Jeff Gordon

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Jeff Gordon joins exclusive club with Rolex 24 victory

1 Comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Jeff Gordon’s latest racing accomplishment won’t take up much room in his expansive trophy case.

But it’s sure to get a prime spot.

The retired NASCAR star joined an exclusive club Sunday by becoming the fourth driver to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Daytona 500. Racing legends A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, as well as NASCAR regular Jamie McMurray are the only others to accomplish the feat.

“Not bad company,” said Gordon, who has three Daytona 500 victories (1997, ’99, 2005). “It was the thrill of a lifetime. I’m just so honored to be sitting here and to be part of this experience.”

Gordon was the fourth driver for Wayne Taylor Racing in the endurance race, and although he didn’t play a significant role in getting the No. 10 Cadillac to victory lane, he was a welcomed addition and quite possibly earned himself an open invitation to return again.

“I’m so happy that we could do this for Jeff,” team owner Wayne Taylor said. “And let me tell you something, he deserved winning this race. He might not have driven a lot, but when he did drive, do you know how easy it is to screw this race up? Do you know how difficult it is to stay on the same lap as the leaders, and he did that. I am really happy that I’ve been able to contribute something to his career.”

Gordon is a four-time NASCAR champion, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and a 93-time winner in NASCAR’s top series. Throw in exhibition, all-star and qualifying races, and Gordon is one of the most accomplished drivers on the planet.

Now, he has a Rolex chronograph to put alongside all those shiny trophies.

“Can you believe it? I got him for free,” Taylor said. “I made him pay for the paint on the car. Of course, he sold it to his sponsor.”

Indeed, Gordon drove for free and kept a promise he made to Taylor in 2007. Gordon raced in the Rolex with Taylor’s team a decade ago, and even though he was “pathetic” in the rain and during driver changes, the team finished third. Gordon felt like he was unable to fully commit, so he told Taylor he would return after he retires.

Gordon retired from full-time racing after the 2015 season and now is a TV commentator for Fox Sports. When Taylor asked Gordon about racing the Rolex last year, the NASCAR star jumped on the opportunity. He tested the car. He practiced driver changes. He got seat time in the rain. He did everything he could to be better this time around, and he was.

“Seeing the way Jeff’s worked with my kids and Max, it’s been something more special than anything I did in my racing career,” said Taylor, who won the Rolex in 2005. “To have a guy that’s as humble and nice as him on board with us. The sad part for me is what happens after this? Is he going to go away and never talk to me again? He’s like a girlfriend. What am I going to do now? It’s been a special weekend.”

Gordon was just one of several story lines to come out of the team’s latest victory.

Teammate Ricky Taylor made a bold move late to take the lead and essentially win the race after four consecutive oh-so-close finishes. Teammate Max Angelelli retired after the race, going out on top. And Wayne Taylor got to see his two sons win one of the biggest events of their careers.

“I’m kind of like Max, I think retire and go out on top is a pretty good thing,” Gordon said. “In all seriousness, I love driving this car and I love working with this group. They have an amazing team and they put a lot of hard work, sweat, blood, tears and preparation into getting here. I felt pretty early on there was something special about it, and it was great to see how it turned out, especially that great move that Ricky made at the end. Every time I get laps in the car, I get more comfortable. So I want to get more laps.”

How about at Le Mans, the most prestigious endurance race out there?

“I have a busy schedule, a lot going on with my Fox commitments and my commitments to Hendrick (Motorsports),” Gordon said. “I’m going to stay in close contact with Wayne and Ricky and Jordan and Max and see what potential opportunity may be out there. I’ve got a great relationship with Cadillac and GM, but I have no plans at this point.”

More AP auto racing: http://www.racing.ap.org

Jeff Gordon back at Daytona, has slight mishap early on in Rolex 24 stint

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

It’s been 10 years since Jeff Gordon’s last and only prior appearance in the Rolex 24 (2007), one of the biggest sports car races in the world.

But even with all the changes in sports car racing design and technology over the last decade, it’s clear that the retired four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion hasn’t lost much.

Gordon was the second driver for Wayne Taylor Racing to take the track Saturday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. Gordon replaced race starter Ricky Taylor at approximately 1 hour, 48 minutes into the 24-hour event. Taylor ran the first three scheduled stints behind the wheel until yielding to Gordon.

It was especially fortuitous that Gordon’s stint in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R began when it did – Taylor was leading the Prototype class at the time.

Gordon and Taylor made the quickest pit stop and driver exchange of the Prototype cars on that particular stop.

However, Gordon was only about 10 minutes into his run when he made contact with the No. 70 Mazda of Tom Long, which was attempting to transition back onto the racetrack after pitting. The contact forced Long into the grass, but he was able to recover once the field passed him. Gordon, meanwhile, had just minor cosmetic damage to the left front end of his Cadillac.

The incident caused Gordon to fall back slightly to third-place, where he ran just before the two-hour, 30-minute mark. Shortly after that, and with pit stops by several other teams, Gordon climbed back into first place. Gordon then came onto pit road for service about 2 hours, 36 minutes into the race and resumed his place in third position behind class leader Seb Morris and second-place Christian Fittipaldi.

Gordon drove two stints and exited the car at about 3 hours, 11 minutes, yielding to veteran Max Angelelli. The 50-year-old veteran Italian driver is making his final career appearance in the Rolex 24.

“These restarts are crazier than NASCAR restarts,” Gordon told Fox Sports about the incident with Long. “I wanted to be cautious because I was on cold tires. The tires were sliding around pretty good when I got into Turn 3. I feel sorry I got into him and spun him. … I hope they put me back in there again because I had so much fun.”

Gordon is expected to drive in at least one more stint before the endurance race completes at 2:30 pm ET on Sunday (he’ll most likely drive again Saturday evening). For the team to get full credit points-wise, Gordon has to drive a minimum of at least two hours within that 24-hour period.

In Gordon’s only other Rolex 24 appearance, he was part of the SunTrust Racing team in 2007, which started second and finished third.

Gordon, who filled in eight races for Dale Earnhardt Jr. last season, in what was originally supposed to be his first retirement year from NASCAR, has been looking forward to his return to Daytona in a sports car.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Jeff Gordon getting black and blue chasing shiny Rolex watch

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Jeff Gordon straightened his left arm to expose bruises around his elbow. They were the only ones he could show without taking off his clothes.

The four-time NASCAR champion has black-and-blue marks from the middle of his back to the back of his knees, remnants from hours of practicing driver changes before the Rolex 24 at Daytona this weekend. Gordon, who is driving in the prestigious endurance race for the first time in a decade, shared pictures of his injuries with his Wayne Taylor Racing teammates.

“They looked like war wounds,” teammate Jordan Taylor said Friday. “He looked like he got hit by a mortar.”

Taylor was obviously exaggerating, but Gordon made it clear the physical toll has been one of the toughest parts of getting back in a sports car for the first time since 2007.

“It looked like somebody had beaten me up pretty badly,” Gordon said.

It’s a small price to pay for what Gordon called a “dream scenario.” He retired from full-time racing after the 2015 season and took a less-rigorous job in the Fox Sports broadcast booth.

He didn’t rule out driving select events – he subbed for former NASCAR teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in eight races last year – and when Wayne Taylor called to gauge his interest in driving in the 24-hour race, Gordon jumped at the opportunity.

“It was a slam-dunk for me,” said Gordon, who helped Wayne Taylor Racing to a third-place finish in 2007. “What prevented me from doing it other years was the commitment. You really want to be in the car in December. You want to be in the car in January. You want to be in the car as much as you can, especially with this type of car being so much different than NASCAR, stock car.”

IMSA officials lauded Gordon’s decision. Although several IndyCar regulars are in the event, Gordon is the only NASCAR star in the 55-car field. Fellow NASCAR regulars Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip and AJ Allmendinger have driven the Rolex in recent years.

“Hard to put into words somebody with the motorsport accomplishments of Jeff Gordon to be a part of a race like the Rolex 24,” IMSA CEO Ed Bennett said. “He’s known worldwide. It’s a big shot in the arm, I think, for the attention of the sport and we’re just thrilled to have him. It’s the kind of thing you could never plan for. It’s just wonderful to see it come together the way it did. But he’s a superstar. We’re really proud he’s here.”

Gordon is expected to be the second driver behind the wheel of the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac when the green flag drops Saturday in the 55th running of the event . Ricky Taylor is scheduled to start the race, and Gordon is slated to replace him.

Gordon has gotten plenty of seat time over the last three months, first testing in Charlotte, North Carolina, in November and then at Daytona in December and again in early January. He also got hours of simulator time in Indianapolis. Driver changes were a significant part of the process, with the team knowing how much time can be lost and gained on pit road.

“I think the biggest challenge for me is the unknown,” Gordon said. “It’s an unfamiliar car, so you don’t have a lot of experience in it, and it’s capable of doing a lot, so you have to push yourself. If you push yourself in the car too hard at certain times, you get yourself in a lot of trouble and cost yourself the whole race. It’s about managing traffic and what the tires are capable of giving you at different times.

“It’s exciting. It’s fun. But mentally … when I go to lay my head down on the pillow at night, I’m running through all those things throughout the night.”

He probably should have another concern.

Jordan Taylor is well known as a jokester and has been plotting to prank his new teammate. He dressed up as a Jeff Gordon fan – he donned 1980s sunglasses, a fake mustache, a NASCAR hat and a colorful DuPont jacket – at a recent test session and tried to get Gordon to sign an autograph. Gordon figured it out quickly.

“I think I know a way I can get him,” said Taylor, whose team finished second or third in each of the last four Rolex races.

Taylor plans to sneak into Gordon’s motorhome and hide a Bluetooth-enabled speaker. And then late one night, he will start blaring Backstreet Boys tunes.

Taylor can only hope the antics don’t cause Gordon to do any more damage to his backside.

“I’m playing pranks on one of my childhood heroes now,” Taylor said. “That’s pretty cool.”

More AP auto racing: http://www.racing.ap.org

Jeff Gordon embracing Rolex 24 return with Taylors, Cadillac

Photo: Wayne Taylor Racing/Cadillac
1 Comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ten years ago, one of Wayne Taylor Racing’s many near-misses at the Rolex 24 at Daytona since the team’s 2005 overall race win featured Taylor, Max Angelelli, Jan Magnussen and a rather well-known Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (then called NASCAR Nextel Cup Series) driver named Jeff Gordon.

That quartet finished third and as the senior Taylor recalled Friday, Gordon told him that once his full-time career in the Cup Series came to an end, he’d want to come back for another shot at the Rolex 24.

That time comes now, in the team’s No. 10 Konica Minolta-backed Cadillac DPi-V.R with Taylor’s two sons Jordan and Ricky, and the venerable veteran in “Max the Ax.”

“At the end of the 2007 race he said, ‘I’d have another championship in me, and I want to do this race again after I’m done with NASCAR.’ So I called him and it didn’t take long to say yes,” Wayne Taylor said Friday.

“He’s having the time of his life. It’s fun for my sons to drive with him and look forward to what he’s achieved over the years. And Max is very much part of the whole program. He’s been integrated in the build of the car between GM, Cadillac and Dallara.”

For Gordon, who’s the lone NASCAR driver entered in this year’s Rolex 24 with the departures of usual participants Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger owing to team changes, the opportunity to not just participate but hopefully flourish at the Rolex 24 comes with a wealth of preparation.

This has been in the works for several months prior to being announced in December, with Gordon making his first official laps at the December Daytona test.

“Like Wayne said, I’m having a blast. It’s been a dream of mine to not just drive a car like this and compete,” Gordon said. “It’s a lot of fun for me. I’m treating this as I’m a rookie… I’m tapping into this team and teammates.

“Getting behind the wheel of a car that brakes like that is eye-opening. It’s so much fun. Nothing would make me more proud and honored than to give Wayne that win. They put their heart and soul into it.”

Gordon isn’t thinking about overall records when it comes to this race. Yes, a win would ensure he’d have won a Rolex 24 to go along with his four Cup Series championships, three Daytona 500 wins and five Brickyard 400 wins.

Instead, he’s focused on balancing fun with competitiveness.

“I’ll be honest… that would be special, but that would be icing on the cake. I haven’t thought about it,” Gordon said.

“These kids force me to have fun. This kid (Jordan, seated to Gordon’s right), I have to watch for. I was happy to get one over on him yesterday for a change. I’m a serious competitor. They are too but they like to have fun. But I’ll only have fun if we’re on the podium in the number one position.”

The friendly poking between the younger Taylor brother and Gordon started at the December test, when Jordan Taylor posted a video filmed by older brother Ricky Taylor of Jordan being overlooked, which went viral. Gordon then acquired Jordan’s phone at a later point.

On Thursday, Jordan scored another banter point when he dressed up as social media alter ego “Rodney Standstorm” as a Gordon “superfan” complete with Gordon’s early 1990s mustache, DuPont race jacket and jorts.

Gordon wasn’t fooled.

“When he got swarmed by the media, it just happened,” Jordan Taylor said.

“Yesterday’s one with the leather jacket, as soon I found out, I wanted to come up as a superfan. He’d seen that exact format. I figure he’d seen it a million times. But he saw it coming, and kinda ruined my day.”

Gordon, at the moment, is only focusing on this 24-hour race. Despite his 20-plus year association with General Motors, he said he’s just determined to make the most of the Rolex 24 before even thinking about running at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Yes I talk about passion and dreams, but the difference is I’m really realistic,” Gordon explained.

“Wayne and I have talked about that. I’ve talked with GM about it.

“Le Mans is a much different animal. Yeah there’s driver simulators and the like.

“I want to see how this goes, and be very realistic about anything I get behind the wheel. If I could be well prepared, maybe. But I’m just focused on this race right now.”

Gordon actually thanked his handful of Cup Series starts as an injury fill-in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to help prepare for the Rolex 24.

“Yeah, because what I learned getting back in the car was being around the intensity of pushing yourself, restarts, being around other cars and intense competition,” Gordon said.

“The first race I did at Indianapolis, I said I’m so glad I’m doing this because this will help me for the 24-hour race. If I did this without racing for a year, it’d be too much newness. That helped me learn. From the first test to Charlotte, the test here in December, now this test, not just feel the car out but learn the buttons on the steering wheel, and learn the track.

“There’s so much to take in. The amount of laps really helps me.”

Jeff Gordon joins Wayne Taylor Racing for Rolex 24 at Daytona

© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wayne Taylor Racing has announced that four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon will join its line-up for the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, racing in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Gordon retired from full-time competition at the end of 2015 season before making a series of stand-in appearances through 2016 for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The American will now return to Daytona for the Rolex 24 in January, racing alongside Max Angelelli and brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor.

Here is the release in full.

Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who was part of the driver lineup when Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) competed in its very first race in 2007, returns to join full-time co-drivers of the all-new No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R Ricky and Jordan Taylor and veteran Italian Max “The Ax” Angelelli for next month’s 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship 2017 season opener.

Gordon, who has 805 career Sprint Cup starts with 93 victories and championships in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001, retired from full-time competition in 2015. He co-drove to a solid podium finish in his only career sportscar event – the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona – alongside Angelelli, Jan Magnussen and team owner and three-time sportscar racing champion Wayne Taylor in the No. 10 WTR prototype.

“I really enjoyed racing in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2007 with Max, Wayne and Jan,” said Gordon, now an analyst during NASCAR on FOX broadcasts. “When I announced I would no longer be competing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, my hope was that I would get an opportunity like this to compete again in such a prestigious event – with Konica Minolta and Wayne Taylor Racing – with the hopes of winning it this time. I know that Ricky and Jordan are super-fast, and I believe it will be a very strong combination.”

The No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R team has been a fixture on the Rolex 24 podium in recent years, finishing second in 2013, 2014 and this season and crossing the finish line third in 2015 before being penalized for a drive-time violation one week later. This year’s runner-up finish included Formula 1 veteran Rubens Barrichello in the driver lineup and the 2013 runner-up effort included then-reigning IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. Team owner Wayne Taylor, who co-drove in his final career Rolex 24 during the team’s runner-up finish in 2014, won the prestigious event alongside Angelelli and Frenchman Emmanuel Collard in 2005 en route to that season’s GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series championship.

“We are excited to have Jeff back in the lineup with us for the 2017 Rolex 24,” Taylor said. “He was with us when we started this race team back in 2007 and he helped us finish on the podium. We have kept in close touch ever since and have always been looking for another opportunity to have him join our driver lineup. That opportunity is finally here after his retirement from full-time competition in NASCAR and we are very much looking forward to working with him again.”

Ricky and Jordan Taylor, who each have 14 major North American sportscar victories, co-drove to three wins this season – at Long Beach, California, Detroit, and Austin, Texas. They finished third in the WeatherTech Championship standings with the final two events at Circuit of the Americas. In addition to their runner-up finish at the season-opening Rolex 24 this year, they added podium finishes at Bowmanville, Ontario and Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and Road Atlanta.

“Having Jeff Gordon join the team is really a dream come true for all of us,” said Ricky Taylor, who co-drove the No. 10 prototype full-time with Angelelli from 2010 through 2012 before joining his brother the past three seasons. “It is a huge compliment to how well-respected the team has become over the years for someone with the history and career of Jeff Gordon to want to be a part of it. For me, it will be surreal to drive alongside a legend and I can’t wait to hear all of the stories he has to share from his years of racing. I’m sure he will be a great addition to the lineup and hopefully we can all get our first Rolex 24 win together.”

“It’s really exciting to have Jeff Gordon coming on board with us for Daytona next year,” said Jordan Taylor, who co-drove the No. 10 prototype to the 2013 Rolex Series driver championship with Angelelli in 2013. “It used to be common to have NASCAR guys joining teams for the Rolex but, over recent years, it’s become less and less frequent. Jeff Gordon is a name that everyone knows worldwide. He is one of the biggest names in motorsports. He drove with my dad and Max at the Rolex back in 2007, so it’ll be cool to have a 10-year reunion with him and the team. Sportscar racing offers a unique perspective for drivers, where we have to share the same car. I can’t wait to compare notes and feedback with such a legend of our sport. It’s going to be an experience of a lifetime.”

Angelelli, one of the winningest drivers in sportscar racing history with 27 career victories and 72 podiums, was particularly ecstatic to co-drive once again with Gordon.

“I think it is exceptional to have Jeff back with us after 10 years,” said Angelelli, who in 2014 stepped out of his full-time driving role with WTR, the organization in which he has been a partner with Wayne Taylor since 2007. “In a way, I’m such a fan of his, but I look forward to sharing our new Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R racecar with him, discussing our setup and race strategy. It was great the first time – we might have won that race if some things would have gone our way. Now that it’s happening again, with the new car, it’s going to be absolutely great.”

The 55th Rolex 24 is set for Jan. 28 to 29, 2017, with the annual three days of Roar Before the 24 testing set for three weeks prior.