Sebring 12 Hours Debrief: Cadillac Reigns Supreme, Again.

While normally my Travel Destinations Debrief columns feature lots of sections covering various topics after major sportscar races, the 2021 Sebring edition is going to focus on one subject: the Cadillac DPi. Why? Because it deserves our attention and respect after yet another huge IMSA endurance victory last weekend at the hands of JDC Miller Motorsport.

Cadillac’s future beyond the 2022 season in IMSA is currently an unknown. LMDh is coming and as it stands the GM brand has yet to commit going forward. In fact, due to the company’s reluctance to buy-in to a hybrid-powered future in motorsport, many industry observers believe Cadillac may well exit IMSA after 2022, making way for another marque in GM’s stable to compete in the LMDh category.

Should Cadillac depart IMSA, then it will leave a hole, after years of dominance in the championship’s headline events. The Caddy has been almost unbeatable in the major races since DPi began in 2017, winning the Rolex 24 and Sebring 12 Hours four times and Petit Le Mans twice. In fact it was such a fast and reliable prospect from Day 1 that IMSA forced Cadillac to change its engine for the second year of DPi to help balance the field…

However, after Wayne Taylor Racing stormed to victory at Daytona back in January this year, handing Acura its first Rolex 24 victory with the ARX-05, one could make the inference that Cadillac’s days as the top dog in IMSA were coming to an end. Not only had it lost its most decorated team (WTR) to its rival marque Acura as a replacement for the Penske effort, but it won at Daytona on its debut. It was no doubt a big blow.

Last weekend though, Cadillac showed once again that it can still win big races, as JDC Miller Motorsport stepped up to the plate this time to add another memorable victory to the DPi V.R’s tally. Acura may have taken the spoils at Rolex, but the Cadillac contingent clearly won’t be going down without a fight this season.

Until the Cadillac DPi is fully retired from racing, I fear many won’t appreciate how remarkable the car is. This is in part because it hasn’t had the chance to stretch its legs and prove its worth at Le Mans – which is a real shame.

For a time, there were rumours that DPi would be accepted into the Le Mans 24 Hours in its own class, or as part of a converged class with the WEC’s cars, with BoP governing the performance levels. But that idea never came to fruition; instead, the ACO and IMSA settled on a grander plan to allow both its forthcoming rulesets to compete with each other at Le Mans as part of the FIA WEC allowing LMDh cars to compete alongside Le Mans Hypercars from 2023 onwards. For this reason, the Cadillac will be remembered fondly by North America’s sportscar faithful, but not necessarily by the wider fanbase in Europe and Asia.

We shouldn’t forget how surprising the DPi V.R’s story is. The car is based on Dallara’s P217 chassis which in its LMP2 form has been a failure in the marketplace up against the might of ORECA’s 07. Beyond a freak win in the ELMS at Paul Ricard back in 2017 and a mercurial effort from Carlin in the Asian Le Mans Series back in 2019/20, the P217 has struggled almost everywhere it has raced.

The P217 suffers from ‘porpoising’ issues on its front-end, especially at high speed, which unsettles’s the balance of the car and makes it incredibly twitchy and unstable during more technical sections of a circuit. The Dallara is always fast in a straight line, but an ‘edgy’ prospect in medium and fast corners, and even more so in its low-downforce Le Mans configuration.

An attempt was made to rectify the issues when the ACO granted Dallara a ‘joker’ upgrade back in 2018, but the evolutions the Italian company released to customers made little difference. It is has therefore been fascinating to see Cadillac’s version of the P217 perform so well in IMSA.

It’s a tale of what might have been. The DPi V.R is a window on the changes Cadillac and Dallara wanted to make to the front aero of the LMP2 car. Had the Dallara been a more competitive prospect globally, then the entire marketplace – currently dominated by ORECA chassis – could look completely different right now, and certainly more competitive.

The Cadillac DPi V.R didn’t blow its competition away during last weekend’s race at Sebring, it did what it always does: remain consistently quick in every stage of the race. It appeared to be the only one of the three chassis in the class capable of building a lead too.

Sebring though, is never a simple race, and all seven cars in the class led at one point. But Cadillac’s effort never appeared to be faltering, even when its contending cars hit trouble. A heroic effort from Sebastien Bourdais late in the race was needed to seal the deal here, although it didn’t feel like a surprise to see the Mustang-Sampling liveried Cadillac on the top step of the podium.

Heading into Mid-Ohio it’s now one race win apiece for Cadillac and Acura, with Mazda still searching for its maiden win this year. It’s going to be a fascinating battle throughout the season. With competition still so hot in IMSA in 2021, ahould the Cadillac go on to win other major races like the 6 Hours at The Glen and Petit Le Mans later in the season, then the DPi V.R will surely have cemented its place in the pantheon of all-time great prototypes. It’s a car that is worth travelling thousands of miles to see. Trust me when I say that we’re living through a memorable era for sportscars in North America, and you will regret it if you don’t make the effort to see the Cadillac up close…

Stephen Kilbey

Do you want to be trackside to see the Cadillac DPi V.R race in 2022? We are on sale now for the 2022 Rolex 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours. Call us on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking.

Images courtesy of IMSA, Acura and Andrew Hall