Cadillac Racing program manager Laura Wontrop Klauser is tasked with retaining a crown the brand has yet to relinquish in IMSA’s DPi era.
Runaway champions in 2017 on the launch of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s homegrown prototype formula, Cadillac successfully defending its Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles last year, and with two new teams added to its roster, Klauser’s quest to capture the brand’s third championship has risen to new heights.
As the Maryland native has found since taking the reins at Cadillac, she’s surrounded by like-minded teams who share her approach to the sport. If anything, the engineer-turned-manager is hoping her teams will learn to hit the pause button on that relentless pursuit of victories.
“One thing that I am very proud of with our teams – the ones we’ve been racing with for a while now, with Wayne Taylor racing and Action Express Racing, and then with our new teams JDC-Miller Motorsports and Juncos Racing – is they do not look behind,” she said. “They always look ahead. So despite winning championships, winning races, all of the good stuff that comes with it, they’re always focused on the next thing. And sometimes, it’s almost like, ‘Hey, guys. You can take five minutes and get excited about the fact that you just won a championship. It’s okay. You can have a moment!’
“But then they’re immediately thinking about the next hurdle that they have to get over. And I think that’s a huge point of why they’re so successful, because they don’t think, “We’ve proven that we’re the best.’ They know that every race is a new opportunity for new challenges. And the more that you plan and prepare and the more that you practice, the better off you’re going to be in managing anything that gets thrown at you.”
AXR and WTR are well-drilled members of the Cadillac family, but that’s not the case with JDC and Juncos, who make their racing debuts this weekend with the General Motors brand in IMSA. Helping the new members of the Cadillac Racing reach a similar state of competitiveness alongside its championship-winning teams is among Klauser’s key priorities as the new season gets under way.
“We have a different relationship with all of our teams, and why we do that is we create an alliance with them that plays off of their strength, and then allows us to adapt with how we work with them to make sure that we’re getting the best benefit out of them and they’re getting benefit out of us, especially when it comes to the PR and marketing side,” she said.
“And when it comes to engineering resources, we are very equal with what we provide to all of our teams. And how we look at it for each team is different, they have their own personalities. But the hardware that they purchase from Dallara, the engine that they lease from ECR, you’re getting the same thing. And then the support that Cadillac gives from an engineering perspective is the same, such that any of them have the same opportunity to succeed. And it really will come down to how each team manages themselves and how they respond to situations on the track.”
Among the four DPi manufacturers, Cadillac has been nearly unstoppable, and that might change in 2019 if the new speed shown by Mazda, the knowledge gained by Acura after its first year in the category, and the talented team at CORE that took over the Nissan project continue trending downward on the stopwatch.
Yes, the six Cadillac DPi-V.Rs comprise more than half of the DPi class, but Klauser isn’t letting the numerical advantage mask the intense competition that awaits the WeatherTech Championship.
“Well, I would say that you’re going to see me hiding my hands because I don’t think I have any fingernails left,” she said with a laugh. “And we greatly admire the competition that we have out on the field. I’m thrilled they’re there. I would love to see another manufacturer or two jump in and hang out with us, because obviously we race to give the marketing side of it, to let people know we have these great cars. But we want to be out there with great competitors so that when you do take a win it is an achievement, right? You’re excited about the fact that you went out there with the best and you defeated them.
“And I think that’s what’s happening now. I’m really excited for the involvement that you get with Acura and Mazda by far, and we’re bringing Nissan up to speed. Because when the manufacturers are all involved and it’s on the top of their list, that’s when the class just gets better and better.”
Mazda and Acura swept the first two rows in qualifying as the best Cadillac placed fifth. Calling back to their like-minded approach, look for Klauser, AXR, WTR, JDC, and Juncos to revel in the opportunity they have to start the season with a Rolex 24 At Daytona win.
“I fully expect the Rolex to be a fight all the way to the finish,” she said. “I don’t think anyone has anything in the bag here. I think it’s going to be an exciting event. You saw it in Petit Le Mans last year with how incredible 10 hours were. There was something to watch the entire 10 hours. And I really hope we’re going to see that at the Rolex as well. And we don’t think we have anything easy here. It’s going to be a fight, and we’re ready. We brought our boxing gloves.”