Meet the Woman Working to Redeem Cadillac’s History at Le Mans
(Bloomberg) -- “Brownies have gained me relationships like you wouldn’t believe,” Laura Klauser says over the phone on Oct. 12.
Klauser will be at the helm in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2023 following Cadillac’s surprise decision to enter the race, the first time in 20 years. She has the kind of title—sports car racing program manager—that lets you know “the buck stops here.” But the mechanical engineer by trade says it’s only in recent years that she’s felt confident enough to show her tough-as-nails colleagues a softer side.
“When I was younger, I did everything I could to run away from anything that was considered feminine—I didn’t want to seem too girly,” says Klauser, a Maryland native who’s worked at General Motors Co. for 13 years. Starting out as an entry-level engineer, she progressed to addressing powertrain issues as an integration engineer, then later managed the Cadillac and Camaro teams that raced (and often won) in series such as the Rolex 24 Hours and IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. Those races are held under the International Motor Sports Association sports car racing sanctioning body, which is a division of Nascar.
As it happens, Klauser’s “softer” side emerged in the form of sweet confections given as rewards to team members and employees when she was managing racing programs for GM. But rather than undermine her authority with her mostly male staff, the homemade “win biscuits” endeared her to them, she says.
“When I was younger, I went way too far in the male space,” Klauser says. “But I’ve realized there is a lot of benefit to traits that we classify as feminine. One of those is really taking the time to get to know people that you work with—to care about them as individuals and about the people who they love. Being able to connect two people who want the same thing, but can get there faster if they work with each other, that is what I have always been good at.”
Klauser will need to lean on everything she’s learned at GM to nail a win for Cadillac at Le Mans in 2023, when the brand will go up against foreign racing legends including Acura, Audi, BMW, and Porsche. Held annually since 1923 near the town of Le Mans, France, the race is the world’s oldest endurance motor event and, along with the Indianapolis 500 and Monaco Grand Prix, a member of the triple crown of motorsport. The car that wins Le Mans covers the greatest distance over its 8.5-mile track in 24 hours; most drivers log more than 5,000 kilometers (3,107 miles). The 2023 event will be the centenary running of the world’s most prestigious and grueling endurance car race, which was glamorized in the Hollywood film Ford v Ferrari. Porsche holds the most wins, with 19 victories. Audi has won 13 times; Ferrari has nine outright victories.
Race cars using hybrid technology have competed there for decades, so Cadillac’s hybrid prototype entry isn’t revolutionary, though it will be closely followed. Cadillac finished in a disappointing 9th and 12th place the last time it was there, in 2002; its lackluster 10th- and 11th-place finishes in 1950, the only other time it raced at Le Mans, were equally unimpressive. (Teams in this type of auto racing often field two cars per race.)
“Unfortunately, our challenge is the lack of experience in that [Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile] series,” Klauser says. “Having all the sports car programs under me [in the past], we are able to do a lot of transfer of knowledge, so that’s good news. But until you go there and experience it firsthand it’s not the same as being told what to expect.”
Klauser declines to speculate about which drivers would be named for the season in 2023. In races for next year, the Cadillac team will include time-tested Rengar Van der Zande (Netherlands), Sebastien Baude (France), Earl Bamber (New Zealand), and Alex Lynn (the U.K.). In the meantime, Klauser is working with her team to refine the race car (still in prototype form) and laying the groundwork for the 2023 racing season by working out budgets, resources, goals, and awareness. She’s also at the track. A lot.
There are auspicious signs of things to come. Italian manufacturer Dallara has committed to build the chassis for the new hybrid prototype Cadillac will run at Le Mans. It also built the car that last year earned Cadillac its fourth win in a row at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
What’s more, the 2023 race in the hybrid prototype coincides with the launch of the Cadillac Lyric production electric car, which sold out in 19 minutes when it went on sale on Sept. 18. The electric synergy bodes well as an indicator of things to come, Klauser says.
“We are pursuing an electric future; Cadillac is leading the way [for GM],” she says. “The ability to switch directly into full electric racing doing the endurance races that pull on our heart strings like Le Mans, it’s not quite there yet. But the hybrid is the next step to incorporating that electric energy into the power unit.”
If the prototype wins at Le Mans, Klauser says, she’s planning to make “a giant tiered cake” to celebrate.
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