The Racing Capital
of the World
June 27, 2013 | By Bruce Martin
After taking a week off, the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series returns to action this weekend at one of the most iconic road racing facilities in North America – Watkins Glen International. Since it opened more than 50 years ago, Watkins Glen has been considered “America’s Soul of Road Racing.”
In one month, GRAND-AM will arrive at the most historic track in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard. GRAND-AM races on Friday, July 26 at IMS include the Brickyard Grand Prix for the Rolex Sports Car Series and the Brickyard Sports Car Challenge for the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.
Some of the drivers who will compete both this weekend in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course also raced around the clock last weekend in France in the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the world’s most famous endurance race.
One of those drivers was Jordan Taylor, the 22-year-old driver from Plainfield, Ind., who was one of several GRAND-AM stars that competed at Le Mans. He drove for the factory Corvette Racing team and finished fourth at Le Mans in the GTE-Pro Class. It was the second time Taylor competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“We weren’t the fastest cars out there, which made things a little frustrating, but it was a little surprising but very satisfying to come home with a fourth-place finish,” Taylor said. “All the rain spread things out even more, and a lot of cautions made it very tough to make up ground. It was frustrating, but we just kept going with the goal of not make any mistakes.
“I got to drive across the finish line and take the checkered flag, which was very, very special. I got in the car, in the pouring rain, then we had a caution for rain. We were seventh, but fourth was on the same lap, so we set a goal of finishing fourth. I stayed out on rain tires when it dried out and, somehow, we came out in fourth. I’m proud to say I made no mistakes. I did get hit by one car earlier in the race, but it didn’t turn out to be a problem. It was way better going back the second year knowing what to expect and everything.
“It was definitely the hardest race I’ve ever done with the conditions. Ollie Gavin (fellow Corvette Racing driver) said if we can get through this race, we can get through any race. Coming from him, that means a lot. He’s done a lot of Le Mans 24-hour races. I’m happy and very proud that we didn’t make any mistakes or do anything stupid.”
Taylor needs his youthful energy to rebound for another long endurance race as he joins his co-driver Max Angelelli in the cockpit of the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette Dallara Daytona Prototype fielded by Wayne Taylor Racing for a six-hour contest at The Glen.
“I think the team’s always had a strong car at Watkins Glen,” Taylor said. “They’ve won the short-course race a few times and the six-hour race for the first time two years ago. The guys know how to set up the car there, for sure. With it being six hours, we have that many more pit stops to do what we do best. Everybody knows we excel in the pits. Watkins Glen is definitely in the top three on my list of favorite tracks. It’s an old-school track in that it has great flow, high speed and a little bit of a danger factor with the classic blue barriers. There’s a lot of history there and around town, so it’s got a special place in racing history here in the U.S. I won the GT pole there the last two years and qualified second in 2010, so qualifying always gone well there. I finished second there in 2011, so I’ve had a couple of good six-hour races, already. I just haven’t been able to win one. Hopefully, we’ll be able to deliver that this weekend.”
Taylor teamed with international sports car driver Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 73 Compuware Corvette at Le Mans. That car started seventh and finished fourth in a race where the trio of drivers had to pick up three positions in the final six hours. Another Compuware Corvette finished seventh in the 24-hour race with Oliver Gavin, Richard Westbrook and Magnussen taking turns behind the wheel.
It was a big day for an American automaker to not only compete at Le Mans but also score two top-10 finishes.
“Chevrolet was truly honored to compete in the 90th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. vice president, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “While it certainly was a challenging 24-hour event, I am proud that the entire Corvette Racing team exhibited a ‘never give up’ approach all race long. We look forward to returning next year for the 15th time at Le Mans and our first with the next-generation Corvette race car.”
For any racing driver that competes in a 24 hour race, whether it’s at Le Mans or Daytona, they are pushed to the limits both physically and mentally. With little rest, they must continue to perform at a high level and inevitably it often comes down to the late stages of the contest that proves to be a determining factor.
Said Taylor: “It was a stressful last hour of the race. I went in when it was pouring, but luckily the Safety Car came out because the spray was just horrible going down the Mulsanne and into Indianapolis (Corner). You could barely see the car in front of you, even behind the pace car. We sat like that for a while, and then it went green with some 30 minutes to go, when it was fully dry again, but on wet tires. I think everybody was kind of managing that a bit, and we were just able to maintain our gap (to the Ferrari behind). I don’t quite know what happened to the rest of the guys, but somehow we came out fourth having started seventh. I think that was the best we could have done.”
Jordan Taylor’s 23-year-old brother, Ricky, also competed at Le Mans for the first time last weekend with the privateer Larbre Competition Corvette team in the GTE Am class. Ricky Taylor moved from his father’s team to the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette this season in GRAND-AM and will pair with Richard Westbrook this weekend at the Glen.
Watkins Glen is a track where Angelelli and Ricky Taylor thoroughly dominated in 2011 with a pair of wins from the pole and a whopping 205 of 274 possible laps led (75 percent) in that year’s Sahlen’s Six Hours and August sprint races. A year ago this weekend, broken suspension issues led to WTR’s fourth consecutive DNF (did not finish) of the season and ended the team’s streak of consecutive podium finishes at the Sahlen’s Six Hours at six. Angelelli and Ricky Taylor finished just off the podium again in last year’s August sprint race.
Angelelli and Jordan Taylor already have won twice this season – at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., and the Streets of Belle Isle temporary circuit in downtown Detroit – and they lead an extremely tight points battle. The No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP duo of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty stand second, just one point behind, and the No. 2 Starworks Ford Riley duo of Alex Popow and Ryan Dalziel are just two points out of the lead in third.
“We’ve had great success there in the past and we need to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself during the race,” Angelelli said. “We have a very small lead in the points, but we do lead the points, and we need to come out with maximum points again this weekend. If someone has a bad race, we really have to take advantage of it. We were able to capitalize on other teams’ misfortunates a couple of times already, but we could have done it on a few other occasions this year. I hope everything will run well with the team and the drivers and everything.
“This race is more forgiving because it’s six hours long. Our team is so good at pit stops, we have more opportunities in this race where we can gain track position, so that’s good, that’s the intention. We have overtaken many people in the pits already this season, but lately we can see that many of the other teams are improving their pit stops now. They really have their heads down and are working harder because they are much better now than they were at the beginning of the season. Our championship is so competitive that every single thing from the green flag to the checkered flag is extremely important. Any little glitch can change your final result.
“We survived Mid-Ohio. It’s probably the most difficult race of the season for us each season. Historically, it was our best result (sixth place) in a long time, so I guess we can say, sort of, ‘Mission accomplished.’ It’s obviously not the result we were hoping for because the car was good and we were up there in front for almost the entire race. I’m looking forward to The Glen because it’s been notoriously one of our best tracks, if not the best. I’m looking for a much better result than last year (11th). Last year was just a mess at this time of year. This year, we’re coming back with a lot more momentum, so I’m hoping we can increase our points lead.”
Angelelli was also at Le Mans but as a spectator and was able to offer a unique viewpoint of watching the Taylor Brothers compete in sports car racing’s most fabled event. But he also had a chance to just be a fan at one of Europe’s prime sporting contests.
“When you are not driving, what you are looking for is great hospitality, having great food and not getting wet,” Angelelli said. “I can say that, based on my experience this year as a spectator, I can say that I was very successful this year. I did not get wet. I had a great parking place. And we had four different options in terms of food for each meal.
“The boys did a great job. It was the first year for Ricky, so it was a little bit of a shock for him, which is completely understandable. In my opinion, he did what he was supposed to do. It was the second year for Jordan, and he did what he was supposed to do and that was to raise his game. Part of the process, and the tendency for people including me, has been to look at those two kids and completely forget about their age. When I first did Le Mans, I was a lot older and my experience was a lot different. When people look at Jordan, he’s extremely young, so people probably forget their age when they see how good he is out there on the racetrack. Both boys are beyond their years.
“The conditions at Le Mans this year were very difficult, so to consider Jordan, who’s 22, and Ricky, who was a rookie there at 23, neither put a wheel off the road the whole race. Le Mans is not only about speed, but about the package – driver, team, race car. Every time at Le Mans adds to your experience. You learn a lot of things. Jordan had a great opportunity to be with the Corvette factory team. That is a major plus in Jordan’s experience. So I’m thankful to everyone at Corvette Racing for this opportunity for Jordan because it will benefit Wayne Taylor Racing in GRAND-AM. We hope to take full advantage. We have seen things that Jordan has learned and, yes, it will help the team be better, including me. I’m really looking forward to seeing Jordan at The Glen.”
The proudest of all was Wayne Taylor, team owner of the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette Dallara DP for Wayne Taylor Racing and the father of Jordan and Ricky. His sons competed together at Le Mans for the first time.
“I’ve done it for many, many years as a driver and, to have both of them driving, with the dreadful conditions and all that, it was truly amazing to see that both did extremely well,” Wayne Taylor said. “It was very emotional for me, as their father. So much happened in the race, with the guy losing his life 10 minutes into it. That was just awful. I’ve driven there 13 times, been there several times in addition to that, and this year was without a doubt the worst conditions I’ve ever seen there with the rain and everything. For poor Ricky to go there for his first time under circumstances like that, I felt for the guy. But both boys performed extremely well, and I’m very, very proud of them both.”