competitive streak occurred from 2012-15 when Johnny O’Connell earned four consecutive driver championships. Three of those were secured in the mighty Cadillac CTS-V.R Coupe and one in today’s GT3-homologated Cadillac ATS-V.R Coupe. In the same period, O’Connell posted 13 wins in the CTS-V.R and five in the ATS-V.R.

PWC Statement on Cadillac’s departure from the GT3 division:

From Greg Gill, President and CEO of WC Vision, producers of the Pirelli World Challenge:

“We, at WC Vision, wish the Cadillac brand all the best in its future racing endeavors. Cadillac has been a valued partner for many years. The Cadillac participation in the Pirelli World Challenge has left a legendary mark in series history with numerous GT driver, team and manufacturer championships through the years. In addition, Cadillac’s marketing activation and support grew concurrent with the Series over the past five years. With the continued expansion of customer-based racing in the Pirelli World Challenge, we know our competition level has grown each year and believe those ideals will increase the PWC fields. We hope to see Cadillac back in the Pirelli World Challenge in the near future.”

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
1 Comment

It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Follow@KyleMLavigne