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.”

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.