Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cadillacs Make Return

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cadillacs Make Return

Article excerpt

DAYTONA BEACH --- When a Cadillac is spotted roaming the Daytona International Speedway property, it usually belongs to a General Motors executive headed for one of the superspeedway's plush hospitality areas.

That changes today, when Cadillac makes its return to international sports car competition after a 50-year hiatus with a pair of entries in the 38th annual Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. One of the world's foremost luxury cars is not just for wealthy retirees anymore.

"There's a buzz in the garage and the pits from everyone looking at the car," said Butch Leitzinger, one of three drivers of the No. 6 Cadillac Northstar LMP.

And with good reason. Not since 1950, when Cadillac finished 10th and 11th at LeMans, has the car competed on a track or road course anywhere in the world. A similar finish in the Rolex would be an unexpected delight to GM Racing Program Manager Jeff Kettman since his company wants to use its first appearance at DIS as training for LeMans in June.

"Being that it's our first outing ever, we're always here to win --- but we want to be realistic," Kettman said. "And the best scenario that we can plan for right now is to come in and qualify well and be able to compete and finish the full 24 hours."

The team accomplished the first part of that goal on the 3.56-mile road course. The No. 5 Cadillac Northstar LMP, driven by Max Angelelli, qualified fifth (125 mph), and the No. 6, driven by Leitzinger, qualified eighth (123.10 mph). And Kettman certainly assembled an all-star team of drivers that may enable the fledgling racing program to accomplish the second part.

Taylor, last year's Rolex runner-up and the 1996 champion, will team with Angelelli and Eric van de Poele in the No. 5 Cadillac. Leitzinger and Andy Wallace, both of whom drove for the Dyson Ford Riley & Scott car that won last year's Rolex, will team with Franck Lagorce.

But even with the impressive qualifying runs and experienced stable of drivers, nobody is expecting this race to be much more than a learning experience.

"The strategy is to do everything we can to keep running," Leitzinger said. …

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