Wayne Taylor Racing will start Rolex 24 on pole after surviving late bump in qualifier


DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Overcoming adversity with the resilience that’s become a trademark during its championship run, Wayne Taylor Racing won Sunday’s qualifying race to earn the pole position of the 60th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The No. 10 Acura is aiming to win a record fourth consecutive Rolex 24, and the team showed its championship mettle over a 24-hour roller coaster at Daytona International Speedway.

“It was a lot of work,” said Ricky Taylor, who took the checkered flag after hanging onto the lead despite a bump in the left rear from Richard Westbrook’s No. 5 Cadillac entering Turn 1 on the last lap. “The last stint, (Westbrook) felt quite a bit stronger than us. He was really putting on a lot of pressure.

RESULTS: How they finished in the Rolex 24 qualifier l Results by class l Lap leader sequence

“Really fun racing, though. If that’s a glimpse of what the Rolex 24 is like, I don’t think people are going to sleep much — fans, drivers and teams.”

After teammate Filipe Albuquerque qualified second Saturday for the 100-minute race that set the field for the endurance race class, the team’s time was disallowed by IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship officials because of an improper rear wing assembly angle.

Though Taylor paced Saturday night’s practice on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course, he also damaged his ARX-05 in a collision with a GT car.

But WTR’s fortunes quickly turned positive Sunday just as they always seem to do when the green flag waves at Daytona. After starting seventh at the rear of the DPi field, Albuquerque diced through traffic and needed only 19 laps to take the lead before handing off the car to Taylor on the next pit stop.

Despite a mistake in traffic that briefly cost him the lead to Westbrook’s pole-sitting Cadillac, Taylor retook first through pit strategy and led the final 22 laps of an “exhausting” sprint race.

“Obviously it’s been very bumpy the last 24 hours, but I think the team doesn’t miss a beat,” Taylor said. “They always are prepared for anything. They’re such a great group of guys.

“That’s what is great that separates the great teams from the not-so-great is when you do have a bump or mistake, everyone is trying their best. We don’t blame anybody for being on the edge, and they do the same with us. When you have that trust back and forth, we can just doing all our jobs to our best, and pick up where we left off. It just goes to show the strength of the team from top to bottom.”

Though he celebrated with typical exuberance, team owner Wayne Taylor told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee that the win “doesn’t really mean much,” especially given the strength of the competition.

“Right at the end, the competition was really heavy,” said Taylor, whose team won its third consecutive Rolex 24 last year despite a mad scramble after an offseason switch to Acura. “The Cadillacs were super, super fast, but we were able to keep them off.

“We like to win in Daytona, but we have to work hard for next week because those cars have something, I’m not sure where they’ve got it from, but we’ll have to see.”

Though the Acuras of WTR and Meyer Shank Racing led every practice session of the Roar before the Rolex 24 weekend and won the qualifier, the other five Cadillacs in DPi showed considerable speed.

Albuquerque joked that his car could stand to lose about 10 kilograms and suggested IMSA might consider rules tweaks to bring the manufacturers in line.

“I think IMSA will have the read now,” Albuquerque said. “That’s what this race is for to analyze data and go on, but to be fair, I think it was a nice race. They looked strong in the end. We need to analyze that to be better, and for sure for them as well. So we need to wait to see what IMSA’s call is about Balance of Performance and so on, but so far, we are happy with this first win, but for sure going to be always tight.”

Said Ricky Taylor of the Cadillacs: “I think in different circumstances, they seem strong. Definitely last night, we were really strong. There were times over the weekend when we seemed to have great pace. Filipe was really fast in qualifying, but at the end of the race, they did seem like they had a lot of pace. So whether it was us backing up to them or them picking up the pace at the end, we don’t know.”

Despite spinning from his contact with Taylor, Westbrook finished second a little less than 2 seconds ahead of Kamui Kobayashi, who co-drove the No. 48 Ally Cadillac with Jimmie Johnson.

There were no hard feelings between Westbrook and Taylor, a former teammate.

“I’m on a steep learning curve,” Westbrook said. “I’ve come from GTs for the last four years, though I’ve done DPs before, and I’m on a fast track to where I need to be. Today was all about learning what I can get away with and what I can’t in traffic. I don’t think it could have gone better. Battling with Ricky, my former teammate, I enjoyed every minute. We had good pace and the setup of the car was really good. There’s more to come.”

Though Sunday’s race ran without a caution flag, there were plenty of close calls and contact among the 61 cars, the most entries for a Rolex 24 since 2014.

With 35 GT cars now running with the same specifications (since the offseason removal of the GTLM class), Albuquerque and Taylor both said Sunday’s laps were important for gauging how to navigate traffic.

“It’s really busy,” Taylor said. “I made a mistake on judgment last night and today. There’s definitely a new dynamic. And it just takes a little bit of a learning curve to get the rhythm. Watching back this race before we go start the 24 Hour will be good to study a bit and see the flow a little more.”

Albuquerque said he went to IMSA race director Beaux Barfield before Sunday’s race to lobby for emphasizing traffic management in prerace driver briefings, especially where slower cars should be positioned while being overtaken.

“I don’t know if my heart will survive,” Albuquerque told Lee about the Rolex 24. “If this is 100 minutes, 24 hours like this, it’s going to be crazy. It’s a good start. It shows that it doesn’t matter where you start. It’s going to be a hell of a race.”

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The red flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500