Ricky Taylor, who won the Twelve Hours of Sebring for WTR back in 2017 but in a Cadillac, had horrendous luck at the venue over the past three years when he raced the Acura for Team Penske.
On returning to the bumpy 3.74-mile airfield course for this weekend’s 69th edition of arguably the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s most iconic race, Taylor sounds confident that the car has the pace but needs a trouble-free run through to the last couple of hours.
“The bumps are always going to be difficult for us,” said the two-time and reigning IMSA Prototype champion, “but you always have to understand your car and what it does do well and what it doesn’t do well.
“I think we’ve been able to exploit the areas where we’re really strong to a point where, when we come to Sebring, over a lap we’re very strong, even if we aren’t as good over the bumps.
“If you look at the past few years, we’ve always been competitive – qualified on pole last year, and the car’s been quick in the races. The reliability has been improved, we saw that in Daytona. But the past few years we haven’t made it to the final two hours in Sebring…
“So the big thing this year will be getting to those last two hours to fight it out. If we can, I think we should have a pretty strong Acura.”
Albuquerque, who raced the last four editions of the Sebring 12 Hours in one of Action Express Racing’s Cadillacs, said he had been pleasantly surprised by the Acura’s handling of the bumps during testing, but seemed to concur with Taylor regarding the Cadillac threat.
“It’s my first time with Acura here and I was actually surprised with how the car was riding the bumps, I was pretty happy about it,” said the Portuguese star who, after a year as AXR’s enduro third man, has become Taylor’s fulltime partner at WTR. “What was interesting in the test was that there was a lot of grip which for sure helped us. When the track is a bit more green we’ll struggle more but let’s see how it goes.
“For sure it comes down to BoP again: I think everyone was pretty competitive from the lap times last year in Sebring in November. So we need to go from there.
“Even if we qualify on pole, because maybe our car is pretty good in qualifying, in the race it’s a different thing as we could see here in past years. When a Cadillac is on pole it means it’s going to be extra strong in the race. If we are on pole, I’m not going to be superexcited because the race is going to be totally different, especially those Cadillacs which are very good over the bumps and over the race.”
Taylor, like the endurance race extra on the team, IndyCar ace Alexander Rossi, was able to bring knowledge of the car to his father’s team in the last winter, which was vital since IMSA’s COVID-delayed 2020 season meant the WTR squad had precious little time to learn the Acura ARX-05 after four years of running the Cadillac DPi-V.R.
“This was the first time I had some information they wanted to hear!” chuckled Ricky modestly. “It’s been really good. Obviously, as a driver, any time you get to drive in a program like Acura Team Penske, you learn a lot.
“No matter how long the program is, they bring you in as if you’re a lifetime driver and teach you the way they do things, the processes, the way they go racing – and you get to drive with teammates that are some of the best in the world. So you get to learn from them, whether it’s Juan’s [Pablo Montoya] braking style or how Dane [Cameron] manages traffic. It’s all the little details that make you a more complete driver.
“Coming back to Wayne Taylor Racing, it’s such a unique car, so different from the Cadillac – which is the great thing about sportscar racing; they’re all so different – but it makes it really difficult to hit the ground running from November to January to learn the new car, build a whole new one for the Rolex 24, figure out how to make it go fast and then go win the 24.
“Alex has an even better memory than me so he was able to bring a lot of information over as well, but I’d say the biggest thing was the larger picture. Rather than just saying, ‘We tried this with the springs and this worked better’ – there’s always gonna be those things – it’s more the process side of things that we were bringing over, regarding how this car likes to be run.
“At Daytona, there’s a lot of different philosophies and probably more margin to create a difference in the setup [whereas] I feel like we spent so much time here at Sebring with Penske, it’s quite refined by the time we got back here.
“I think WTR has their own way of doing things – everybody has a fresh perspective. It’s been interesting, after three years driving something with a team of Penske engineers, to then get the perspective of a couple of WTR engineers with no preconceived notions. That can lead you in a bit of a different direction.
“It has been interesting to see a change in the car even from last year… There’s some things that have definitely changed the way that it feels, just from an endurance mindset rather than outright laptime, I’d say.”