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Letter from Andy Pilgrim

Cadillac Tech

Seasoned Member
Oct 16, 2008
From Andy Pilgrim:

[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"Life on the Road"[/FONT]​

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The 10 days leading up to Round 5 of the Speed World Challenge race on July 4th seemed like one long endurance race to be quite honest. Actually, the race weekend at the Glen was exciting enough all by itself, truth be known, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
I talk to thousands of people all over the country during the year, either at races, business events, pr events, colleges or high schools.
One of the most frequent chats I have with people involves their perception of the on the road life of a professional race driver. People’s perceptions run along the lines of very cool or interesting, but really, it’s a bit of a mystery to them. I mean, we travel all over, arrive, meet people, drive fast cars or give a speech and fly off to the next mystery stop. My last 11-day trip was a good one so I’ll take away some of the mystery right here.
The trip started on Thursday, June 25. I drove my car down to Miami airport from my home in Boca Raton, which took an hour or so due to traffic. I caught a plane out of Miami to Chicago and then on to Minneapolis.
We were an hour or more late out of Miami as someone had managed to block one of the toilets on the plane. My imagination still hasn’t rid itself of the image of some poor, unfortunate person actually sitting there stuck on the toilet, although I’m not sure that was the actual situation. Anyway, short of seeing some poor soul covered in blue rinse being carried off the plane we finally left. I luckily had a later flight I could take to Minneapolis and got to my hotel in time for dinner.
The next two days in Minneapolis-St Paul were spent working with the people from Ford Motor Company. The Ford Fund is a Foundation that supports Driving Skills for Life. This program travels to about 10 cities a year and provides training for new drivers and their parents. It’s a great program and a friend of mine Jim Graham from Ford runs it.
Jim Graham and I go back to 1997 when Jason Priestley and I ran together for a year in the Motorola Cup series in a Mustang GT. Jason was sponsored by Ford back then. Jim invited me out to see the Driving Skills for Life program as he knows I am very involved with teen driver education.
Almost 700 people went through the program in three days which included classroom and a lot of hands on driving. I spent two days talking to students and parents and had a great time. Luckily the weather cooperated for the two days I was there and we had very little rain which was good as we were standing in a big parking lot all day.
I flew from Minneapolis to Washington, DC on Sunday, as on the Monday, I had a track day to do at Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia. I very rarely do track day events. This event and the one the following day were linked directly back to my days with GM Racing - that ended last year.
This was not just any track day; Lindsay Cadillac is a dealership near DC in Alexandria, VA which organizes track days for their customers and other enthusiasts. Luke Butler, who leads this program, is a really good guy.
Well, this year Luke outdid himself and had Pratt and Miller bring the two-seat Cadillac CTS World Challenge race car. Pratt & Miller, who, as you recall, built the Cadillac race cars I drove between 2004 and the end of last season, hired me to drive it.
My deal was that I was on call all day to give rides to anyone who wanted a ride. I was at the track before 7 am to help with the driver instruction school as we had a lot of new track day drivers there, then we started giving rides at 10 am.
It was great to see almost 50 CTS-V’s out for this event, especially in this economy.
I was in the two-seat race car for over six hours - and it was over 90 degrees on that Monday. I think we made some more friends and hopefully helped Lindsay sell more cars. I can tell you six hours in that race car with no cooling, and not even an air duct, gave me a heck of a work out.
I got out of Summit Point about 5:30 pm and started the 280 mile drive down to Virginia In’t Raceway in Danville, VA, right on the border with North Carolina – and by that, I mean right on the border. In fact, you cross the state line twice just driving into the property.
I got into my hotel around 11 pm after stopping for dinner in the middle of nowhere along the way. The diner was excellent; I just couldn’t believe this place was attached to gas station and there was not even a village around.
The lady and her sons running it had spinach salads, fresh fish and great soups. I loved it, and I needed it after that day.
Not that you really need to know this, but I’ll tell you anyway in case you’re dropping off: I drank six bottles of water during the 280-mile drive from Summit Point to VIR and never needed to use the bathroom. This is not supposed to be impressive in the sense that I have a bladder the size of a fuel truck. It’s to let people know how fit you have to be in the race cars when doing endurance racing. I did drink several bottles of water during the day but still needed that much rehydration. And some people still think race driving is not a sport, yeah right!!
The next morning I was up again at 5:30am to be at VIR by 7 am. This event was held by the National Corvette Museum and my job was not only to chat with the Corvette faithful who were there but to teach a class for the expert drivers and to give rides all day in people’s cars. (I should point out, too, that I have to drive the cars. I am not allowed to ride in the passenger seat, it’s just too much risk for my race teams to sign-off.)
Roc Linkov ran the event for the Museum; he had a schedule for me that had me driving people’s cars every 25 minutes throughout the day.
This event was packed with cars, from loads of stock and massively tuned Corvettes to all kinds of other manufacturers. The event was run on the VIR full track, which is a superb race track.
Both events had a couple of accidents but all-in-all, everybody did great job.
I ended up leaving VIR at 6 pm and then drove about an hour and a half south to Raleigh, NC. Perfect, just in time for dinner.
I was up the next morning again at 5am to catch a plane from Raleigh to Chicago and then onto Syracuse NY. I got into Syracuse around lunch time and started my drive to the hotel near Watkins Glen.
Now it’s usually not a big deal, driving the 100 miles to the Glen, but on this Wednesday it was really bad. I think New York got a lot of stimulus money I really do. It seemed like every bridge was being worked on and this road construction had the whole route in a huge mess. The hour and half drive took over 4 hours! Yuk!! But, guess what, I arrived just in time for dinner.
I crammed several hours of work into Wednesday evening and could at least sleep-in a little on Thursday - until 8 am - before heading out to track at Watkins Glen.
We had a very good practice session with my car but unfortunately, Randy Pobst, my teammate, broke his car’s gearbox, and that took care of the only spare we had on the trailer.
We’ve had five weeks since the last race and the K-Pax guys were totally ready; this gearbox problem was not anything that should have happened. We have been fighting gearbox reliability this year. Now it looks like quality of internal parts could be the issue. We’ll have to stay tuned on that.
Because the Volvo S60 AWD is a 4-wheel drive vehicle, the gearbox change requires an engine-out performance, and it takes a massive eight hours.
We had a good practice, then we were into qualifying. Unfortunately, as soon as I went out for qualifying, I realized my gear box had a shifting problem. There was nothing I could do, I put in a lap as best I could and ended up qualifying 7th with Randy in 6th.
The big question mark now was if I could actually start the race, because we now had two broken gearboxes with which to create one race box.
The guys removed the old box and I watched as Will Moody and Dax Raub carefully and methodically disassembled and inspected which parts were good and which parts were trash.
I felt like an expectant father watching a doctor working on my child and after I ran out of alcohol and cigarettes I couldn’t stand it anymore. I’m kidding, I don’t smoke or drink but it sounded more intense than biting my finger nails.
The next morning we had a meeting and decided to abort the normal violent standing start as we just didn’t know how strong the box would be. I alerted my fellow competitors behind me on the grid what was going on as a stalled or slow car in front of you is very difficult to miss during our World Challenge standing starts.
The race was a very good one, intense and demanding. My car did run and although I ran 11th initially after a careful start I soon worked my way up to 8th and onto the back of Sebring winner Tony Rivera.
It was another great World Challenge race. Tony had some issues with his handling coming off corners and I had issues going in and through the middle of corners. I tried to get in some kind of position to make a move for 20 laps. Finally, with less than two laps to go and with an all green race, Tony had a big slide coming onto the front straight and I got in a position to pass him going into turn one.
Now on the last lap, I had caught up to the back of Mosport winner Jason Daskalos. Jason was having handling problems too it looked like and I was very close with only five corners left in the race. He had a big slide coming out of the toe of the boot - turn 13 - and I was able to get alongside him going up the hill to the mid speed 90-degree, right hand turn 14, but he had given me the outside of the track.
We went into 14 side-by-side and came through there neck-and-neck for the next left- hander … and now I had the inside for turn 15, another mid speed but slippery left-hander.
Jason slid a little wide. During all this we had both passed a slowing Brandon Davis, who now had a broken throttle cable. It was all a bit frantic.
I ended going from 8th to 5th in less than two laps. It felt like a race win to be honest. I was very happy and have to give a huge thank-you to Will and Dax for giving a me a gearbox that lived with no problems.
Dino Crescentini won the race in his GMG Porsche with a closing Eric Curran bumping him across the line in second with his Whelen Covette. New dad James Sofronas was third in his GMG Porsche; congratulations to him on both fronts, he told me his wife and new daughter are doing well.
It was a great race weekend. The K-Pax/3R crew over-produced again as far as Randy and I are concerned. Reliability is our biggest problem right now, but we’ll get there.
In three weeks, we’re going to a new track, the Autobahn Country Club, in Joliet, IL. I’m looking forward to that a lot.
I drove back to Syracuse after the race and this time it only took two hours, which was nice. Oh yes, guess what -- I was in perfect time for dinner.
Sunday, July 5th, up at 5:30am, two flights back to Miami and home into my house around 4 pm.
So, there you go, 10 days in the life of this race car driver, I hope you enjoyed the insight, take care all.

Petit Le Mans week at Road Atlanta near Gainesville , GA is one of the major racing and fan weeks in Sports Car racing.
The Petit Le Mans race is one I have done many times and won twice, 2000 and 2001. I last did Petit in 2008 in the Falken Tire Ford GT with Tim Pappas and Anthony Lazzaro, gaining a top 10 finish after 9 hours plus of racing; sadly that team did not get funding for this year.
The fans love Petit; it has a huge crowd of solid fans, most of them camping from Thursday thru Sunday. As I arrive at the track every day for practice, Petit reminds me a lot of Sebring where you also pass the hundreds of fans lined up outside the track in their campers, waiting to be let inside early in the weekend. The fans camp early to make sure they get their favorite spots around the track when the gates open for them.
Our SCCA SPEED World Challenge GT round number 9 was one of many professional races happening during the week, as support races to the Petit Le Mans. Races start on Friday morning and end Saturday night around 9pm, when the Petit race ends.
Most people will remember the massive rains and serious residential flooding in Atlanta the week before Petit . I am a bit of a weather nerd and was wondering whether we would be affected by any of this, especially if it kept raining.
I was supposed to fly to Atlanta on the Monday. According to the weather guru on TV, the rains that had already lasted a week were supposed to last through the Friday of race week for sure and then maybe even through the following Tuesday after Petit week. This would be just terrible for local people, in terms of swollen creeks and rivers. Sadly, some tragedies had already been reported and would only get worse if this forecasting proved accurate.
Things looked very grim as my 90 min flight into Atlanta on Monday ended up taking 7 hours, thanks to delays, a re-routing for a fuel stop and then more delays. Seemed like this weather was for real.
Luckily, weather forecasting seems to be the only job you can get 100% wrong most of the time and still keep your job. My drive to the race track on Tuesday was punctuated with sunshine, and the next four days were sunny and warm -- perfect racing weather. A 70 % chance of rain forecast must mean sunny and warm; I just need to learn the language, I guess.
I might look into a career in weather forecasting after racing, they tell me all you need is a hat, a rain coat, a desire to stand on a rainy, windy beach with a microphone in your hand and not mind looking like an idiot.
In all seriousness, I was very happy for the people in western Atlanta that we had a 4 day break in the weather and they had a chance to dry out and take care of their homes and neighborhoods -- 20 inches of rain is an amazing amount in a just a few days.
My K-Pax 3R Volvo team had thought we would be competitive at Atlanta, meaning we thought a top 5 finish was possible after a miserable Road America where we had no chance of a top 5 finish due to the long straights there. Early practice in Atlanta showed that we were indeed competitive with the test day showing us in the top 3.
Now comes Wednesday and our first SCCA practice day. By the way, the weather was perfect, 60% rain means sunny; I’m getting it by this point.
Wednesday meant two sessions of 45 mins for us and also a pr interview for me with Speed TV.com.
Marshall Pruitt, of Speedtv.com fame, had arranged for Allan McNish of the Audi factory P1 team and I to meet with him and talk about our time driving together a decade before. The interview will be on Speedtv.com very soon so I will not take away from that but will talk about it just a little here.
Allan and I drove in the Rohr Porsche GT1 in 1997 when I won the IMSA GT1 Championship and again in 1999 a couple of times in the Champion Porsche GT1 EVO. Allan was just coming into sports car racing from single seater cars and I was moving up to more aero downforce cars, carbon brakes etc, and we met in the middle so to speak. F1 driver meets showroom stock driver in GT1 Porsche. We became firm friends to this day and have shared many good times along the way.
The interesting part here is the impact we make on people and what they remember most about us and what we remember most about them, it seems they are usually completely different.
Marshall asked us what impacts we made on each other in the racing area. I mentioned how Allan’s driving data and brilliance had opened the window for me to see how much I could get out of the car in an aero sense, on the limit and without crashing it.
Allan mentioned I had taught him something about shock control where he never needed to know anything about this. All he knew was aero from running on the smooth European tracks and in very high downforce cars. Shock control was new to him, and quite important, as some US tracks are quite bumpy.
Then my Scottish friend dropped me right in it; after explaining the shock absorber stuff. Allan continued to go about what else he thought was memorable as opposed to remembered, oh dear!!
I’ll paraphrase here: “Andy corrupting this poor little 27-year-old Scot, eye opening, I didn’t know that was legal, she has to be double-jointed,” and other things I can’t remember. I hope Marshall gives me a break when he writes the article.
By the way, in all honesty, I believe Allan McNish is the most brilliantly fast prototype sports car driver in the world today, period, and it’s a privilege to call him my friend, even if he drops me in it, in a good way. Really, we were all laughing, that’s for sure…….
Back to the racing, Wednesday was not a good day as far as our testing with the number 8 Volvo S60 AWD. In fact I only got a couple of laps in the 90 min of practice we had. I had diff issues, rear end oil leaks, a sticking steering rack and suspension problems.
So, my crew had a heck of a day. They were not to blame for any of the problems; it was just new parts and a continuation of development and testing we had been doing all year. It just seemed to be my turn to have issues during practice.
This practice problem bug seems to go from car to car these days. Randy Pobst, my team mate in the number 1 car, had a trouble free day and was right up in the times. It seemed like the new EMCO parts in our transmissions were holding their own as Randy had no problems and had done a bunch of laps, this was great news.
I am a great student of Winston Churchill; I just think the man was an incredible inspiration and leader like no other. His words regarding never giving up are frequently the ones I remember when things are not going so well. They help me focus on the real issues and not on feelings of doom or self-pity, calling Dr. Ruth/Dr. Phil/Tony Robbins, etc.
We went into qualifying having very little idea how the car was going to handle; I put the pedal to the metal and ended up 2nd behind my Randy. I was ecstatic.
We had the now traditional coin toss and for the second time this year, poor Randy lost it and we ended up going from 1st and 2nd to 4th and 5th. Not ideal, but hopefully not too bad, if we could get our Volvos to launch when the starting lights go out, the way we know an AWD car can do.
Race day and guess what … 50% chance of rain …. That means sunny and warm all day. Excellent!
The start of this race is one people will talk about for a while. The starting lineup was Brandon Davis in 1, Eric Curran in 2, James Sofronas in 3, me in 4, Randy in 5, Tony Rivera in 6.
We do standing starts in World Challenge, as I have mentioned before, and when the red light goes out - we go!
Well, I went and most of the others around me didn’t, for a bunch of reasons. It ended up that I was all alone when I entered turn one, coming from the second row!!
My AWD Volvo will fly off the line if all goes well, but this year, we have only had one other good start. That was in New Jersey, where I also won.
How I got to the front that quickly is a bit bizarre. One point here: the Sun was making the red lights we use for our starts a little opaque, so I gave my sunglasses to my crew chief before I left the grid. I’m glad I did.
Here are the reasons why I looked like I was a snake on greased ice fired out of a gun:
At the start Brandon Davis was in neutral, he told me. Eric Curran’s rear tires just spun and he didn’t move because his team had tried to modify his launch control to help his starts James Sofronas almost stalled. I started with no problem. Randy, my teammate, did not see the light as he said it was a glare issue, so he didn’t move; and Tony Rivera stalled and didn’t move.
I am not telling you this to make me look good; I have jumped and messed-up my fair share of starts. I tell you this to show how bad it looked for them and how ridiculous the Volvo looked as it ripped off the line.
It almost looked like I had apparently jumped the start, as I slithered around Curran to avoid hitting him in the rear. In fact my own crew were questioning me after the race on what happened at the start until I filled them in on what drivers had told me. I hope you guys watch this one on TV; I know I want to see it.
To my way of thinking, the start was the win. Oh yes; by the way, I did win this one!
Eric Curran drove his butt off in his Whelen Corvette to come from fifth to second. Had he not spun his tires at the start and had to chase me down from my five-second lead, he would have been hard to beat.
As it was, he had the fastest lap and ran me down to a one-second gap. But with five laps left, his tires were finally gone and he dropped back to finish a solid second, with Brandon Davis coming in third in his ACS Ford Mustang.
Sadly, Randy Pobst had some driveline issues, similar to the ones I had in practice, and had to pull out of the race early.
We had Spencer Pumpelly back with us in his stunning TRG Mercedes SLR. We also had Boris Said, now of NASCAR road racing fame and an old teammate/competitor of mine. It’s great to see these cars and great drivers with us in World Challenge.
Before the race we had a WC Vision meeting where we discussed the state of the series. We also knock around marketing ideas to go forward with to make us more competitive and stronger as a professional race series product.
We had a great talk from Jason Dukes; a long-time race fan and public speaker in the marketing area. He had some great ideas about how to market our series, and observations about how other series like NASCAR and F1 had done it right, while others may have done it not so well. It was great stuff and with the likes of Jason helping the WC Vision team I think 2010 is going to be great, I hope they’ll give me at least a motorized shopping trolley to race and I’ll be there.
Next stop Laguna Seca on October 11th. Randy and I are hoping for good things. I’ll see you guys in a couple of weeks.


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