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The passenger clings to brace points, trying to manage his bowling ball of a head. Daly digs it. Within a few laps, he hits 144-145 mph at the end of COTA's longest straight-as fast as the car can go here. His lap times come within 0.15 percent of GM's best development shoes, 99thpercentile drivers themselves, who know the ATS-V like no one else. Any track time is good at this point in Daly's life, but he's surprised by the capability engineered into the ATS-V ("stunned," to be precise). That should bode well as Cadillac tries to establish itself unequivocally among the Audi RS, BMW M and Mercedes-Benz AMG (see sidebar). Yet as it reinvents itself at age 113, Cadillac would do well to remember what Daly, 23, learned in four seasons racing in Europe: It's tough beating the Europeans at their own game, no matter how fast you can go.
UP TO THE CHALLENGE Daly hits COTA after two travel days and a last-minute ride in the Sebring 12 Hours. Performance Tech Motorsports needed a pro to fill the roster for its Prototype Challenge-class ORECA, and he jumped. He qualified fourth in class, faster than a few topclass Prototypes and set some of the fastest laps. He drove double stints and helped Performance Tech finish ninth overall, third in class. It wasn't the first time he'd turned heads. That was in 2008, at 16 in his first season out of karts, when Daly won the Skip Barber National Championship and the Walter Hayes Trophy-first prize among a hundred or so European and South American upstarts at Silverstone's Formula Ford 1600 festival. In 2010, the Indianapolis native obliterated the Star Mazda Championship with nine poles, seven wins and the largest championship margin since the series' start in 1991. Opportunity knocked in North America, but Daly had his eye on Europe.
A shoestring deal with Carlin GP3 in England produced sufficient results in 2011 to get Force India's attention; it signed Daly for two years with the ART GP3 team in France and aero mapping duty in its F1 car. Daly won the 2012 season opener at Catalunya in Spain. He started '13 as the GP3 title favorite and topped the standings before the penultimate round at Monza (managing his first Indy 500 start in the process). A crash of someone else's making left Daly 26th in the first Monza race, setting his starting spot for the second. He drove to eighth, but Monza crushed Daly's championship hopes-he finished third in points. No championship, no more Force India. With no patron and no money, Daly still landed a ride last season with Venezuela GP Lazarus in GP2-except for a couple of rounds when the team had to sell his seat to stay afloat.
He earned two championship points for an outfit that has been last in the GP2 standings three straight years, but it wasn't a step that could lift him to F1. For now, Daly's European adventure has ended. So he drives his 130,000-mile '04 Subaru WRX STI around Indianapolis and jumps at any opportunity racing presents. "I had a goal of racing F1, and everyone told me I had to go to Europe to have any hope," he says. "If I came up short, I'd have 20 times more experience than if I'd only raced here. "It was true, 110 percent. I know I can run with those guys and beat them, and it's a huge asset."
ATTENTION TO DETAIL Ask Daly to explain his technique, and he's slow to say much. Ask him what he thinks of the ATS-V, even as he's wearing rubber off its expensive Michelins, and he'll rattle on like an auctioneer. "The level of preparation or integrity impresses me," he says. "The balance is way better than I thought it would be. It lets you use the car efficiently and attack corners. ... You can really attack the entry, get in the middle with a hint of oversteer, then slam on power and get out as quick as you can. "I prefer the four-door," Daly continues. "The coupe has a bit more understeer in medium- and higherspeed corners. The sedan feels more like it's on the front end-positive, impressive direction change. The sedan with the manual is the ultimate. You've got the interaction of a stick, but you can be slamming gears ... and it still sounds like you're the best shift artist there is." Get him past his amazement with the balance, and Daly focuses on specifics.
The 464-hp twin-turbo V6: "I'm not sure how fast it sounds, but it's fast. There are no big peaks that make you go ‘whoa!' but there's never a deficiency where you're caught out and can't get by a mistake. It's just very tractable and drivable, even if it doesn't quite have that raw-power feeling." The eight-speed automatic: "Big surprise. As a race driver, you're not used to that, but it impressed me. ... You expect an automatic to be not very precisely on point, but that wasn't the case. The shifting is quick, but it's also correct. That might be the more impressive part." Performance Traction Management: "I tried (all) five settings, and each does have a gradient in how it manages the car. It's cool to have a feature like that, because it's like a guide. If you don't like how a particular level is coming in and taking something away, you just move up to the next one." Daly notes he hasn't sampled the full inventory of high-performance road cars, but he's driven many. Last fall, he joined Autoweek's Best of the Best evaluation, and one car from there stands out in contrast to the ATS-V. "The Alfa 4C was fun in its own right, but that's a sports car, if not a full-fledged track car," he says.
"And mid-corner, it sat on its rear end and pushed like crazy. The (ATS-V) doesn't have any more roll, and balance-wise it has it all over the Alfa. Driving it back and forth to the track, the (Cadillac) was cush, smooth, calm. That combination, with the track capability, sticks out." Would Daly buy an ATS-V? "I'd think about it," he answers. "But I'm really not one to take my road car on-track. I love the idea of a souped-up Cadillac, but that's a V8 Cadillac. "None of that takes anything away from how good (the ATS-V) is. For efficiency and manners and speed, it sort of blew me away. For what people might think a Cadillac is supposed to be, this car checks in way, way above. It outperforms Cadillac's persona as I understand it." BELIEVE US OR NOT The Cadillac ATS, standard or Vspec, is better in important ways than many competitors. And Daly is a better racer than some driving in IndyCar and elsewhere, if "better" means getting up to speed and staying there without drama. He demonstrated as much again on April 19 at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, when he stepped in last minute for the injured Rocky Moran Jr. in one of Dale Coyne's Indy cars. After a 45-minute practice session, sitting in a carbon-fiber seat formed for another driver, Daly qualified 21st, ahead of Coyne regular Francesco Dracone.
He finished 17th in the race and turned the second-fastest race lap for a Honda-powered car, behind Long Beach winner Scott Dixon. Yet Cadillac struggles for identity, and for now Daly still sits. His standout performance in Long Beach earned him lots of pats on the back-but no further commitment for seat time. Beyond talent or the right hardware, it takes money and good salesmanship. Daly has never had enough of the former, nor the backing, to buy a major-league ride. With its New York relocation and a planned product blitz, Cadillac might or might not have enough money left to drive its global push, or the salesmanship to fashion a brand that can overcome its old-school baggage. In his GP3 days, Daly regularly turned faster laps and finished ahead of young Europeans now in F1. Rightly or wrongly, he couldn't overcome Euro-centric perceptions that Americans won't do well in F1. Perhaps the Cadillac ATS-V is a better track car than its European competitors, but there's no guarantee it can overcome luxury performance buyers' Euro-centric predilections. Leave it here. Conor Daly can drive, and so can the ATS-V-in Europe, China or anywhere else.
The ATS-V's six-speed manual features no-lift shift, rev matching and launch control. The optional eight-speed automatic is from the 'Vette. A hydraulic limited-slip differential is standard; the Brembo brakes are essentially those used on the 500-pounds-heavier 2014 CTSV; the rims are forged and fitted with ATS-V-specific, three-compound Michelin Pilot Super Sports.
V-spec adds nine stiffening elements to the unibody, as well as more adhesive aimed at limiting strut-tower flex than in the ATS. Structural stiffness improves 25 percent. If curb weight holds near Cadillac's 3,700-pound estimate, the ATS-V should deliver a better power-to-weight ratio than the lighter M3/M4, RC F, RS5 and C63.
Bodywork includes a carbon-fiber hood punched with a large extraction vent to channel air from the engine bay. The front and rear ends are aero-optimized. An optional carbon-fiber package for the ATS-V adds a race-style splitter. The sedan costs $60,465, coupe $62,655-undercutting the M3/M4 by $2,500.
Roma's team "considered every part and a million details" in the standard ATS when creating the V. It changed roughly 2,000 parts from the 2.0-liter turbo with FE3 sport suspension. The V6 is most obvious. It shares block architecture and little else with Cadillac's familiar 3.6. Its crank is forged, and it has titanium connecting rods and an upgraded valve train. Fuel is fed at 2,900 psi for optimum fuel delivery and pulse precision at 1.25 lateral g. The turbos have low-inertia titaniumaluminide turbines. The 464 hp (445 lb-ft), SAE certified, is 11 more than Cadillac's initial projection, 39 more than from the M3's inline-six.
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