Wayne Taylor Racing won two of the first three races on the 2021 Weathertech SportsCar Championship schedule, including the iconic 24 Hours of Daytona, and finished fourth in the other, but heading into the Detroit GP at The Raceway at Belle Isle, they are not resting on their laurels.
Co-drivers Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque hold a 55-point advantage over Mazda Motorsports’ Harry Tincknell and Oliver Jarvis, who have swept the podium in three races this year.
Even though one of the team’s victories came in the first sprint race of the season, at Mid-Ohio, Taylor knows anything can happen on a bumpy track that has not seen action in two years.
“Yeah, so we’ve won two races this year and it sounded good when you said we won two out of three, but, and like, if you look at the stats that sounds really strong, but both of the wins were really tight and really difficult,” Taylor told the media earlier this week ahead of the Detroit Grand Prix. “And a tiny little thing with either race could have gone a different way.
“We would have really enjoyed a little bit more of a cushion in both of those.”
Last year’s Detroit Grand Prix fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic that altered schedules for every major motorsports series. Winters in Detroit are harsh and even roads that don’t get massive traffic on a daily basis, like those of the Bell Isle Park, degrade under the pressure of freezing swells. That has always made this one of the more difficult tracks to navigate. And skipping a year means losing momentum.
“We haven’t been there in two years and every time you go back to a street car, it’s like, first thing you notice is man, it’s narrower than I remember,” Taylor said. “I don’t know how we’re going to go fast around this place.
“And then the second thing is even on the simulator I was driving like, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is way bumpier than I remember.’ ”
Those comments come from one of the more successful drivers and teams at Belle Isle in recent years.
Taylor finished third there in a Team Penske car in 2019 with co-driver Helio Castroneves. They finished second in 2018.
In 2017 Ricky raced alongside his brother Jordan Taylor in their father’s car. They won after starting deep in the field in 12th.
“We come into it with, with it sounds big points lead, but 55 points with the new structure is really slim, especially this early in the championship,” Taylor said. “We just had our pre-event call and kind of the theme of it was we have momentum, but we’re not going to change anything we’re doing.
“I think the reason why we’ve had a little bit of success this year has been that we’re constantly trying to chase more and more. And we really don’t want to lift up the pressure at all, and we don’t want to settle for setups that may have worked in the past or not. We’re going to keep trying to improve.
“And Filipe and I are jelling. We had good success in our first sprint race together. So now we get to go to our street course for the first time in two years, which I’m excited about. So, I can’t wait to get to Belle Isle.”
Albuquerque is hoping his stint in the Wayne Taylor Acura will turn his recent Belle Isle fortunes around. He finished sixth in 2018 and 2019 in the Mustang Sampling Cadillac with Joao Barbosa as a co-driver.
The car, respect for his co-driver, the pace of the race and chemistry with the team all need to come together to win in Detroit.
“Going to a short race, it just means even more so that you need to be starting defending your P1 position earlier,” Albuquerque said. “But that goes without saying. It’s just the intensity of the race will be just higher and obviously kissing the walls, but without damaging the car. Thanks God, that is shorter than 24 hours, otherwise I’d want to kill myself in that.”
At only 100 minutes in time, the length of driver stints is not entirely in the team’s control. Any plan put into place can quickly unravel.
Prussian field marshal Helmuth von Moltke famously said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy” and that is true of the battle conditions of a race. An ill-timed caution can throw strategy into disarray.
“It can be very, very demanding on the second driver because as you will see, there is not much of a minimum driving time in there,” Albuquerque said. “So it can happen that there is a yellow flag in the first 15, 20 minutes. That means that it’s a clear run that it’s open for driver change.
“So it means that the first driver that’s qualifying and does 15 minutes and barely sweats. And the other guy has to do all the rest, which is like two long stints in a very demanding situation. So it’s going to be hard and for who is inside and outside. For example, for me in Mid-Ohio I was panicking there just looking at the numbers and telling Ricky to go faster, but completely trusting my teammate.”
And even though it puts a premium on strategy, 100 minutes of racing is more than enough.
“(Detroit is) the proper man’s track, very demanding on a driver,” Albuquerque said. “I remember the first 10, 15 laps that I did there. I just couldn’t do anymore laps because I was just exhausted off the momentum that the track has because I was just not breathing. It was amazing. I loved it.”