It was evident last year was going to be a special season for Wayne Taylor Racing when the organization rolled into Daytona International Speedway. The team had coaxed Jeff Gordon into joining its lineup for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, where they debuted the new Cadillac program.
Gordon was the headliner, but Ricky and Jordan Taylor were the stars and teamed together to give their father’s team the overall victory in one of the most prestigious sports car races of the year. The brothers went on to win the first five races of the IMSA schedule and the series championship.
Then Ricky Taylor promptly left. He was offered a job to drive for Roger Penske in a new Acura program that would directly compete against his father and brother. His family knew he had to take the ride.
“If there was any time to leave Dad’s program, it was after the season we had,” Ricky Taylor said. “We did it, we won the championship, we won Daytona, so that made the transition a lot easier. To get an opportunity to go to Acura with Team Penske, I don’t think anyone could turn it down. It was probably the only opportunity that could take me away from that program.”
Wayne Taylor understood – seeing a son drive for Penske is what every racing parent hopes for – and so did his little brother. The two have not always raced together, and Ricky was not on the team when Jordan Taylor helped the organization win the 2013 series championship.
The brothers will now be rivals beginning Saturday at the Rolex 24.
Jordan Taylor will try to defend the overall title in his Cadillac with new teammate Renger van der Zande and IndyCar star Ryan Hunter-Reay, the endurance race replacement for Gordon. Ricky Taylor is part of an eagerly anticipated Penske and Acura effort that has him partnered with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal, the IndyCar driver added for endurance races.
Neither brother may win the overall title in this year’s twice-round-the-clock race, but it’s impossible for both Taylors to stand atop the podium together for a second straight year.
It’s a strange feeling for Jordan Taylor, who is adjusting to the new look of his father’s team. It was started by Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli, then was Ricky and Jordan’s way into the top level of sports car racing.
“Obviously it’s been a family team oriented team from the beginning,” Jordan Taylor said. “I joined the team in 2013 when it was just Max and I … Max had been with the team until last year, and then it was just Ricky and I. Max was like a father figure, and Ricky was obviously family, so I’ve always had some sort of close person. This is the first time being in what I’d say is a normal environment of teammates.”
It’s not yet normal for their parents.
At preseason testing earlier this month, mom Shelley was torn on whether to watch from the Penske or the Taylor pit stands. When she did venture into Penske territory, she felt out of place. Wayne Taylor had his own emotions.
“As a father and the team owner, it’s sad to not have both Ricky and Jordan in the car again together,” Wayne Taylor said. “But we replaced Ricky with a really good guy in Renger.”
Jordan Taylor said van der Zande shares a similar attacking style to his brother, which is an essential skill to replace for the team. The Taylors started five races from the pole, and Ricky used last season to step into his own and show he can seize opportunities – he won five poles – and close victories.
But he’s now learning an entirely new culture at Penske, one that is less family oriented and far more corporate. He’s also figuring out how to gel with Castroneves, who Penske moved to sports cars this season.
Ricky Taylor said he’s up for the challenge.
“To be part of such a winning team, where the expectations are so high, I’m learning so much from everybody here,” he said. “The team has so many tools to help you do the job. It’s not magic, there’s a reason they are so good, and it’s interesting to see it from the inside.”
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