'It's got a ton of power and the sound is epic!' - driving Cadillac GTP at Daytona

Sports Car News

Jack Aitken steps up to sports car racing's top category this weekend at the Daytona 24 Hours, where he's among the first to race in the new GTP class. He tells Chris Medland why racing the Cadillac will be a lot of fun

Cadillac GTP car at Roar before Daytona 24 2023

Cadillac is taking n both WEC and IMSA

Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A brand new era for sports car racing kicks off this weekend on the Eastern Florida coast, when the flag drops to start the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The imposing Daytona International Speedway will play host to the January classic with an added level of intrigue, as nine LMDh entries in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class rumble off the banking towards Turn 1.

Cars from Cadillac, Porsche, Acura and BMW will stretch their legs for the first time, and among them getting a first taste of Daytona is one-time Williams F1 racer Jack Aitken.

“It’s a fun car to drive with a bit of heft to it as well so you can drive it a little bit more like a GT”

“The experience has been great,” Aitken says while wandering around the vast paddock. “For a long time I’ve wanted to come over to IMSA and do some racing in the big endurance races like Daytona and Petit Le Mans. I’ve always heard great things from my peers and that the atmosphere is pretty special.

“And it’s a different style of racing that I’m going to experience very soon, so everyone has been really welcoming. I’m lucky that I’ve got team-mates that are pretty experienced and they’ve done this before in IMSA. It’s been a pretty easy transition so far, but we’ll see on Saturday and Sunday how it goes!”

Jack Aitken portrait from 2022

Aitken steps up to the top category in sports cars after racing LMP2 and GT cars

Florent Gooden / DPPI

On a track that he can only liken to Rockingham – “which I’m not really sure if it ticks all the boxes!” – Aitken’s main focus has been getting to grips with the Cadillac V-LMDh that he will be driving alongside Pipo Derani and Alex Sims for Action Express Racing. After testing during the ‘Roar before the 24’ last week, there’s a strong initial impression of this new category forming.

“It’s been good. I’ve come in quite late in the development cycle so luckily I haven’t had to deal with some of the problems that the other guys have had! They’ve kind of cleaned it up for me. But it’s been solid since I first sat in it.

“Reliability-wise we’ve been working pretty well and we’ve logged a good number of laps. That was kind of the aim during the Roar – just get mileage in – and we’re going to work on fine-tuning things a little bit more during this week.

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“Hard to say where we stand compared to the others but it’s a fun car to drive. It’s got a tonne of power, got a bit of heft to it as well so you can drive it a little bit more like a GT, it’s not so delicate, and the sound is epic which always helps.”

When we put it to him that the driving style of the naturally aspirated V8-powered LMDh car could be more GT than LMP2 – the latter a category he has plenty of experience of – Aitken is quick to put us right. But it’s clearly in a class of its own.

“That would probably be quite a harsh comparison to make because the thing still flies! It’s got plenty of downforce, it’s just that it has some of those traits. I wouldn’t say it’s closer to a GT than a prototype because it’s got so much downforce and we’re still overtaking LMP2 cars around the outside in the infield, so we’ve clearly got a lot of grip in the car.

“It’s interesting because the P2 car probably feels more light-footed and it’s a very responsive car and quite twitchy at times even. Trying to keep it dead straight on the road when there’s a crown and bumps is a challenge! But it is quite underpowered these days with the restrictions that have been brought in.

“It’s not the easiest car to drive, it’s not the most refined in a lot of ways, and driving the Caddy in comparison it feels a lot more sure-footed. It can soak up a lot more in terms of the kerbing and bumps, it has got more working in the background to try and help you out. More systems, there’s more complexity to the car which is obviously a double-edged sword but at the moment has been working great and it has been helping us and making my life easier.

“There’s more adjustment with things like the traction control systems and the brake control and the hybrid system. So generally it gives you more from the driver’s point of view, there’s more to take advantage of, and that makes it a nicer place to be.”

Side view of Cadillac GTP car at Daytona ahead of 2023 24 Hour race

Testing hasn’t revealed how Cadillac compares to its rivals

David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

The new Hypercar rules that have also seen new manufacturers commit to the Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) regulations – with Ferrari and Vanwall set to join Peugeot, Glickenhaus and Toyota in WEC this year – allow for them to race GTP entrants in the same events. Having competed in both GT and LMP2 entries in 24-hour races before, Aitken is keeping his fingers crossed the booming top class won’t come at the expense of other prototypes.

“I hope not, because I think LMP2 still serves a big purpose. It’s still a ProAm class which is important for our sport and there’s a lot of Ams I know having a great time racing in ELMS last year. And meeting a lot of the guys out here it would be really sad to see the P2s go.

“I think there’s a real place for the Am that wants to be in a prototype and a car as capable as the LMP2 – which is still a fantastic car to drive – and obviously not have to spend a ridiculous amount of money to buy a LMH car off the shelf.

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“So I think there’s still a place for it, I hope so, they just have to work on how everything fits together with the Balance of Performance between classes. I think in IMSA they’ve made quite a big step to turn down the P2s and they may look at refining that in future, but I don’t wish for it to be gone, definitely not.”

As iconic as Daytona is, it still doesn’t gain the same attention as the Le Mans 24 Hours from the racing world, and it’s with June’s event in mind that there will be added focus on how the GTP class pans out this weekend. For Aitken – who has yet to have a Cadillac ride at Le Mans confirmed – the cars should put on a special show at Circuit de la Sarthe, but there are other aspects that could define how successful the LMDh entries will be.

“Just in the technical sense it should be a relatively straightforward transition. I don’t see any reason why we can’t go there and perform on what is going to be a European debut for a lot of team members and for the Cadillac V LMDh.

“However as we all know it’s not that simple and there’s a big difference in the racing between IMSA and WEC, even just European culture versus American culture I feel the difference standing here in the paddock in Daytona. For the American teams, some of them that have never been to European races, that will be a bit of an adjustment to get used to as well.

BMW GTP car at Roar Before Daytona 24 in 2023

BMW (pictured), Porsche and Acura will compete with Cadillac for overall victory

Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“So seeing more how things work out logistically and adapting to those changes will be interesting, but the car I think will have no issues whatsoever. From the driving point of view I’m really looking forward to Le Mans, it’s a special race and a special track, and I think these cars are going to be a hell of a lot of fun there as well.”

First, that fun has to be had at Daytona, where an early form guide could be provided as to which teams and manufacturers could really be a threat at Le Mans. But Aitken warns there’s plenty of time for improvements on whatever is shown this weekend in such an immature category.

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“Possibly, but the only thing that is maybe going to muddy the waters a little bit is that it’s the first event, it’s the first time that these cars are going to be out on track together and there’s a lot of teams that are probably wishing they have a few more testing miles under their belt.

“There are teams that are currently working through issues right now today and still getting things together – I think everyone is in that position a little bit, the development of the car is not finished for anybody. Speaking to the guys at Cadillac they’re really excited about things that are coming in the pipeline for the future, whether that be months or days or years, for this cycle of car.

“So I would take the results here with a pinch of salt, even though it normally would be a good indicator, just because the development of these cars is going to be so fast in the first six months.”

While many eyes will be on how the GTP category plays out, Aitken’s goal is clear as he aims for overall honours when starting from sixth on his debut in the race. 12 months ago, Helio Castroneves got to do his signature Spiderman celebration on the catch fencing after winning for the second consecutive year, so what does the British-South Korean have in mind?

“I’d be lying if I said I’ve planned it out. There’s a great Ben & Jerry’s across the road from the speedway, Alex Sims and I have been hitting up. So a celebratory Ben & Jerry’s maybe? All on me, get your orders in!”