Taylors on top. Photo courtesy of IMSA

From validation to domination for Taylors in Daytona, Sebring sweep

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A star guest driver, a legend signing off, and end-of-race controversy didn’t allow the true talent assembled by Wayne Taylor Racing, with its No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R to shine through, after the Rolex 24 at Daytona to kick off both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup seasons.

Jeff Gordon integrated into the team and his presence generated a lot of headlines. He was always in as a one-off driver, and the driver who’d run the fewest amount of hours in the quest to deliver the team a win at Daytona. That being said, Gordon watched Sebring when he could while at Phoenix, where he was on his NASCAR commentating duties for FOX Sports, so he remains a key member of the “10 team” in his post-full-time NASCAR driving career.

Max Angelelli was in his final drive before hanging up his helmet. He was the veteran sage – the Obi-Won Kenobi if you will to young Jedis Ricky and Jordan Taylor – throughout their career development.

Ricky Taylor earned his graduation from apprentice to full Jedi with his pass on Filipe Albuquerque for the win at Turn 1. Controversial though it may have been to some, it was a move he had to make in order to take that next step in his career.

The story line at Daytona revolved around the people involved in the effort finally breaking through after years of oh-so-close, elusive heartbreak.

The story line at Sebring, by contrast, fixated on the people that made the car as dominant as it was at the brutally demanding, physical 3.74-mile circuit that chews out cars and often reduces them to rubble.

There were no questions asked about this win for the Taylor brothers and their new Jedi-in-training, English driver Alex Lynn, who was making his U.S. debut.

This win was earned from the start, via a mix of excellent pit work from the Wayne Taylor Racing crew, the engineering from Dallara, power from ECR engines, aero efficiency from the Cadillac bodywork and consistent driving from all three stars who are just 27 years of age or younger.

The No. 10 team in pits. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Despite Ricky Taylor only qualifying sixth, he’d gotten the car up to third by Lap 19 in the eventual 348-lap race, and the car never dropped outside the top two from Lap 71. The No. 10 car led 123 laps in the race, and the Cadillac DPi-V.R in the hands of the Taylors and the two Action Express Racing led all bar 18 laps total in a second consecutive dominant performance.

This one came after IMSA’s pre-race Balance of Performance adjustment actually saw the cars given a 20kg minimum weight addition and 0.6mm reduction on its air restrictor, adjustments that were meant to slow the Cadillacs down.

Instead, the three Cadillacs were bulletproof on IMSA’s most notorious circuit, and the Taylors defeated the rival Action Express team – both its Mustang Sampling and Whelen Engineering cars – handily. And the three of them, along with the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, were the only four cars of the 11 in the Prototype class that didn’t encounter any issues all race.

“The Daytona win may have been controversial, but I wanted this one to be convincing and have no one ask any questions,” Ricky Taylor said in the post-race press conference. “I kept wanting to build it and solidify it as a dominant win for our team. No one can question this. From top to bottom, the team did an incredible job. Sebring is the hardest track in the world, and we never missed a beat.”

Christian Fittipaldi, who co-drove the No. 5 Mustang Sampling car with Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque, backed that assertion up.

“My two colleagues said it, we got beat fair and square. The 10 ran a flawless race,” said the veteran Brazilian.

Quite how effortless the Taylor team made this one look though is perhaps the most impressive story to emerge from Sebring.

We knew what Jordan and Ricky Taylor could do but for Lynn, a talent in the GP2 and GP3 ranks who made a handful of FIA World Endurance Championship starts last year in a similar but not identical LMP2 chassis, the Oreca 05, seeing how he got on in his U.S. racing debut would tell the tale as to whether the No. 10 car could pull it off again.

Lynn had a few hairy moments when going through lapped traffic but otherwise never missed a beat. His best laps in the race were near a second off Ricky and seven tenths off Jordan, but he’d been consistent enough to keep the car within striking range to hand it back over to Jordan and Ricky to bring the car home.

“I anticipated it to be hard. I knew it would be,” he told NBC Sports post-race. “I came here quite humble knowing the challenge it might be.

“Ricky and Jordan taught me a lot very quickly and it was how to get through the stints, and race cleanly. They always fed me good advice. In the end, I was happy with my last couple stints. It’s a big thank you to Wayne Taylor Racing and Cadillac for this opportunity, and calls from (technical director) Brian Pillar were very aggressive and bold.

“I’d come here dreaming it’d be cool if we won, but never thinking it could happen!”

The No. 10 car at sunset. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Jordan Taylor, who now adds this Sebring win to past either class (Le Mans) or overall (Daytona and Petit Le Mans) wins at other marquee endurance race events, reflected on what this means to his family. The two sons match father Wayne, who won the 1996 IMSA prototype title after starting the year with Daytona and Sebring wins back-to-back.

“It’s special. We were at both those races as kids, running around in paddock and getting in trouble,” Jordan said. “At Daytona a couple months ago, we’d been second a few times before, and we’ve been second here before. So it’s been heartbreaking to be so close and not win. It’s special for Ricky and I because we’re so close. We knew it was win or lose. We were in tears after Daytona; it’s the same after Sebring.”

And for Ricky, his banner start to what’s already becoming a career season in sports car racing rolls on. In the last three months he’s made the pass for the win at Daytona, tested an IndyCar for Team Penske, been confirmed in a Le Mans LMP2 seat (which means he and Jordan, who isn’t officially confirmed but expected to return for Corvette Racing in the GTE-Pro class, will both race there) and now won at Sebring.

Knowing he just had to bring the car home in one piece was the goal and it was again, mission accomplished.

“It’s tough. When you watch Jordan and Alex doing such a good job, I’m sitting on the timing stand, I’m thinking, I don’t want to mess it up. You can only mess it up!” Ricky told NBC Sports after the formal press conference. “That might be the wrong attitude. But I did have the confidence to pull it off.

“This car is just unbelievable. It feels as good at the end of the race as it does on Lap 1. It’s a huge testament to Cadillac and everyone that makes it possible.

“These times are extremely rare when you’re in this type of situation. I’m so lucky to have the guys I do around me. I just need to enjoy these moments. It’s been an amazing three months.”

Alonso’s Honda power unit cleared for Malaysia after Singapore clash

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Fernando Alonso’s incredible start at the Singapore Grand Prix offered the possibility of huge points, before he got collected at Turn 1 in the wake of the Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel start-line crash.

But with Alonso’s McLaren Honda getting speared on the left side of the car, there were concerns his Honda power unit had been damaged beyond repair ahead of this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Somewhat fortunately considering the fractured and now set-for-divorce Alonso, McLaren and Honda relationship, Honda has confirmed this power unit was actually OK despite the first lap contact in Singapore.

“We were concerned that it may have been irreparably damaged, but fortunately after a thorough check back at the Sakura factory we can confirm it is okay to be re-used,” said Yusuke Hasegawa, Honda R&D Co. Ltd Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer.

Alonso, of course quite frustrated to have lost out on a potential big points haul in Singapore, is hoping similarly changeable conditions could give McLaren Honda a spark in Malaysia this weekend. Stoffel Vandoorne fortunately picked up six points for the team with seventh place there, his best result of the season and his career thus far.

“After Singapore, I’m already eager to get back into the car and hopefully make it further than the first corner in Malaysia! Of course, what happened was disappointing and it’s difficult to hide your frustration when you’re the victim of someone else’s incident. I felt we had the potential to be really competitive – one of our only opportunities of the year – and it’s a shame we couldn’t bring home the points to prove it, but these things happen,” he said.

“The conditions in Malaysia will be very similar to Singapore – hot, humid and challenging for the drivers and the car. The configuration will work less in our favor, but of course we will still fight for everything. There are six races left and we are still putting all our energy in finishing every race in the best possible position we can.”

Aston Martin to become Red Bull Racing’s title sponsor

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The link-up between Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing has now gone to the next level, with Aston Martin confirming Monday it will be Red Bull Racing’s title sponsor from 2018.

Key within the release was also the suggestion that Aston Martin will “evaluate the opportunity to be involved in the team’s power unit from 2021 after being asked by the FIA to join discussions on future engines for F1.”

Red Bull Racing’s engine situation is unclear after 2018, with Renault – badged as TAG Heuer – in the last planned year of its deal next season. Honda has entered the Red Bull racing umbrella thanks to its new deal with Scuderia Toro Rosso from 2018, and rumors of Porsche’s return to Formula 1 from 2021 have also swirled in recent weeks.

Rather funnily this means in 2018 that Red Bull Racing will have a car manufacturer be title sponsor for the energy drink company, with a watch manufacturer serving as the badged name of its power unit.

“Title partnership is the next logical step for our Innovation Partnership with Red Bull Racing. We are enjoying the global brand awareness that a revitalized Formula One provides,” said Aston Martin President and CEO, Andy Palmer.

“The power unit discussions are of interest to us but only if the circumstances are right. We are not about to enter an engine war with no restrictions in cost or dynamometer hours but we believe that if the FIA can create the right environment we would be interested in getting involved.”

Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing team principal, added: “Our Innovation Partnership with Aston Martin has been a pioneering project from day one. Having conceived and created the remarkably successful Valkyrie together in 2016, we extended our relationship this year and are now delighted to further strengthen the Partnership and see the team competing as Aston Martin Red Bull Racing in 2018. In addition, more than 100 Aston Martin staff will service the new Advanced Performance Centre on our campus here in Milton Keynes and it will allow us to collaborate further with Aston Martin on special, equally innovative, new projects.”

The Aston Martin Valkyrie, the hypercar produced by the two parties, has been their major product sign of investment together thus far. Per Aston Martin the car has sold out on launch, and will make its road debut in 2018 before being delivered to customers in 2019.

Personnel wise, the two parties have worked together to create the Advanced Performance Centre, which will create more than 100 new jobs and continue to build the relationship between F1 and road car technology.

NHRA: Brittany Force breaks through among Reading winners

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
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John Force saw one of his daughters break through in the Reading round of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Countdown while another lost by a hair in the finals.

Brittany Force captured the Top Fuel win, her second of the season, for her first since in Epping, N.H. in June. The defeat of Steve Torrence came with a 3.756-second pass at 326.24 mph. She’d been to the finals twice at Maple Grove Raceway before winning Sunday.

“Looking at it, we did not have an easy ladder,” Force said. “It was tough all day long and the Monster team killed it all day long. We turned a corner at the right time and we’re right in the Countdown picture.

“This is a huge win for us. This team had to fight all day long and I’m so proud of them. They are the best team to work with, and I’m so pumped going into the Countdown to work with them. This Monster team, we’re going after the championship.”

Courtney Force came up short in Funny Car, losing out to Ron Capps, who secured his seventh win of the season. Capps’  pass came at 3.968 seconds to Force’s 3.993, and Capps took over the points lead in the process.

“We got lucky a little bit in the first round, but we feel like our hard work makes our own luck for us and we were fortunate to win it with consistency,” Capps said, via NHRA.com. “We know this Funny Car class is as tough as it’s ever been, so we know this won’t be easy through the last four races of the year.”

Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) took the other two class wins on the day.

IMSA: Dramatic finishes, popular winners at Mazda Raceway

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The penultimate round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca featured three first-time winners this year in the Prototype, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes – all of whom boast fascinating stories.

In Prototype and overall, Renger van der Zande and Marc Goossens delivered the first overall win of the year for an LMP2-spec car versus a Daytona Prototype international (DPi), and after a dramatic week for the Troy Flis-led VISIT FLORIDA Racing team.

Van der Zande and Goossens were only in their second race start with the team’s new No. 90 Ligier JS P217 Gibson, which replaced the troublesome Riley Multimatic Mk. 30 chassis run through Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July.

Running second into the final few minutes of the two-hour, 40-minute race, van der Zande unleashed his inner Alex Zanardi at Mazda Raceway’s iconic corner, the Corkscrew, going down the inside of Penske Acura-bound Dane Cameron in his second-to-last race with Action Express Racing aboard its No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Cameron left the door open just enough for van der Zande to slide through, with his momentum carrying through the inside of the left-handed downhill apex and then back onto the right-handed second portion of the corner in line.

He pulled away from there en route to the team’s first victory of the year at a track where it had won before, as recently as two years ago with Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante in a Corvette DP.

The win comes after a week when the Florida-based team, with the likelihood of change to its partner portfolio if VISIT FLORIDA support doesn’t continue into 2018, incurred damage at its shop from Hurricane Irma. Van der Zande joked on the FOX Sports broadcast after the race he might get a tattoo of the Corkscrew after the win.

With third place in their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, Jordan and Ricky Taylor built their points lead to an unofficial gap of 29 points over Cameron and Eric Curran, the defending champions, with one race remaining. The Taylors will be set to clinch the Prototype title at Motul Petit Le Mans by starting the race, on October 7.

The GT classes featured two other cool stories and maiden 2017 winners.

In GT Le Mans, John Edwards broke a long winless drought sharing his No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM with Martin Tomczyk, in the revised black livery for the BMW Team RLL car. Edwards held off Toni Vilander in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at the flag, on a fuel save run.

The No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR was third ahead of the No. 3 Corvette C7.R, with points leaders Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen set to carry a 19-point lead over Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in their No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT heading to Motul Petit Le Mans.

GT Daytona points leaders Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen, in their anticipated second-to-last race together in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 this year (Nielsen told RACER over the weekend she’ll leave the team at year’s end, following the end of her two-year contract), finally got on the board this year after a wealth of podiums but no wins.

Balzan moved into the lead following Colin Braun’s late splash for fuel, which denied the No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R lineup of Braun and Jon Bennett a potential first win in class.

Balzan and Nielsen have a 25-point lead over Jeroen Bleekemolen in GTD – Bleekemolen and Ben Keating finished eighth today in their No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3 – and are poised to wrap their second straight class title at Motul Petit Le Mans.

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