Motorsport.com has learned that as well as switching from its current Cadillac DPi-V.R to run one of the two Acura ARX-05 entries in 2021, WTR will also ditch full-timers Renger van der Zande (as the Dutchman himself revealed last month), Ryan Briscoe, its endurance extra Scott Dixon and its Rolex 24-only driver Kamui Kobayashi.
Instead, the team will run Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque as full-timers, adding Alexander Rossi for the endurance races, and Helio Castroneves for the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.
Taylor, the 2017 IMSA champion who has scored 24 Prototype wins, was a natural hire given his familiarity with the Acura and his speed, while Filipe Albuquerque has impressed throughout this past season as Action Express Racing’s enduro driver. In the two previous seasons, Albuquerque had been one of AXR’s full-timers, only reverting to his part-time role – as he held in 2016 and 17 – when the team cut back to just one car for 2020. The Portuguese 35-year-old, who has won this year’s WEC LMP2 championship with United Autosports, currently has five IMSA Prototype victories to his name.
Rossi will replace Dixon in WTR’s endurance driver role, and while he has only started five IMSA races, four of those have been in the Acura ARX-05 and have resulted in two podiums. That’s an achievement Rossi aims to at least match on Saturday in the 12 Hours of Sebring, as he rejoins IMSA championship leaders Taylor and Castroneves at Acura Team Penske.
With Castroneves replacing Kobayashi at Wayne Taylor Racing for next year’s Rolex 24, it means that all three occupants of the #7 Acura this weekend will be locked in a title battle to defeat the very team that will employ them in IMSA’s following round, the 2021 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.
However, for Castroneves the irony doesn’t stop there, as in Daytona next January he will be racing against the other Acura ARX-05 of Meyer Shank Racing – the team with whom he has signed to race part-time in the 2021 IndyCar Series. However, with A.J. Allmendinger so far set to compete only in the Rolex 24 Hours with MSR, Castroneves could feasibly join MSR’s full-timers Olivier Pla and the soon-to-be-confirmed Dane Cameron for the Sebring 12 Hours, Watkins Glen 6 Hours and Petit Le Mans.
Alternatives for MSR are believed to include more members of the Honda/HPD IndyCar ‘family’ such as Colton Herta. However, Rahal Letterman Lanigan is understood to be eager to keep Herta as an enduro extra in one of its BMW M8s, should that GT Le Mans-class program continue in 2021.
Meanwhile, van der Zande and Briscoe would be clearly viable options for partnering with Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott in the Rolex 24, piloting a second Action Express-run Cadillac. However, they may also find a berth in another Cadillac set to compete in all four endurance rounds – or possibly the whole season – from a surprise entry, set to be announced later this week.
Van der Zande and Briscoe currently lie just two points behind Castroneves and Taylor in the IMSA Prototype drivers’ championship, on the strength of victories at Rolex 24 and Petit Le Mans – both times with Dixon and in the former with Kobayashi, too – and three other podium finishes.
Even if they fail to clinch the overall drivers’ title, Briscoe and van der Zande could earn themselves and WTR the drivers’ and teams’ titles respectively in the Michelin Endurance Cup. That’s IMSA’s separate trophy for results in its four endurance rounds. With two wins and a fifth place from the first three, WTR and its aces currently lead these championship hunts.