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Cadillac Racing: Where Luxury Meets Motorsports

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alanaglass/2013/06/17/cadillac-racing-where-luxury-meets-motorsports/

Picture this.

You are offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride in a race car driven by motorsports veteran, Andy Pilgrim.

You suit up, put your helmet on, and climb into the car Dukes of Hazard style. The car is roaring and ready to go. But in a matter of minutes a rain storm sets in. Ugh. Now it is too dangerous to ride on a wet track with tires designed for dry conditions. So your trip around the course is reduced to a quick ride from pit lane to the paddock.

Now 15 minutes have passed, and the rain has stopped. But your ride in the race car still is not a go. Alternatively, a ride in the street version of the car is offered to you.

Do you take it? Yes. Are you a little disappointed? Sure. Does it end up being the thrill of a lifetime? Absolutely!

That was my experience at the Pirelli World Challenge Series in Detroit, Michigan when I rode in Cadillac’s 2013 CTS-V Coupe. 120 mph on a wet street race track is not what I expected at all! Who knew Cadillac, a brand known for luxury and comfort, has so much power?

Unless you are a racing aficionado, the Pirelli World Challenge probably is not a motor sports series that is familiar to you. It does not feature racings household names like Patrick, Gordon, or Castroneves. But what the 24 year old series lacks in star power, it makes up in performance.

The Pirelli World Challenge includes top of the line production based cars with four separate classes competition (GT, GTS, Touring Car, and Touring Car B-Spec). These race cars feature the same block and body of the vehicles that you would find on the showroom floor. In other words, there is a direct line from the manufacturer and aftermarket supplier, to the consumer.

Cadillac Racing competed in the series from 2004-2007, and due to the economic downturn it took a brief hiatus. But the racing team returned in 2011 stronger than ever. Since then its drivers Johnny O’Connell and Andy Pilgrim finished one-two in the 2012 GT Driver’s Championship. And Team Cadillac took home the 2012 Pirelli World Challenge Series GT Manufacturer’s Championship on the one-year anniversary of its first victory since rejoining the series.

2013 is shaping up to be another promising year for Team Cadillac. Sales are up 38%, (Cadillac’s best start since 1976) and its racing team is on pace to vie for another championship.

Forbes.com caught up with Cadillac’s Director of Emerging Markets, Jim Vurpillat, at the Cadillac V-Series Challenge in Detroit to talk about the V-Series, motor sports racing, and Cadillac’s quest to be the leading luxury and performance brand. Here are excerpts of our conversation.

On the V-Series and Cadillac Racing

Vurpillat: Our involvement in racing is about proving the performance credentials of the brand. When we started to develop our V-Series brand with our first generation CTS it was about getting our toe in the water, in that high performance category of BMW M and Mercedes-AMG, and proving that Cadillac performance can take on the worlds best.

With the second generation of cars, we just upped the game. The V-Series has been phenomenal for us. We’ve built up a following, and we’ve built up a great owner base. When we first got into it, there were a lot of people surprised. Now, they know we are there, and we have built up a lot of credibility.

On the similarities between Cadillac’s production cars and race cars

Vurpillat: One of the reasons why we got into this form of racing is because it is production based. That body comes right off of our assembly plant in Lansing, Michigan. It starts its life the same way a production car starts its life.

The base engine is the same it is a 6.2L V-8. The one difference is you can buy the production car supercharged. It produces 556 hp. The suspension geometry all has to be the same. Basically, 80% of the race car is production based.

On the economic downturn and its impact on Cadillac Racing

Vurpillat: We knew we were going to take a little hiatus in racing because that was the gap in between the first generation CTS family and the second generation. When we decided to come back, we probably could have come in a year earlier and raced the V-Sedan. But we thought it would be a good idea to race the Coupe. That pushed us into 2011.

The hiatus was the downturn and financial driven. As soon as things started to get better, Mark Reuss said to us “let’s go racing.” We put the race program together in about eight months, which is quick to build a race car, test it, and be out on the track.

On Cadillac’s marketing strategy

Vurpillat: Our series is usually linked with a bigger series, which is usually IndyCar. So we wanted to use that opportunity to engage fans and performance enthusiasts; and educate them about the Cadillac brand. The V- Series is credible and takes a backseat to no one. There is a lot to do at our displays. We talk about the Cadillac V-Series, Cadillac performance, our race program, and get them excited about it. Fans can come in and take ride in one of our simulators.

We have our V production cars there and that gives us the ability to attract fan interest. We take those leads and over a six-eight month period we track conversions to sales. That is how we determine our ROI with our investment on-site. On this program, we are well over a 5:1 ratio on our investment to payback which is phenomenal and off the charts. For us to be out on eight, nine, ten weekends with that commitment and those displays, it is a few million dollars.

On the future of Cadillac Racing

Vurpillat: I see our racing program growing. There is potential for us on a global basis and the possibility to race in some select races in China, Middle East and Europe. We can start to take what we’ve built here in the US as a series, and take that to some of our other markets.

For us being in a production-based series, there is a lot of excitement. The adage of race on Sunday, and sell on Monday is still there. It might not be the Monday after or a month after. It might be a year later. But it gets people excited and talking about it. What is more is engaging than “here is my car, and then here is the car on the track?”

BMW M, Mercedes-AMG, and Audi RS are great machines, and to have us in that consideration set says how far we’ve come as a brand and where we are going to continue to take it. For us it is a very simple strategy, it is about building the performance credentials of the brand. Racing falls under that. Our V-Series falls under that. We want people to think of Cadillac as performance and luxury. This is the beginning of a long journey.

Wonder what it is like behind the wheel of a Cadillac’s CTS-V Coupe? Here’s a lap of Detroit’s Belle Isle 2.3-mile, 13-turn concrete lined island circuit with Johnny O’Connell.