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TAYLOR: An Uphill Battle at Laguna

WTR Andretti’s Ricky Taylor files his latest Sportscar365 column after Laguna Seca…

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

Laguna Seca is one of the iconic tracks on our IMSA schedule. As is the case at all races this year, it was a complete unknown as to how each car would perform at each track. Laguna is such a unique racetrack in terms of corner types as well as the extremely low grip pavement.

Throughout practice it was apparent that the Porsches were going to be the cars to beat. They showed good pace throughout each session and didn’t show any signs of weakness.

We were working through a lot of options that we had learned through pre-event simulation, but the car and the track were not really gelling together very well. MSR seemed to have very good short run speed but we were focused on a car that we could fight with in the race.

Qualifying came and we committed to our strategy of saving as many tires as possible for the race.

Ultimately, we were only good enough for P5. All of the cars ahead of us also used just one set aside from MSR who used two. So we needed to find performance for race day and couldn’t completely rely on our long run pace to put us back in the fight.

We made massive changes after qualifying to try to put ourselves in the setup window for the race. Starting P5 was not our normal place at Laguna, we have been so good there in the past so being mid pack makes for a riskier start position in the middle of the pack.

At the start we had a good jump between MSR on Row 2 and us on the inside of Row 3, quickly challenging the front row sitting Porsches. I was tightly packed up behind them and both Porsches had a massive lockup. I could not see a thing, I wanted to go inside to avoid any spinning cars, but as I wanted to switch to the inside, the 31 of Derani did a good job of getting to the inside of my car. So I was forced to choose the outside.

Turned out there was nothing to avoid and I lost a spot or two rejoining the racing line.

After a quick yellow on Lap 1, we finally had a restart to get the race going. I couldn’t get around either of the BMWs ahead so opted to settle in and save tires until catching traffic where I would try to start moving up.

We caught the very first GT car and there was contact in T11, sending the GT in to the wall and bringing out the yellow. Our plan was to change the driver if a yellow came out at 25 minutes, so this yellow came at the very beginning of that window for a driver change.

So I only drove seven green flag laps and Filipe would go to the end.

One thing about this race is that we only had three sets of tires to do qualifying and the race with. The race, full green, was three full stints. So we took new tires on the first stop, which was nice to get the qualifying tires off for Filipe but meant he had to make the next set last a very long time.

He would do two hours and 20 minutes on just two sets of tires. This seemed like a good strategy at the time, it was just very difficult to see what others were doing with tires and to keep track of strategies of other cars.

Filipe was straight on the pace, passing one of the BMWs and the JDC-Miller Porsche. He was looking strong. The Porsches were forced onto our strategy as well with their flat spotted tires from the first lap. This was a big help to the others after the strong pace they’d shown all weekend.

The race had many yellows and the strategies went wild. MSR changed tires at the same time as us it seemed, but they had to pay the price from qualifying of putting on that second set of qualifying tires.

It looked ok at first but mid stint, we started to see the benefits of the fresh tires as we moved up ahead of the falling MSR car.

At this point in the race we were going over a stint on our tires and the contenders looked like the 31 and 01 Cadillacs with the 6 car stuck in the pack. The 31 was super strong in that stint.

The final stop came and all of the leaders came in under green. However, we balked on the slippery pit in which cost us a bit of time. Ultimately giving the position away to the No. 6 Porsche.

We were a solid P4 at this time but with the race completely reset. Everyone was on new tires and there was a restart to go to the end.

Tire pressures are incredibly sensitive with these prototypes and the series regulated minimum pressures. On the final set we just went over the desired pressures and did not have the pace of the leaders. Filipe drove his heart out but the top-three just had too much pace for us to fight with.

The Acura ARX-06 has been a favorite at every racetrack so far and we have been so strong. This was the first weekend where we felt an uphill battle.

These kinds of weekends are where we learn the most. I feel if we had to go back again next weekend, we would be better. Everyone at HPD and WTR Andretti work so hard to keep us at the front.

So all of us will fight to be back even stronger at Watkins Glen. But first, we are off to Le Mans!

Ricky Taylor (@RickyTaylorRace) is the 2017 and 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype champion, driving for Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport and Acura Motorsports.

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