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.”

The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test


THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”

Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500