Fast Times at the Cadillac V-Performance Academy
We sample the educational bonus offered with the 2017 ATS-V and CTS-V
PAHRUMP, Nevada — The sun is shining, the asphalt is wet, and we're sliding wildly out of control around Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club, the site of our 2016 All-Stars Competition, in a black Cadillac CTS-V. We're attempting to master skid control at the Cadillac V-Performance Academy and are failing spectacularly; it's just too much fun spinning the 640-hp Caddy like it's a roulette wheel.
Our instructor is advising us on proper braking, throttle, and balance techniques for exiting corners on the racetrack. Another try produces a 360-degree spinout and another silly grin. Finally we switch the CTS-V into snow and ice mode and master a non-sliding figure eight with ease.
"Never let your confidence level exceed your experience level either on the street or track," Rick Malone, chief driving instructor and driving school director, tells us. Since 2006, Malone has instructed thousands of go fast fans at the Spring Mountain Motor Resort, training everyone from 16-year old kids and their parents to an 86-year old woman from California that still enjoys tracking her Corvette above 135 mph.
The two-day program costs $3,110, but is waived for 2017 Cadillac V-Series owners. One designated guest is allowed, but if they want to drive, they have to pay $2,570. Tuition for non-owners is the same and there is private instruction available in a Cadillac CTS-V that costs an extra $4,000 (ATS-V owners can get a session in their own car for a mere $1,250).
Airfare is not included, but condo lodging is, along with a courtesy car, breakfast, and lunch on both training days. There's a pool and Jacuzzi behind the clubhouse, a workout facility, and if racing on a track isn't thrilling enough for you, jetpack flights over a man-made lake are available for a fee.
Our class is one short of a dozen and mostly consists of new V-Series owners from as far away as Atlanta, Georgia. The group includes a new mom from San Francisco, California, a veteran biker from Scottsdale, Arizona, a longshoreman from Long Beach, California, a few happy retirees from all over, and a motley crew of automotive journalists.
Classroom sessions are generally brief but informative, mostly consisting of talks about safety, braking, and technical details about the cars. Like how to get your CTS-V in a desired customized track mode or how to use its launch control effectively.
Once it's time to hit the track, we get geared up in matching black helmets, jackets, and sporting racing harnesses. The academy also attempts to put owners into cars similar to their personal rides for the slalom, dry oval, wet figure eight, and serpentine portions of the course.
The serpentine exercise involves a slow speed coned course that's easy to master in one go. For the second run, a sunscreen is placed over the windshield to make it a challenge. This forces us to use the car's side windows and trust our peripheral vision — kind of like young Jedi training.
Aside from this cool lesson, brake, momentum, and throttle are the words of the day. The class ends after four lead-follow laps around the track in the late afternoon. Later, we dine at the recommended Pahrump Valley Winery (which is not included in the price of the package).
About Last Night
Day two saw one student drop out and two overconfident cohorts slide off the track near turn four and six — dubbed "Zora's Run" and "Patience," respectively. Fortunately no one was hurt, well, except for maybe for a few bruised egos.
Later, we go over the "eight steps to a corner," which include visual scanning, braking, downshifting, turning the steering wheel, balance, clipping the apex, unwinding the steering wheel and — the best part — accelerating.
Then, the class is broken up into smaller groups of like-minded drivers for ride-along hot laps with the instructors. It's a wicked fast experience and many of the students are grateful that it takes place before lunch and not after.
By now, the 464-hp ATS-V we are driving and its 6-speed manual transmission fit like a glove. Second, third, and forth are the main gears used on this particular loop of the track.
After another round of lead-follow track sessions (no hot laps were to be had, unfortunately), there's a quick lecture all about over steer, under steer, and yep, you guessed it, throttle steer.
By the end of the day, everyone's confidence level is pretty high from having successfully completed laps with our newly learned skills.
We celebrate with a few burnouts and launch control runs out on a long stretch of the track.
"I learned a lot," CTS-V owner Jeff Wollerman of California tells us. "The problem now is that I'll go home and use these techniques in my car and go to jail."
If you plan on joining in on the fun, don't forget to bring a hat because by the end of day two, your helmet head hair will need it. Plus, there's a group photo next to one of the cars that will forever capture your epically bad hair day.
Back in the classroom we all receive graduation certificates and are all better drivers for it. Thanks Cadillac!