Cadillac’s V-Series.R car was born as a design exercise. Near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the luxury brand’s design team was looking at its future in racing. Designed through the lockdowns, across countries and oceans, remotely, involving several teams of designers and engineers, the final product was revealed in fighting form, landing a podium spot in the inaugural GTP race at IMSA’s 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
When Cadillac designers first started sketching, no automaker had committed to the new International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) and World Endurance Championship (WEC) hypercar category that would soon replace the old Daytona Prototype International race cars. Instead, designers at General Motors’ Warren Tech Center in Michigan were looking to create something that would reflect Cadillac’s updated image and future styling.
“This car has lived and died many, many times,” Chris Mikalauskas, lead designer for Cadillac’s Exterior Studio, told me. For Mikalauskas, the hypercar concept would be the first race car he ever designed. But he wasn’t unfamiliar with the Cadillac brand: Mikalauskas worked on the CT4-V Blackwing and CT5-V Blackwing.
Mikalauskas says Cadillac’s intent was to explore a next-generation design for its racer. “A lot of the work we were doing was more just ethereal and visionary,” he told me in a video chat after the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona. The car that competed at Daytona originated as something designers would just love to look at in the office – the car you would walk past and turn around to catch one last glimpse. Mikalauskas looked to Cadillac’s golden anniversary and post-war designs for inspiration. Cadillac’s Jet-Age styling referenced aeronautic achievements and futuristic optimism as the world set its sights on the Space Race. Now, Mikalauskas wanted to take that Space Race mentality and bring it into the 21st century.
“I felt like our brand’s DNA has always been about pulling those things into it,” Mikalauskas said. “I really referenced the blades, the float coming off the center, and the strong vertical headlamps and taillamps – the beautiful surfacing and sculpture throughout the car. These are all things that Cadillac has always owned. And really, it was cool to put that in a package that we’ve never really seen before.”
The V-Series.R project was internally greenlit for competition in February 2021, according to Laura Wontrop Klauser, GM Sports Car Racing Manager. (Cadillac would publicly announce its participation in the new IMSA series in August that year.) From the engineering side, they were “starting from scratch, nothing,” Wontrop Klauser said. On the design side, the transition from styling study to actual race car wasn’t too difficult, because the car was always treated like a Cadillac Studio project, like any other car that would be designed for eventual production. Mikalauskas described engineering meetings, talking about the powertrain and aerodynamics. The most complicated aspect of this project would be getting far-flung teams to work together during a pandemic.
Cadillac’s designers worked out of the GM Tech Center, coordinating with the GM racing program in the States as well as the brand’s chosen chassis partner, Dallara, over in Italy. “We had tracers and clay models here in the studios that we would work on, scan them [...] and pass them back and forth overseas,” Mikalauskas said. Dallara would then do testing and computational fluid dynamics development in Italy. Meanwhile, the bodywork development was handled from Warren, Michigan.
The next task was integrating Cadillac’s design elements into the finished product while paying mind to the specifications set by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the officiating body for IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, while also considering functional needs for optimal performance. Mikalauskas had a particularly difficult time with the front end, due to the car needing specific airflow channels for mechanical components. “We were trying to feed air to the splitter, we were trying to feed air to the underwing and the mid-body channels, and also for brake cooling,” he said. “We also had the [air inlet for] the powertrain up over the top of the cockpit. When you have so many things begging for air, and some of them conflict with one another, it’s never easy.”
Mikalauskas had to take a step back and prioritize functional parts of the design, and then add styling elements. “I had to force myself to [...] allow function to take over in some of those areas,” he said. “Some of the prettier, more styled surfaces have been the ones that you do see first, like the hood sculpture, the body side – all the stuff we were able to pour a lot of attention into. That’s what you really see first. That and the lighting are two major ones.”
Lighting is a major factor for the V-Series.R car. Of course, the long acrylic panels on the original design concept were trimmed down substantially, which Mikalouskas attributed to series regulation specs. There’s also a fun design detail in the lighting. When the inboard headlights are not being used in daylight hours, they’re covered with body-color caps, hidden away for a sleeker, more aggressive look.
The Cadillac V-Series.R that debuted in June of 2022 was not the final product. It did mostly resemble Cadillac’s engineering and design aspirations, paired with careful consideration for the series specifications. “And when you look at the car in plan view, it’s pretty much verbatim what we had going in June of the previous year,” Mikalauskas said. “That was really cool, to be able to see that pretty much exactly as it was originally intended [...] and be so unique to everyone else on the grid.”
Of course, more would have to change after Cadillac’s drivers began real-world testing. Aerodynamic development was ongoing, both in the U.S. and Italy, and bi-weekly meetings with drivers helped to incorporate feedback, refining the race car to help the No. 1 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R finish 3rd overall (and 3rd in the GTP class) at the Rolex 24.
The tweaks were not as substantial as you might expect. Mikalauskas was able to apply his aerodynamic experience from working on the Blackwing sedans to the race car. “All the work we did in the Blackwings to get the [...] driver-feel just right – all of that really applied one-to-one to the race car,” he said.
Mikalauskas was most excited about one design cue that remained from concept to final product: the floating winglets, horizontal wings over the front and rear wheels. “I was really excited when we were able to get [them] cutting off with the fenders to work over the midbody channel, because no one else is doing that.”
When this year’s all-new hybrid supercars debuted at the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona, it was easy to distinguish the competitors from Cadillac, Acura, BMW and Porsche. As Mikalauskas noted, whether they were sitting still or racing, you knew which car belonged to each brand.
“I was actually just in the studio the other day, and I was looking at the original show model that we put together and designed. And it was really cool to have that comparison, now that I’ve seen the [V-Series.R] moving out on track,” Mikalauskas said. “So much of what we had put forth for that preview made it through. And I think that just tells a really nice story of when design gets involved earlier on in the process. We could [...] get the brand’s DNA in there without hurting performance, and it becomes stronger as a result of that.”
Cadillac’s V-Series.R cars ended their first race on a high note, avoiding the major technical issues faced by Porsche and BMW. But there’s still an entire season to go, with races on both sides of the Atlantic. “To be able to compete with brands like Ferrari, really, it’s what allows you to prove to the public that you are a pinnacle brand,” Mikalauskas said. “I think it’s going to be really cool to see how everything plays out, but I’m excited to see the car overseas. It’s where the rest of the world gets to see it on the stage it deserves.”