SCCA RallyCross: Playpen for Automotive Manufacturers

It’s certainly not uncommon for a corporation to have an employee bowling or softball team. A company with an SCCA RallyCross squad, however, is much rarer. Yet, that is what General Motors has established within its GM Off Road Driving Team (ORDT).

Kevan Bates, a 35-year-old engine calibration engineer, is ORDT’s Vehicle Lead. An SCCA member for a decade, Bates oversees the RallyCross program within ORDT, which is comprised of more than 300 people – and far outnumbers any softball or bowling social group. That team plays around with all things off road, but around 25 members are focused on SCCA RallyCross competition.

“This is a GM employee group,” Bates explains. “This is an extracurricular activity outside of our day jobs ... and this doesn’t really involve any official product development of any sort.”

What is involved is a black, four-door, four-cylinder, 2.7-liter, turbocharged Cadillac CT4-V. It’s a GM development vehicle not eligible for resale, and a luxurious toy to play with in the dirt at SCCA RallyCross events.

SCCA’s most widespread and readily accessible form of extreme dirt motorsport, RallyCross is a scaled down version of a rally stage laid out on a non-paved plot of land where the course is delineated by cones. SCCA RallyCross has an established and well-defined ruleset, which helped Bates and his remote team during the pandemic in 2021 as they were brainstorming off-road activities for the group to tackle.

“The SCCA RallyCross program really helped us keep things in check and not get scope creep. We had to bring things down to earth, make this a realistic and achievable project,” Bates said. “SCCA RallyCross is unique because you have a low cost to entry, and a low vehicle preparedness barrier to entry as compared to a stage rally.”

Parameters in place, the ORDT went to work at its proving grounds in Milford, MI; a site shared with the GM Performance Driving Team, which centers its efforts on autocross activities. Virtual meetings were held online with GM teammates from around the U.S., and hands on deck outfitted the 10-speed automatic transmission for RallyCross competition.

“Generally speaking … if you have a car that has good driving dynamics on pavement, that’s going to translate to dirt,” Bates said about selection of the Cadillac for RallyCross. “We definitely found that to be true. It’s a fantastic chassis to work with as a starting point.”

After some suspension modification and very slight weight reduction, the Cadillac made its first SCCA RallyCross appearance in November of 2022 at Michigan’s Milan Dragway during a Detroit Region event, competing in the Modified All Wheel Drive class – although it can also run in Prepared All Wheel Drive.

For those who have not attended a RallyCross before, all sorts of vehicles – in various states of prep – can be found sitting on grid waiting to take a turn on course. But when someone rolls up with a luxury Cadillac, still outfitted with its full interior, that will raise eyebrows.

Weighing in at around 3,760 pounds, and with a tick more than 325 horsepower, the Cadillac makes quite a scene tossing dirt into the air as it traverses a RallyCross course. Bates said the vehicle is an absolute blast to drive, which was very much the purpose behind the whole project.

“We’re not out here to go win RallyCross Nationals or anything,” he said. “We’re just out there learning and having some fun.”

It’s #funwithcars that the GM Off Road Team set out to have through RallyCross, while also furthering technical skills and teambuilding efforts – improved car control skills are a cherry on top of the whole endeavor.

And Toyota, Too!

In a 2022 SportsCar article written by Matt Wolfe, it was revealed that Toyota is in the SCCA RallyCross mix, too. The Toyota R&D Motorsports facility in Ann Arbor, MI, is home to a team of engineers and vehicles that can be seen competing regularly at RallyCross events in SCCA’s Great Lakes Division.

The Toyota R&D Motorsports effort has now been in existence for 17 years. It is comprised of Toyota engineers who are enthusiastic about motorsports, and compete in Toyota-owned vehicles across many disciplines. The RallyCross team is not an advertised factory effort, but the luxury, all-wheel drive Lexus RC350 they use for RallyCross draws just as much attention as the Cadillac.

While an unconventional choice, the Lexus has proven to be a consistent winner both locally and Nationally when wielded by capable hands – all while offering cooled and heated seats, as well as a plush ride to and from events.

Kyle Steinkamp, a longtime leader of the Toyota R&D Motorsports squad, noted in the SportsCar article that the program came together after some Toyota staffers thought it would be fun to RallyCross with their friends from work.

“They pitched the idea to management as a way to create employee engagement and promote teamwork across all areas of the company, as well as a way to create good technical content and learning opportunities,” Steinkamp told Wolfe. “They had full access to all Toyota facilities, and a small yearly budget to cover events and parts.”

Today, the Toyota R&D Motorsports fleet is an eclectic mix of beginner cars and Nationally competitive machines. Since the program’s inception, Steinkamp estimates more than 200 Toyota employees have participated in the program. Vehicles, parts, and fuel are supplied by Toyota, but team members volunteer their personal time after work for vehicle modifications, maintenance, and planning.

“Management has always been super supportive of the program,” Steinkamp said in the SportsCar article. “There’s a lot of passion for racing here, and it’s great to see so many people enthusiastic about getting behind the wheel.”

The SCCA RallyCross effort, however, is not something Toyota backs just for fun. Steinkamp noted that the preparation and performance engineering that goes into grassroots motorsports directly benefits the passion, skill, and creativity of engineers. These activities produce both direct and indirect benefits to vehicles designed in North America. Because of the value gained from participation at SCCA events, the involvement of Toyota R&D Motorsports continues to grow.

Photos: Cadillac image courtesy GM; Toyota image by Rupert Berrington