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Source: Racer Magazine

McCann's journey from racer to Cadillac's lead trackside engineer

by Richard S. James | June 11th, 2024

For Cadillac Racing’s lead trackside engineer Caitlin McCann, no day at the track is the same. Her job is to look out for the performance of all the Cadillac V-Series.Rs competing worldwide, whether in WEC Hypercar or IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTP - and all three when they come together for the 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend. But that variety, with two teams and two different series, means there is never a dull moment.

"Obviously, each track is very different," McCann said shortly before the first time the WeatherTech Championship raced on the downtown Detroit street circuit. "This track, which we’ve never raced on with this car, this chassis, is a particularly interesting and challenging one for us, because you don’t come into this race with loads of data, historical data from previous years.

"So how we react at this event might be a little bit different than how we react at, say, Daytona, where we have a lot of lead-in; we have the Roar to prepare, we have the what used to be the December Daytona test, which this year will be in November.

"We have a lot of data going into that event. So we’re coming in with a slightly different mindset. Here, it’s much more about making sure that your car’s performance is in the window as soon as it gets on track. As soon as it turns a wheel, you have so little time to look at data between practice one, practice two, and then qualifying, that you really have to nail it out of the box.

"The amount of preparation and simulation work we did before coming [to Detroit] put us in a slightly different position than if we were going to a different track. While I’m here, we’re looking at telemetry, timing and scoring data, things of that nature. I’m communicating with our different engineers who are assigned to the different cars, making sure that they have everything they need, and that we’re communicating well across the whole program and all of the different engineers," she added.

Many engineers come into motorsports a little green. They may have had the passion for racing, but may not previously possess the insider and practical knowledge of trying to make a racecar perform. Not McCann ... she grew up around racing, thanks to her father Don Bunt. Bunt raced an E Production Datsun 240Z in Sports Car Club of America road racing competition, with which she learned racecar maintenance and setup. McCann raced a B210 in GT-Lite and later, with her then-future husband, Nolan, Formula Continental. So not only did her upbringing give here the knowledge base to move into a motorsports engineering career with ease, it ignited the passion to do so.

"It was quite easy. My dad raced SCCA, he actually was autocrossing, even before I was born. So I was around race cars and the racetrack from a very, very young age. And I grew up going to the track, it was a family outing. Other families would watch other sports and have football gatherings, things like that. We were a racing family. So we would all go to the track, and that was our family time together, Dad would race the car, I would help him with the car and slowly took on more responsibilities with car setup, managing tire pressures, kind of trying to work slowly to evolve the setup of the car within what you’re allowed to do in the rules in an E Production 240Z," she explained.

A deep background in racing coupled with a strong affinity for engineering has lead McCann to the head of Cadillac’s trackside engineering operations in both IMSA and the WEC.� Motorsport Images

"I always had a natural affinity for engineering. I liked math. I liked science. I liked building things, taking things apart. That was just second nature to me. And so when faced with the opportunity to choose a career path, I was like, Well, I love racecars. I did robotics team - I actually founded the robotics team in high school. And then it was an easy decision to be an engineer. Everyone said it’s going to be so hard to get into the motorsport industry. And I said, 'Well, I’m going to try because that’s what I want to do.' I mean, it wasn’t a huge 'Ah-ha!' moment. It was kind of like, this is what I’m already doing. I would like to continue doing this as a career. How do I do that? I’d say it’s a very engineering logical, analytical way of coming to that conclusion, but I think that’s how I think."

Others saw that analytical thought process as well. Armed with a master’s in Motorsport Engineering, she was the first female winner of the Infiniti Engineering Academy, during which spent six months working at the Renault Sport F1 team’s headquarters in Enstone in the UK and six months working at Infiniti’s European Technical Center in Cranfield.

The benefit of her own racing background is that things many people have to learn are already second nature to her.

"When you get into performance and race engineering on one of the teams here, especially in endurance racing, which is my passion, winning is not about just finding the best setup for this one condition right now. There are so many factors that play into that - your ambient temperature, track temperature, you’ve got all of the wind, even, all the traffic that plays an element, and just these little things that you’re kind of always thinking about in the back of your head. Those things were second nature to me, because I’ve grown up my whole life thinking about them."

Now she’s working to back up Cadillac’s championships in the inaugural season of GTP competition. In five races so far this season - which have seen five different winners - Cadillac has four pole positions (three for Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing V-Series.R and one for Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 2) and a victory (Bourdais and Renger van der Zande at Long Beach). As other teams have stepped up, defending the driver, team and manufacturer championships in the WeatherTech Championship is no easy feat.

The big prize, though, is victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Cadillac has yet to achieve victory in the World Endurance Championship, but a manufacturer taking its first victory at Circuit de la Sarthe isn’t unheard of – Ferrari did it last year. But it’s a big task with the size of the Hypercar field - 23 cars across nine manufacturers.

"We’re going to be as prepared as we can be," said McCann. "That’s all I can say. We come to win. So we’re going to put together the best car package that we can, and then we’re gonna go out and give it everything we have, because this is why we’re here."