DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The epiphany came with forceful and searing clairty when Wayne Taylor decided on adding Michael Andretti as a partner in his championship-caliber sports car team.
During an offseason test of the new hybrid prototype that will make its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, there were 91 people (among his team, Honda Performance Development and support staff) attending to the No. 10 Acura ARX-06.
As Taylor wandered the pit lane at Daytona International Speedway, he saw similar armies furiously tuning on high-tech, big-budget cars representing rival brands (Porsche, BMW and Cadillac) and formidable teams (Ganassi, Penske, Rahal).
Taylor called Andretti after the test and had the framework of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport done within a week.
“Michael had approached me early in (2022) about getting together, and I didn’t think the timing was right at that point, and we continued to talk through the course of the year,” Taylor told NBC Sports. “And once we started getting the cars and the components and saw what everybody else was doing, it became clear to me that we had to step up to the next level to have a partnership with someone who could bring a lot to the table.
“I thought this was a great partnership that could work. Michael has been so good at this thing so far. And his two directors, Rob Edwards and J.F. Thormann, it’s as if we’ve been together for more than a year already, and we have access to all the tools and technology they have. They don’t only do IndyCar, they do Formula E and many, many different things around the world. And so being part of it brings a lot of value to us at Wayne Taylor Racing, HPD, ORECA and everyone associated.”
For Andretti, who has been open about his ambition to field cars in virtually every major racing series in the world, the new deal filled a gap
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“There’s no secret that was one thing missing from our racing portfolio was racing in IMSA,” he said. “It was the perfect time to get involved. The question is how you get involved. We just were being very patient looking for the right opportunity. I got the call from Wayne, (and) you can’t get into the sport any better than a team like Wayne Taylor Racing, so it’s one of those marriages made in heaven. It’s been a lot of fun. We’re really excited about this program and the future of it and growing it.”
Announced Dec. 28, the rebranded team officially made its debut last weekend with Michael Andretti attending Rolex 24 qualifying and returning for the race. But its actual impact will be very gradual.
Taylor’s operation will remain at its Brownsburg, Indiana, shop for at least the next two years before moving into Andretti Global’s new 525,000-square-foot headquarters that is scheduled to open in 2025.
Taylor said Andretti mostly will provide equipment and technical support in the meantime without affecting the day-to-day operations of WTR.
“The great thing is they’ve said consistently they want us to carry on running it the way we have,” Taylor said. “Whatever help we need, we ask for and get. They don’t want to come try to reinvent the wheel. So they’re coming down for the Roar and the race, but they’re going to leave us to do our job.
“We’re going to run out of our premises for ’23 and ’24, and then when their new facility comes in 2025, we’ll move into that shop and obviously will be a lot closer then. But we are already working together with them with machining and people. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes.”
WTR might need help in the GTP era, but its past success in IMSA is unquestioned. The team has won the Rolex 24 four times in the past six years and finished second in the DPi category the past three seasons after winning the inaugural title in 2017. It’s also won the prestigious endurance races at Sebring Raceway and Michelin Road Atlanta.
But No. 10 WTR driver Ricky Taylor (whom RACER reported will get an IndyCar test soon with Andretti) could see his father’s organization would benefit from a broader knowledge base and technical wherewithal.
“As we went in the new GTP era, the level of competition had just gone up like crazy from Porsche Penske to BMW to Cadillac,” Ricky Taylor told NBC Sports. “Everybody’s raised their game. So as Acura and HPD and WTR has always been one to pivot very well and adapt to change and pivot around new rulesets, new strategies, new tires, new cars. And to supplement what Wayne Taylor Racing does very well, partnering with Andretti Autosport, such a well-storied and experienced organization, is very exciting from a driver’s perspective.
“We’re going to be surrounded by the best. Wayne Taylor Racing brings a lot in terms of its sports car racing pedigree, but from a lot of other angles, Andretti Autosport brings a whole new level as well. It all seemed to happen very quickly, but it’s very exciting at the same time to have that sort of security and resources in such a big organization. The blend of the team has been really smooth so far.”
Wayne Taylor indicated before Rolex 24 qualifying Sunday that aligning with Andretti increases the likelihood that he will field a second Acura in GTP next year.
“Obviously, Michael’s group and us will discuss all of those things,” he said. “Clearly, our motivation is to be a two-car program next year. There’s no doubt about that.”
But if such a move happens, it won’t have been a Honda-influenced decision (as has been the case with many rivals whose agendas are being driven by manufacturers).
“HPD really had nothing to do with it,” Andretti said about partnering with Taylor. “We did the deal and then we told HPD afterward. We’ve been looking at sports cars the last three years (asking) how do you get in, and this opportunity came up. It was just a no-brainer. To come with a team that has won so many times, what a great way to get right into it. Our plan is to let them do their job and just be here to support.”