America's Most Pointless Le Mans Car Is Back

A Cadillac LMP-02 at Le Mans in 2002.
Photo: Getty Images

When you compete at the biggest sports car race of the year, you go there with a purpose or you might as well not go there at all. Audi set out to prove diesel could work as a modern kind of engine. It worked. (Maybe too well.) Ford set out to prove that corporate America could crush Europe again, just a few decades after World War II. It worked and they just made a movie about it. And in the turn of the millennium, Cadillac set out to prove, uh, something. It didn’t go great.

Cadiilac LMPs in 2000.
Photo: Getty Images
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The Cadillac LMP program ran for three years, 2000, 2001, and 2002, before GM abruptly pulled the plug on the thing having never even podiumed at La Sarthe. The General “unceremoniously canceled the program at the end of 2002 stating their goals had all been met,” as the excellent racing tech site Mulsanne’s Corner put it.

Cadillac LMP-01 in 2001.
Photo: Getty Images

To say the project was an abysmal failure would be a little bit vague. It finished worse than the rival programs of both Panoz, the absolutely most hard-headed Le Mans program in American history, and the Chrysler LMP project, which I don’t even know if Chrysler remembers at this point.

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The Cadillac LMP was a bit of an odd duck, as it was a follow-up program to the Corvette Le Mans effort, even started by the same American Indy and sports car racing specialist Riley. The Corvette program quickly became legendarily good, both in that it was a dominating force for Le Mans wins in the actual sports car class below the prototypes, and in that it ran giant front-engine pushrod V8 cars that bellowed and sounded like nothing else in Europe at all. It waved the flag pretty well.

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Promo images of the Cadillac LMP-02 and... a mid-engine Corvette or something? I can’t recall. Photos: GM

The Cadillac program did not stick with the idea of a lot of gumption and endless corporate resources could turn something old fashioned into something cool. The Cadillac didn’t use a pushrod V8, it had a twin-turbo quad-cam one. It wasn’t front-engine, it was mid-engine. It didn’t look like nothing else, it looked anonymous.

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Contrasting that to, say, the wonderful front-engine Panoz prototype that never took over Le Mans results but captured its imagination, the Cadillac had no real chance to succeed. Even if it had won outright, it would have been by following the same basic formula as everyone knew could win. Look at the Peugeot 908. It beat Audi, but nobody really remembers it because it just... looked like an Audi, was built like an Audi, sounded like an Audi, and might as well have been one to any casual observer. There was nothing great about the Cadillac LMP program, aside from that there was very little that was good about it.

But apparently its final and best iteration is back on track, reportedly after 17 years away. This is the LMP-02 version, with design work by Nigel Stroud who penned the immortal Mazda 787B. Euro trackday and testing day specialist 19Bozzy92 caught the car on camera sharing Paul Ricard circuit with a bunch of other retired race cars (the Ferrari 333 SP among them), seemingly the start of a longer return:

(Since I’m pretty sure you’ll ask about that Cadillac, that was its first outing on track after 17 years of inactivity. It had some ECU issues so it wasn’t running at its best and you’ll notice some bad misfiring sound from the twin-turbo V8. It will be ready to race again in the future) ;)

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I can’t wait to see this spectacularly sisyphean car back out on track, reminding the world that there’s no good idea that GM can’t screw up.

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About the author

Raphael Orlove

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.