CADILLAC V- PERFORMA ACADEMY
HOW I BECAME A BETTER DRIVER AT THE Story and Photography by David Miller
But what then?
At times, you find yourself stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic or running errands. The good days are a Sunday morning drive to that empty stretch of road where you can loosen up the rev meter and test its handling on tight and curvy bends. That may be enough to try to justify the purchase, but not much is discovered about the vehicle, and eventually that road no longer fulfils that need for excitement.
This is where a performance driving school steps in. Of course, there are many programs offered from Mercedes-amg, BMW and Porsche, to name a few. They all provide a thrilling racing and
learning experience, but none of them come without a program cost, like the two-day package offered by Cadillac through its V-performance Academy at the Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Nevada.
It's situated in Pahrump, approximately 90 kilometres (about an hour's ride) from the Las Vegas strip. Included in the program for new 2017 Cadillac ATS-V and CTSV owners is a two-night stay in a resort condo, most meals, a courtesy Cadillac vehicle during your stay, and transportation toand-from the airport or the hotel you're staying at. You just need to get to Nevada on your own dime.
Now, there is catch for Canadians, and that's the free part, as it currently only available to 2017 V-performance purchases made in the United States. A Canadian can take part in the program, just like any non-cadillac owner, but airfare and the cost of the program that starts at $2,470 USD is on you. However, according to a public relations representative from Cadillac Canada, there is an on-going discussion that could shortly put Canada in-line with its partners down south, just like they do for the Ron Fellows Performance Driving Academy featuring Corvettes held at this very resort.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF TRACK SUCCESS
The best way to describe Spring Mountain is a driving playground. It has three separate tracks covering just under 10 kilometres. The Cadillac track is a technical 2.4-kilometre, 10-turn, and 42-ft wide masterpiece that's shaped like a sideways cactus. It's more than challenging to say the least!
Our chariots are the supercharged, 6.2-litre CTS-V filled with 640 horses of power that can do a 0-100 km/h sprint in close to 3.7 seconds, and a turbocharged, 3.6-litre ATS-V that's only one second off that pace with the use of 464 hp. If you own a CTS-V or an ATS-V coupe or sedan in manual or automatic, that stock vehicle awaits your arrival.
Both vehicles possess a lot of speed and frisky rev-matching abilities, but on this track, that won't carry the day. Going full out without the use of braking and vehicle balance will simply slow you down and take away any confidence that you had going in.
As the saying goes, “before you run, you must learn to walk,” and that's exactly what these professional and thorough Cadillac instructors set out to do. Everything within the program is calculated to make you a better
driver, regardless of experience level. Somewhat ironically, it's more difficult to teach someone with track experience than a novice, as the former has most likely already picked up some bad habits.
Through a series of in-class sessions and specific on-track exercises, the program prepares you for being proficient, while maximizing the performance level of each Cadillac. That's where the eight steps to a corner come into play: visual scanning, braking, downshifting, turn-in, balancing the car, clipping the apex, unwinding the wheel and pressing down on that throttle.
They should have called them eight baby steps, as we took our time to master each one including a visual serpentine exercise, accident avoidance, a slalom, shifting and launch control, a wet figure “8” skid track, as well as a dry handling oval. Each one taught a little something, slowly improving your braking, steering, acceleration and overall confidence behind the vehicle.
The one that stood out was the first exercise on day one – the Serpentine. It had everything to do with vision, an essential part of racing. With a sunshade blocking my windshield and at speeds of around 35 km/h, I was forced to use my peripheral vision and side windows to make left and right turns through a series of pylons. You wonder at the time when this is going to come into play, and for me, it eventually clicked the next morning as my vision of the track became razor sharp upon entry and exit of a corner. And presto, change-o – my time improved!
tries on closing day. Throughout each session, an instructor is on the radio critiquing almost every move made. If your turn-in was off; if your steering input is too much; even if you're not looking at the right spot ahead – you will be notified. It's priceless on-the-spot instructing that can instantly be corrected on the next lap and permanently installed somewhere in memory. Most important is to listen and understand the reasoning behind the instruction. From there with time, each driver will acquire the tools, at their own pace, to confidently and effectively attack each corner with precision.
I rotated between the ATS-V and CTS-V and the same driving concepts apply to both. The supercharged CTS-V has more weight and gets friskier, making the ATS-V a more controllable ride around the many turns, even though it has a lower top speed. As aforementioned, speed on this track can only do so much with one long straightaway. It's about carrying speed into corners, punching the brakes and slowly easing off as the corner bends. It's then where throttle balance, unwinding the steering wheel and accelerating all in an instant take over, lessening your lap time in the process.
On top of constant coaching, we were provided complimentary SD cards to be used in the Cadillac's Performance Data Recorder (PDR). After each session, you can play back your lap inside of the car or later on your laptop. It not only shows video of the lap, it highlights your throttle input, braking, gear selection, steering angle, g-forces, and compiles all the data you would ever need through Cosworth Toolbox software.
In the end, the repetition of instructions and on-track practice made me a better driver. Notice, I didn't say track driver, because many of these driving traits such as visual scanning, turn-in and accelerating while unwinding will make you a safer and better driver on regular roads.
There's a lot more to the Cadillac V-performance Academy then accelerating on a straight, braking hard and looking where you want to go. These instructors meticulously guide you through a step-by-step process explaining everything you and the vehicle should be doing at every given moment.
The program has only been up and running since January 2017 and it's already seeing a high take rate from new Cadillac V-series owners with fiveto-six programs running each month. It allows Cadillac owners to truly experience the limits and capabilities of their new ride.
There's a popular saying that goes, “you get what you pay for.” Well in this case, at least $66,095 (sedan) / $68,395 (coupe) or $93,110 (base Canadian MSRPS) for an ATS-V and CTS-V, respectively. But after going through the two-day program with some of the best instructors in the business, my mind was blown on how much I learned.
And if you're planning a trip to Las Vegas anyways, I could think of many worse things to do.