SCCA Pro Racing’s Pirelli World Challenge treated some writers and photographers to rides on Saint Petersburg’s temporary race track in two K-Pax Racing Volvo S-60s, driven by Randy Pobst and Alex Figge (above), Cadillac CTS-V.R race cars, and a few street-legal CTS-Vs.
I was chauffeured by a SCCA World Challenge series racer for two laps on Saint Petersburg’s downtown streets and a runway of Albert Whitted Airport in a Cadillac CTS-V street car. Its acceleration was impressive (pressed me into the seat), but the braking for Turn 4 really wowed me. Then the speed that we carried, sometimes with Pirelli tires howling, really made me marvel at the speed that a street car is capable of. This was a standard CTS-V, with stock brakes, going faster than 99% of us would expect is safe on two-lane city streets bounded by concrete walls.
Two minutes afterward, I was wearing a helmet and buckling into a Cadillac CTS-V.R race car that Johnny O’Connell (above) races in World Challenge. In the driver’s seat, O’Connell waited for me, almost out of my peripheral vision on the other side of a triangular safety net (that’s there all season). I thanked him for his patience and told him that I’d followed his racing for years and had enjoyed listening to his commentary on the 12 Hours of Sebring (which he’d won eight times but didn’t race in last week). When I had been belted in and a crewman buckled a window net beside me, O’Connell dropped the clutch, and the CTS-V.R roared from pit-out toward Turn 2.
Outside of an airplane, I have never gone so fast. I have driven two of my cars 127 mph on long straightaways, and on this track I have ridden in a Honda Civic Si, a Honda Accord Coupe driven by Davey Hamilton, and the aforementioned Cadillac CTS-V. For a few minutes I thought that that was fast — and it was.
But this CTS-V.R was loud, fast, hard-braking, and swiftly changing direction on the zig-zag street circuit that’s been walled-in for the IndyCar Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg and six other races of this weekend.
I was amazed by O’Connell’s car control at breakneck speeds, including course corrections in Turns 4 and 9. Applying that V-8′s power can cause the rear to ‘step out.’ Two-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon has slammed Turn 9’s left wall in two races.
What a violent ride in the passenger seat of a V-8-powered race car — an ‘E-ticket’ ride as old-timers would say. This isn’t your grandpa’s Cadillac. This is a Caddy that zigs (and zags). Thanks to Johnny O’Connell and to Cadillac Racing for a taste of the World Challenge experience on the streets of Saint Petersburg.