IMSA Wire: Pressure Still on Taylor Brothers Heading to Circuit of The Americas

Pressure Still on Taylor Brothers Heading to Circuit of The Americas

May 1, 2017

Staff Report

IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – You have to go back to 2011 to find a team and driver pairing at the Prototype level of U.S. sports car racing that had as hot a start to the season as Jordan and Ricky Taylor have in their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

That year, sports car racing legend Scott Pruett and co-driver Memo Rojas opened the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season with three consecutive victories in their BMW-powered Daytona Prototype, eventually going on to win the season championship. This year, the Taylor brothers opened the year with back-to-back victories in two of the most prestigious races on the schedule – January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March – and followed it up with a third-straight win in last month’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix.

They’ve earned a total of 105 points from those three races and have a 16-point lead over their next closest competitors, two-time WeatherTech Championship Prototype champions Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. Despite the strong start, Ricky Taylor is quick to point out that the pressure is still on heading into Saturday’s two-hour, 40-minute Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown on the 3.4-mile Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.

“It’s a 16-point lead right now, but we still want to keep winning races,” said the 27-year-old elder Taylor brother. “We always keep saying, ‘OK, we need one more win and then we’ll be comfortable.’ We said that before Long Beach, and now, we’re saying that again.

“I feel like it’s always going to be like that, because anything can really happen,” he continued. Car counts are a bit higher than they’ve been last year, and there’s just more good cars, so it’s easier to lose points than it has been in years past. If this was 2-3 years ago, I’d say we’d be in cruise mode, but I think we still have to keep the pressure on and I think we still need a couple more really good results and still can’t afford to have a bad one. It’s a position we haven’t been in before, but it’s definitely a little pressure to maintain.”

Saturday’s race will be televised on FS1 in the U.S. on a same-day delay beginning at 7 p.m. ET. Live IMSA Radio commentary and in-car cameras will be available on at 2:25 p.m. ET.

Pressure or not, the No. 10 team is definitely on a roll. That’s a lot of momentum, and if that wasn’t enough, they also won in their last visit to COTA last fall.

“We won last year and finished second the year before, so it’s a track our team has always had some success at, and our cars have always run well there,” said 25-year-old Jordan Taylor. “It’ll be a little bit different this year with the Cadillac. We don’t have any experience on that track yet with this car, so there will be a lot to learn.”

However, as Jordan also points out, “I think of all the teams heading there, we can head there with the most confidence.”

They have confidence, but they also know it won’t be easy. None of their wins this year have been “easy.”

“Each race that we’ve won has been a battle,” Jordan said. “Each race, we’ve gone into the last hour in second place and we’ve had to battle for it.”

But those battles also have made the wins that much more gratifying.

“If we were killing everybody, it would be a lot less satisfying,” said Ricky. “We really have to work for it. There’s a lot of really strong teams and manufacturers involved in the series now. To be winning races at this level makes it really rewarding.”

And just for the record, in the fourth race of that 2011 GRAND-AM season, Pruett and Rojas ended up second. Sounds like the Taylor brothers wouldn’t be surprised by a similar outcome this weekend.

Performance Tech Riding Young Talents to Perfect Start in Prototype Challenge Class

Performance Tech Motorsports team principal Brent O’Neill entered the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season with a renewed optimism. After three years of being tantalizingly close to a win in WeatherTech Championship competition, recording four runner-up finishes and 13 podiums in the Prototype Challenge (PC) class in that span, O’Neill spent the second half of 2016 putting pieces in place to not only contend for wins, but the PC-class championship as well.

Two races and two wins later, O’Neill is in position to do just that.

Drivers Pato O’Ward and James French enter this weekend’s race at Circuit of The Americas seeking to continue a perfect start to the 2017 season, having won the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida in dominating fashion.

“Part of it is putting the right drivers and crew together,” said O’Neill. “From the middle of last year on we were working on that. My goal was to start 2017 on a new platform and we were able to pull it off. Now that we’ve had some success, we just want to keep that rolling.”

“Some success” is an understatement. With full-season drivers O’Ward and French joined by co-drivers Kyle Masson and Nicholas Boulle at Daytona, and Masson again at Sebring, the team’s No. 38 Ric-Man Construction/Neurospine Institute/Cardio Access/AIG Technologies/Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children ORECA FLM09 won the opening two races by a combined 24 laps.

O’Neill credits his talented crop of young drivers as one of the reasons for the early-season turnaround. The average age of the lineup that won the Rolex 24 was 22 years old, and two of the four drivers had never participated in a live pit stop prior to the race.

That was one of many challenges that the team had to overcome to win the Rolex 24. A crash in the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test session earlier that month put the team behind even before the first official practice of the Rolex 24 weekend.

Following the test, O’Neill and the team took the car down to the bare tub back and rebuilt the entire car to get ready for the Rolex 24. Once the race weekend began though the quartet of young drivers and the team’s pit crew ran mistake-free, winning the race by 22 laps.

The encore came at Sebring when an even younger lineup with an average of 20 years old battled over the notoriously treacherous Sebring International Raceway to win the race by two laps.

“The biggest thing about this group of kids that we have right now is they really listen and pay attention,” he added. “They understand the entire package. It’s more than just being fast on the race track, they also have to be good with the engineers, they have to be good with the sponsors.”

With the PC class not competing in the most recent WeatherTech Championship race at Long Beach, the 17-year-old O’Ward and 24-year-old French now set their sights on making it a threepeat to start the season at Circuit of The Americas.

While French finished third in Austin with Performance Tech each of the past two season, O’Ward will make his first start at the track on Saturday, May 6.

That date also signifies another milestone for O’Ward. His 18th birthday.

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