ALMS – Portland International Raceway
Andrew Larsen Interviews Andrew Pilgrim

Gary Horrocks was behind this idea – that dailysportscar introduced a young reporter into the motorsport environment. The young man is Andrew Larsen, who is keen to follow journalism as a career. He is of course a keen motorsport fan. Andrew himself begins by explaining how his first assignment came about, at his local track, Portland International Raceway…

dailysportscar.comMy first interview with Cadillac team driver Andy Pilgrim came as a bit of a surprise to Gary and I. While touring the compounds around the outside of Portland International Raceway on test day (Friday July 23 2004), my acting tour guide Gary Horrocks and I ran into Reilly Brennan, who runs public relations for both the Corvette and Cadillac racing teams. This was fortunate because it saved Gary from having to track Reilly down in order to set-up my interview with Andy. However it proved unfortunate because we were right next to the Cadillac tent, and when Gary asked about an interview for me with Andy, Reilly’s response was “Well can he do it now?”

Baffled and nervous, a “Sure,” somehow made its way past my lips. I had slacked, I hadn’t prepared, I was inexperienced, and I was supposed to sit in on a few interviews to get a feel first. I began to realize that I was on my way to interview a world record holding top name driver. Andy Pilgrim, the Andy Pilgrim, was about to answer my questions, questions I was forgetting as rapidly as we were approaching the Cadillac tent. As we rounded the next corner there sat the number 16 CTS-V of Max Angelelli, plus the number 8 car of the man I was about to speak with. These machines sat looking full of attitude and very cool in the shade of a giant awning. This awning was attached to an equally large trailer painted with Cadillac’s V logo and race colors. Under the left side of the awning was an area with tastefully decorated tables and seats, much fancier than I had expected but this was, after all, Cadillac. Reilly told us we could take a seat at one of the tables and he would bring Andy to us in a moment, he then disappeared into the trailer. Everything was most hospitable as we were offered cold drinks and told to make ourselves at home - I was too nervous to make myself at home. After a short minute, the man of the hour emerged from the trailer, looking quite relaxed and refreshed for someone who just went several laps around a melting track on this record hot day in the Rose City. Reilly guided Andy to our table, introductions were made and hands were shaken, we all sat down and the interview was on.

My first question for Andy was, “How do you feel after the morning’s practice?” I don’t know where the question came from but it seemed general and introductory enough. Andy told me he was feeling good about the set-up and that the main thing for the team to work on would be corner exits and how to establish the most grip. He also stated that the most critical points in order to do well in this race would be the set-up of the car and how well the team qualified the next day. Hopes of having both cars qualify in the top six were mentioned and Andy stated that getting up front soon would be beneficial to the outcome of the race.

Wow! That was all in response to my first question, I was both impressed and growing more nervous. I needed more questions. Lucky for me I had heard a rumor that the CTS-V was originally designed to compete with the GT class automobiles in the American Le Mans Series and that the only reason it was racing in the World Challenge GT was because the SCCA rules did not permit cars with four doors in the ALMS, which may change sometime relatively soon. When I asked Andy about this he said he had heard nothing about it. “This car was designed from the ground up for World Challenge, it’s 73 percent street car and as far as I know it’s always been intended for the World Challenge.”

Andy graciously went on to explain why Cadillac had decided to race the CTS-V. He explained that they could have kept running with their prototype racers but the heads at Cadillac had gotten together and decided that it would benefit their ongoing image change (you know, what with the Led Zeppelin commercials and that car chase in The Matrix Reloaded) to race a car that looked more like their street machines.

“If someone sees this car on the track they’re going to say ‘Oh, that looks like the car I saw in the showroom”, says Andy, or “Oh, that looks like my CTS or my CTS-V, and they’ll gain interest that way.” This is Marketing 101 people; create a top of the line sports sedan, lighten the load and widen the fenders, swap engines with a Corvette Z06, and finally bring in Andy Pilgrim to win races for you. I asked Andy if this was GM’s thought process. He chuckled at the flagrant flattery and responded, “I don’t know why they brought me on board actually, but I’m glad they did. I had been watching the development of the car and it’s just a really great car so when they asked me I was like, you know ‘Where do I sign?’ So my guess would be that GM is thinking somewhere along the lines of ‘Wins = Sales’, so I asked Andy what he thought would be the best circumstances for a win here at PIR on Sunday and where we could expect him to make the most passes.

“I want it HOT, the hotter the better. Hot, hot, hot and green the whole race. I want the track to just melt,” Andy replied. “Obviously we’ll try to pass on corners you know, our brakes seem to do a great job helping us there, and if we get green the whole race we’ll be golden, these cars run really well the whole race, the tires and the brakes seem to do extremely well, especially towards the end.”

Andy said that some of the other teams would probably like to race yellow flag to yellow flag, “The guys over at Audi will probably pray for yellow flags to let the tires cool, you know, the Vipers will probably hope for yellow flags to let the tires cool a bit also, but if we can go green the whole race like we did at Sebring, we’ll do really well.” Andy again mentioned how critical the qualifying would be and how he hoped to see both Cadillacs in the top six.

dailysportscar.comWe talked a little more about the set-up of the car and the secrets to running so well even through the end laps. I asked the ignorant question “Do you think the weight ballast you were forced to add has anything to do with why the car runs so soft?”, referring to the SCCA’s ruling after the Cadillacs choked the field in their debut at Sebring. Andy replied saying that, “IF excessive limitations were made, the SCCA will recognize it as the races go on and loosen the restrictions.” He explained to me that such a soft suspension set-up allowed the tires to take less wear and consequently the Cadillac team is able to run a whole race without letting the tires cool. Andy also explained that this set-up was not the best qualifying setup and that it had a bit of an oversteer problem, but he thought the team had a very good race set-up and he expected to do very well. That covered all my questions for the day, I arranged to do a follow up later in the weekend and thanked both Reilly and Andy for their time and efforts and went back to the media trailer with Gary.

My first interview was over, trial by fire and I didn’t get burnt too badly, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. The next day is Saturday and mid-morning sees the SPEED World Challenge GT qualifications, Andy Pilgrim’s category. I arrived at the track early and was in the Media trailer before qualifying. I watched the televisions not too intently and wandered out to the paddock and pit areas, looking up when I heard the Cadillacs coming. The exhaust note of these cars is amazing, almost like that of the Corvette but with less of an exotic whine and more of a pure-power growl that excites the hot-rod lover in all of us. I watched as Andy and Max roared down the front straight, Andy leading and Max following close. The cars made several passes this way as if they were two missiles guided by the same wire. I wandered back into the Media trailer to find Max Angelelli had qualified for the number two position with a best lap time of 1:17.988 and Andy had grabbed the number six position with a best lap of 1:18.359. Amazing! Less than four tenths of a second separated 2nd and 6th position. This was shaping up to be a spectator’s race. Gary suggested that my father, who doubled as my camera guy Friday and Saturday, and I wait about an hour then go find Andy for the follow up interview.

Sounded good to me, so my dad and I made our way to the grand stands north of the Festival Curves, where we watched the ALMS practice and the Krohn-Barbour team crash involving both Lamborghini Murcielagos. As the mess was being cleared I made my way to the pedestrian bridge via the paddock, which allowed me to inspect the damaged number 6 car of Tracy Krohn (amazingly I found later that both Krohn-Barbour cars intended to run the next day, despite rumors of one car being cannibalized to fix the other). I walked all the way to the east end of the compound where the Cadillac trailer sat, to be turned away by an over zealous security person. I made no arguments however; she paid no heed to my fluorescent lime wrist band, so I returned to the Media trailer and found my superior - Gary.

What a helpful guy Gary is, he helped me find Reilly and arranged for me to tag along with Reilly as he went from the ALMS Corvette tent to the Cadillac tent. Gary had some work to do so I shadowed Reilly for a moment, met Corvette team driver Oliver Gavin -nice fellow, and then we were off to Cadillac. We crossed the pedestrian bridge as Reilly asked me some questions and gave me some advice; he was helpful and supportive, which I appreciated. After taking a route through some shade we neared the Cadillac tent. Reilly simply pushed aside a tent flap and we hurried through. What came next happened quickly, I ended up hopping on the back of a golf cart with Andy and Max and a bunch of Cadillac posters and foam cup holders. As Reilly hit the go-pedal we jetted off to an autograph signing, racing through a large crowd of fans that wandered side to side between tents like lost lackadaisical cattle - as Reilly hollered “Coming through!” because our horn didn’t work.

We flew past the over zealous security lady but I found time to flash her a smile, no hard feelings, after all I was with Max Angelelli and Andy Pilgrim. I wonder what she thought when she saw me shake Andy’s hand and head off to the autograph signing with both Cadillac drivers and their PR guy.

dailysportscar.comAt the meet and greet I sat behind Andy and Reilly waiting for a chance to ask questions. I didn’t want to be a bother so I stayed quiet waiting for a break in the constant flow of fans. After signing several posters in a hurry, but not without genuine contact with each fan, Andy turned to me and asked “So what’s up man, what’s your question.” Let me just say, this guy’s cool, he came off really personable, which helped me more than he knew. I asked how he felt with where the team stood after qualifying. His response was simple, “I’m very happy with where we stand.” I prompted him that yesterday he had mentioned hopes of qualifying in the top eight. “Right, top six actually,” Andy corrected while signing a poster, “and we got both cars in the top six like I had hoped so I’m very happy with that.” Then he amazed me further, “Max finished second and I - well I made a bit of a driver error, I missed a shift which didn’t cost much, but it didn’t help.”

Okay so Andy Pilgrim just read my mind and knew I was going to ask about Max’s qualifying faster than him. What can I say, experience matters, even in interviews. As Andy signed more posters he began speaking with Reilly, which I deemed important so I did the opposite of what I should have. Trying to be courteous I tried not to listen, and unfortunately did a pretty good job.

Out of nowhere Andy turns to me and asks “Right?” Uhhhhhhh, I had to admit,
“I’m sorry I wasn’t actually listening to what you were telling Reilly.” I was embarrassed, some precedent I was setting for this intern program. “Hot chicks man, pay attention, this is important,” Andy responded as he and Reilly chuckled at my naivety. I couldn’t help but chuckle myself and went on with my next question about the forecast and how tomorrow wouldn’t be nearly as hot as Andy had indicated he would like.

“I’m not worried about it; I actually prefer it a bit cooler, it was just for the tires that I wanted it warmer,” he said, “but our tires run great and I don’t foresee any problems. It should be fine.” I asked about the tarmac temperature and the surface change from an asphalt straight to the concrete chicane in the Festival Curves. Andy replied that the temperature shouldn’t be an issue due to the soft set-up they were running and that the surface change was no problem. Obviously the concrete would provide more grip because concrete doesn’t “melt” like asphalt, but it wouldn’t pose any problems.

“Easy transition. If it were to rain then obviously I’d say it would be a bit slippery - but no problems.” Andy signed a few autographs while I wrote this in my notes and I decided I would leave him and Reilly and Max to their business for the rest of the meet and greet. So at the next slow point in the signing I shook hands with both Andy and Reilly and thanked them both.

Andy told me if I had any more questions to find him and he’d answer them. I hope to get the chance to do so although it most likely won’t make it in this article. I’d like to ask him a few more fan-oriented questions because this technical talk gets awful confusing. Hopefully I’ll learn though and I’d like to thank Gary Horrocks and for providing me this opportunity to learn and have fun with journalism, Tom Kjos and his wife Jeannie for supporting me and giving me an official Infineon Raceway notepad, and Janos Wimpffen for encouraging me and for bringing a lovely yellow Lotus Elise for me to gawk at. Again, another big thanks to Andy Pilgrim, Reilly Brennan, Max Angelelli, and the whole Cadillac team for supporting this interview and allowing me to take some of their time, I wish them the best of luck throughout the rest of the series, and I will watch for them as I cover the SPEED World Challenge GT class Stage 5 tomorrow.

Andrew’s report on the SPEED GT race to come soon.


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