SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — While Autoblog’s long-term 2023 Toyota Sienna is nominally still in my care, it was whisked away from me to deal with some underbody damage sustained during a previous excursion. No matter; I had plans last weekend that were not remotely served by the presence of a minivan. See, some friends of mine were involved in organizing a “trackcross” event in western Michigan. For an area where people take Halloween as the over/under date on a first snowfall, that’s either brave or foolish. I like to think I’m a little bit of both. So for this week’s “long-term update,” you’re getting one from one of my personal cars: a 2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing, aka the one with the wrong engine.
Now, I need to confess something: I haven’t been to a track on my own time and dime since February, 2016. Sure, I’ve attended a multitude of automaker events that include some track exposure — including the one that led me to purchase the Blackwing in the first place — but it’s easy to let life get in the way of the hobby. And not to make excuses but in that time, I’ve changed jobs twice, gotten divorced, moved five times (spanning three different cities), bought a house (and sold one), and churned virtually my entire personal fleet three times — save my 1990 Miata. Some say life is what happens when you’re not looking, but it seems to fly by with my full attention just the same. Getting “back out there” just hasn’t been my top priority.
Since moving to Michigan, I’ve kept my SCCA membership active and my eyes open for opportunities to have some fun. When this Out Motorsports event landed in my feed, I jumped on it. A new track and a new car? That sounds like an excellent learning opportunity. And like a normal track event, it would be casual — or at least as casual as any event can be when the participants are part of one of the most inherently competitive hobbies on earth. Even with nothing to win, strictly speaking, we were all sure as hell going to try.
And that’s how I found myself at GingerMan Raceway the weekend before Halloween, gridded up in 40-degree weather with rain threatening. GingerMan is tight and flat with tons of runoff. Our organizers took that inherent safety advantage and dialed it up to 11 by slicing off bits of the longer straightaways and creating an autocross-like environment with separate, defined start and stop gates. Hence the name “trackcross”; it really is just an autocross on a race track. A brief googling suggests that GingerMan’s Spec Miata track record is in the 1:46 range. Those are flying laps, of course. We won’t be doing any of those. Still, it’s a solid bogey for getting a street car around a chunk of the track in a timely manner.
Both days started off cold and damp. Saturday’s weather eventually broke, giving way to a sunny afternoon with temperatures in the mid 50s, but the transition from a green track and cold tires to a functional grip situation was neither instantaneous nor without some teething. A green track in cold temperatures and summer tires? I’ve seen this episode. But I’m here to move on, not dwell. And for a little extra insurance, I turned to an acquaintance I made last year when I attended Spring Mountain Cadillac V-Performance Academy: a little something GM calls Performance Traction Management, or PTM.
PTM is GM’s secret weapon in the war on all-wheel drive. As insanely good as the CT4- and CT5-V Blackwings are, they’re held back in a field where the competition (in BMW’s case, with a capital “C”) has access to four driven wheels. PTM helps you extract every single bit of performance you can despite this inherent disadvantage, and in combination with Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control and the Blackwing’s trick e-diff, it can make you faster in seriously spooky ways.
To be clear, PTM is not a branded name for electronic stability control, nor is it merely one of the Blackwing’s drive modes. You’ll need to put the car in “track” mode in order to access it, which should be a clue as to its purpose. If you’re using this on the street, you’re doing it wrong. This is not a system designed to keep the car pointed straight when it snows on your way to work; it’s engineered to help you extract every ounce of performance from the car on a race track, period. Put another way, if standard stability control is something that intervenes before you can exceed your traction limits, PTM differs in that it helps guide you there and no further.
Adding to the potential confusion, PTM has five modes of its own: Wet, Dry, Sport, Race 1 and Race 2. As you can probably guess, that represents a sliding scale from the most to least electronic intervention. PTM Wet aggressively smooths out your throttle inputs and keeps the rear diff from overstepping its bounds, while Race 2 provides a virtually 1:1 relationship between your inputs and the car’s outputs, but it’ll still throw you a bone when you’re trying to extract those extra hundredths.
This is a lot to keep track of, admittedly, but Cadillac makes it simple to access. The rocker switch on the right side of the wheel cycles through PTM modes with the simple flick of your thumb — up to tick toward Race, down to tick toward Wet. You can also program a PTM level into your individual drive mode if you’re so inclined, and then assign that to the “V” button on the steering wheel. Set it once, then all you have to do is double-tap the button on the left side of the wheel and boom, you’re ready to rock.
Despite the cold temperatures, Saturday’s weather was mostly forgiving. I started the day in PTM Dry, progressing to Sport as our morning runs put heat and rubber into the racing line. Like the car itself, PTM offers feedback to let you know it’s working. Ask for too much throttle and the exhaust lets out an exasperated “wump” as it takes power away from you — a sign that you’re either trying to goose it when the wheels don’t have grip to spare, or the PTM mode you’ve chosen is too constraining for the track conditions. Don’t expect it to give you full beans in PTM Wet just because the track dried up and you forgot to change modes. Once a dry line starts to form, back PTM off and let the engine breathe.
GingerMan’s back half is nothing but a series of medium-speed sweepers. As we ran the course in reverse Saturday afternoon, I took to referring to this section as the swamp because I kept getting mired there, struggling to find a line that let me drive the car the way I knew to be fast — straight line to the turn-in marker, get it pointed the right way, mash throttle, repeat. And you can do it that way, but as I learned on that first day, it’s not the quickest way ’round the track in the CT4. My times suffered considerably in the afternoon as a result, tumbling from my first-place finish in the morning heat to 5th overall by the end of the day. And so I vowed to take that lesson to heart Sunday and try a different approach.
Sunday morning started wet; nothing fell on us after the track went hot, but the previous night’s cold rain washed away whatever grip we’d laid down on Saturday. Temperatures were in the low 40s as we started off; this combination of cold and wet rendered the Blackwing’s 445 lb-ft of torque virtually useless. 1-2 and 2-3 shifts with anything more than about 50% throttle would send the rear end dancing for much of the first half of the course. But as we put heat into the asphalt and cut a new dry line, I was able to comfortably tick the PTM over to Sport and really go to work. I muscled my way to the front of the pack again Sunday morning despite my still-mediocre pathfinding, but by the time we set up to run the reverse direction again, I was eager to put the car — and the previous day’s lessons — to work.
There’s a point in the learning curve of a new car where you finally feel like you’ve got your arms wrapped around it and you can trust it to go where you point. There’s nowhere better to experience that than on a race track, where you can fully appreciate the dopamine hit that comes from nailing something for the first time — a subtle (or perhaps not-so-subtle) “Woop!” or “There you go!” blurted after a particularly satisfying corner transition. Suffice it to say that my PDR recordings are littered with such testimony. And in the age of live timing, you’ve got another potential high coming for you after you complete your run, because of course you want to know whether that last run was as fast as it felt.
In my case, learning the Blackwing’s language means learning how its electronic systems communicate. While you can’t hear the computers talking to the differential in the strictest sense, the outcome of that interplay is certainly tangible. While half the fun of RWD is the ability to steer with the throttle, there’s a fine line between tweaking your line with your right foot and merely overdriving the car. PTM not only maintains that barrier, but helps you approach it. Charging into the fast sweepers on the back section, the rear end responds telepathically to throttle inputs. Two or three miles per hour is the difference between right and wrong back here, corresponding to just millimeters of pedal travel. Push to tuck in, ease off to open up the line. Nothing to hit? Hammer down. Cadillac pegs the Blackwing’s max sustained lateral acceleration at 1.04g. In my final few runs, PDR clocked me pulling a steady 1.0g through each curve. The car is clearly delivering on its part of the performance bargain.
Getting it right means more than just sector times; a fast exit from 7 is no good if you’re not able to get back over to brake hard for the downhill turn 6, so patience is everything here. The final section in this configuration approaches what would normally be GingerMan’s turn 3. In reverse, the turn 5-4-3 complex is essentially a kinked straightaway leading into a blind braking zone for turn 3 — a double-apex, second-gear left-hander with a mean-looking thicket beyond. This is one place where you don’t want to get it wrong. Line everything up properly and the Blackwing is flat from the exit of 5 until the point of no return, tucking in just tight enough to clip the apex at 4. Turn 4 is a high spot on the inside, with the track falling away to the left as you nose over to the right to set up for that nasty turn 3 braking zone. Miss the tuck-in at 4 and you’re pointed the wrong way without much room to fix it; at best, you’ll be slow. At worst, you’ll be waiting for a flatbed.
Cresting the turn 4 apex with my foot planted in 3rd, I can feel the nose hunt to the left as the road falls away. I resist the urge to lift and sure enough, as the car settles on the far side, the steering weights up and I ease it back to the right for the braking zone. I find myself coming up hard on the limiter in third — five MPH faster than my quickest laps doing it the point-and-shoot way. It was so hot, in fact, that I found myself nearly running out of braking zone headed into turn 3. I’ve now found the line — with a little help from PTM.
So, did I win? No; but my final few passes on Sunday were passable enough to nab second place in my class behind a blisteringly quick driver in a Lexus GS-F. For my first time on track in a new car (this poor thing still has fewer than 2,000 miles on it) on a new course, I’ll take it. Better than that, though, I’ve fallen in love with the Blackwing all over again, and I can’t wait for spring and the opportunity to shake off some more rust. I hope to see you out there, too.