Cadillac CTS-V Challenge: Yes, I Beat 'Maximum Bob' Lutz
Cadillac, BMW shine equally at GM publicity extravaganza
The Challenge was met, and a BMW won.
Michael Cooper, a hoodie-clad, 21-year-old budding racer from Long Island, won the Cadillac CTS-V Challenge Thursday, driving his BMW M3 past GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz at the Monticello Motor Club in New York.
As for this writer, I managed a third-place finish driving the CTS-V production sedan. I did beat Lutz, my goal going in. But I ceded second place to The Truth About Cars’ journalist Jack Baruth, also driving the CTS-V. (In my lame defense, Jack is a semi-pro racer who’s run in the Grand-Am road racing series.)
The combination publicity stunt/sport-sedan throwdown turned out to be a blast, with Maximum Bob challenging journalists and private owners to battle him in Cadillac’s 556-horsepower CTS-V. (Check out video after the jump.)
BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Jaguar ultimately refused to provide press cars for the challenge, meaning some key competitors -- especially the Mercedes E63 AMG and Porsche Panamera -- were sadly MIA. Initially, BMW had slotted me in for a 400-horsepower M3, my preferred weapon in this race, but higher-ups at the company blocked my bid. Driving the CTS-V became my only choice, which made my lap time far less satisfying than if it had come in a Caddy competitor, the original premise of the race.
GM recruited owners of a BMW M3 and M5, a CTS-V and a supercharged Jaguar XF. Journalists saddled up the CTS-V and a Mitsubishi Evolution that found itself thoroughly outgunned in this wickedly capable class.
For curiosity’s sake, I drove the 550-horsepower BMW X6 M crossover SUV for my rehearsal laps, stepping in cold to the rear-drive CTS-V for my own timed laps. It was only the night before that BMW officials nixed me driving the X6 M in the official event. And as I suspected, BMW missed an opportunity to spotlight the fish-out-of-water brilliance of its 5,200-pound crossover: The X6 M performed incredibly, ripping off sub-three-minute laps and keeping pace with the megapowered sedans. A damp track only amplified the advantage of the X6 M’s torque-vectoring AWD system.
Some sites have erroneously suggested that Cadillac “won” because of the faster times posted by their ringer race-car drivers, who set out after I had made the day’s last official run. But GM itself had set the rules: The Challenge was to take on Lutz, not GM’s professional gladiators from the top ranks of racing. Cooper and his BMW won the event fair and square, as referee and former Car and Driver editor Csabe Csere made clear during post-race presentations. And Cooper -- an obvious natural who’s attended Skip Barber schools and run a few open-wheel amateur races -- was congratulated by Cadillac officials and the gracious Lutz, 77, who quipped before the race, “I should get an age-based handicap of one second per lap for every year over 70.”
Lutz said he had been frustrated with GM’s “inane” advertising for the CTS-V. Determined to prove the Caddy was among the world’s best sport sedans (a claim already supported with a record production-sedan run at Germany’s famed Nurburgring course), Lutz conceived the Challenge.
As ever, the point lost in the heated Web debate over which sport sedan is “superior” is that the driver, as much as the car, determines who’ll be fastest on a given day. That truism was driven home by the likes of John Heinricy, the renowned sports car racer and retired CTS-V engineer, and of the Speed Channel’s “mystery driver,” who turned out to be Corvette racer Johnny O’Connell, whose resume includes class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Heinricy and O’Connell took to the course to turn in blistering, best-of-day laps in the Cadillac, bringing even the amateur racers in the field back to reality, as a Speed Channel camera helicopter buzzed the track.
As if Lutz didn’t prove definitively enough that age is no barrier, 72-year-old Englishman Brian Redman, the former Formula 1 driver and racing legend, put up a smoking 2:49.59 lap in the Caddy, beating me by more than three seconds.
Lutz was clearly being magnanimous when he said that ultimately, “the lap times are almost irrelevant – it’s about having a great time in wonderful automobiles.”
Ultimately, the CTS-V Challenge didn't definitely prove which sport sedan is best -- as no shootout truly can. But it did prove that driving on a track, whether you’re Formula 1-fast or tortoise-slow, is the most fun you can have in a sitting position.
Win or lose, Lutz knew what he’d accomplished. “If people leave the day with the conclusion that the CTS-V is among the best, that would be a good thing.”
Mission accomplished, Bob. I'll save the memory, and a few photos, of this fantastic day. And what do you say we do it again next year?
Final positions and lap times from the CTS-V Challenge, beginning with the nonofficial ringers' times:
“Mystery Driver” Johnny O'Connell, CTS-V, 2:45.537
John Heinricy, CTS-V, 2:46.560
Aaron Link, CTS-V, 2:48.902
Brian Redman, CTS-V 2:49.596
First place: Michael Cooper, private owner, BMW M3: 2:50.424
Second place: Jack Baruth, The Truth About Cars, CTS-V: 2:51.153
Third place: Lawrence Ulrich, MSN Autos, CTS-V: 2:53.157
Fourth place: Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman, CTS-V: 2:56.321
Michael Mainwald, private owner, BMW M5: 3:05.398
Wes Siler, Jalopnik, Mitsubishi Evo, 3:08.126
Chris Fairman, private owner, CTS-V, 3:14.292
Archan Basu, private owner, Jaguar XF, 3:15.670
Tom Loder, private owner, Audi RS4, 3:15.702
(Pictured: Wes Siler, left, of Jalopnik, with GM's Bob Lutz; all photos and video courtesy of GM)
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