The Cadillac Northstar LMP was a series of Le Mans Prototypes built by General Motors’ Cadillac brand for use in the American Le Mans Series as well as an attempt to return Cadillac to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race they first entered in 1950. The Northstar LMPs were named after the Northstar V8 engines which powered them. The Cadillac project ran from 2000 until 2002 when GM decided to cancel the project to concentrate solely on their Chevrolet Corvette program.
The car in our museum is the second of three LMPs built in 2002. Below is a brief chronolgy of the LMP program, followed with a brief biographical sketch of Herb Fishel, who headed GM Performance during the short-lived program.
For the first year of its LMP program (LMP00), GM used an established chassis, the successful Mk III build by Riley & Scott, in order to focus primarily on fine-tuning the Northstar engine until it was properly prepared to not only survive Le Mans, but also to beat the dominant Audi R8s. Using the base chassis from Mk IIIs, GM developed their own unique bodywork, featuring elements of Cadillac's new Art & Science design theme such as the functional egg-crate grill on the nose, as well as the addition of large side scoops to feed the engine’s twin turbochargers.
The Northstar LMP engine was based on a smaller 4.0 Liter variant of the Northstar used in Cadillacs, known as the L47, used in GM's Oldsmobile Aurora sedan. It had already been adapted for racing in 1995 for use in the Indy Racing League, but was thoroughly modified in order to not only increase power, but increase longevity. McLaren Engines assisted in the development of the new prototype engine, while Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries produced twin turbochargers to increase output.
A total of six cars were built for 2000, with two going to Team Cadillac in the United States, three to DAMS in France, and one being kept as a developmental testbed.
For 2001, the Northstar LMP was evolved in order to make it more competitive against the Audi R8s. Although still based on the Riley & Scott chassis, LMP-01’s bodywork was completely redesigned by Nigel Stroud. Beyond the bodywork, not much else was changed on the new car, known as the Northstar LMP 01. Two of the previous 2000-spec cars were upgraded to the 2001 bodywork, while a third car was built fresh.
In the first two years of the LMP effort, Team Cadillac laid the foundation for its first comprehensive motorsports program in international endurance racing. For 2002, the team assembled the essential elements for its 2002 campaign with an aerodynamic new chassis and an efficient and reliable powertrain.
The Northstar LMP engine was a product of GM's global motorsports program. While the changes in the body and chassis of the second-generation Le Mans Prototype were apparent, the modifications to the heavily revised powertrain are virtually invisible.
Power for the new Cadillac LMP02 came from an updated version of the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter Northstar V8 racing engine. A revised induction system and redesigned cylinder heads complemented the 180-degree crankshaft and upgraded engine management system that were introduced in 2001.
The engine had close ties to the 4.0-liter naturally aspirated engines used by Opel in the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) road racing series and to the methanol-burning naturally aspirated 3.5-liter Chevy Indy V8 engine that was introduced in the Indy Racing League (IRL) oval-track series in 2002.
The Northstar LMP engine was paired with a new six-speed sequential gearbox in 2002. Paddles mounted on the steering wheel activate gear changes through a pneumatic shifting mechanism.
Designed under the direction of GM Racing by Nigel Stroud, the Cadillac LMP's carbon fiber monocoque chassis and suspension components were fabricated in Brackley, England, and assembled at the team's headquarters near Atlanta.
The Cadillac LMP 02's high nose directs airflow under the car while respecting the LMP rules that require a flat bottom between the front and rear wheels. This flat surface can, however, generate significant downforce through ground effect - the interaction between the moving vehicle and the fixed track surface.
The car’s shortened wheelbase minimized undesirable changes in the vehicle's attitude, allowing the flat bottom to maintain a positive rake angle and produce consistent aero loads. Wind tunnel tests demonstrated substantial improvements in both lift and drag over the first-generation LMP 01. A total of three all new chassis were built for the Northstar LMP02.
With the all new Northstar LMP 02, Team Cadillac prepared once again for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The American team did all development of the new car. Once again GM decided to concentrate on private testing prior to Le Mans, although this year Cadillac would run the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Unfortunately the year did not start well for the Northstar LMP02 at Sebring. One car suffered a failed electronics system towards the end of the race, while the sole remaining car came home a disappointing 31st. Moving to Le Mans, the Cadillac showed its speed in qualifying once again by taking the eighth and tenth fastest qualifying times, beating out both an Audi and a Bentley. However the race itself saw the Northstar LMP02 show its potential, with both cars running in the top ten for most of the race. Cadillac managed to take home ninth and twelfth places in the end, their best Le Mans result since the start of the program.
Returning to the United States, Cadillac saw competition again in Washington D.C., where the team managed to take a fourth place finish, only a single lap behind the winners. Skipping Trois-Rivieres, Mosport saw the Northstar LMP02s finish third and sixth, followed by another third at Laguna Seca. Cadillac's best race ever would finally come on the streets of Miami, where the LMP02 of J.J. Lehto and Max Angelelli would take second place, a mere fourteen seconds behind the winning Audi. The final race of the year, Petit Le Mans, would see Cadillac coming home in third and fourth. Once again, with only half a season, Cadillac would manage an impressive fifth in the championship.
Unfortunately, at the end of 2002, General Motors announced that the Cadillac project would not continue into 2003. Feeling that the Cadillac program had achieved what General Motors believed it was meant to, the project was canceled and GM would move to concentrating solely on their more successful Chevrolet Corvette program. General Motors would not offer any of the Northstar LMPs for sale to privateer customers, instead retaining the cars for themselves.