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TAYLOR: The Challenges of Road America

Ricky Taylor files his latest Sportscar365 column after a challenging weekend at Road America…

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

Road America is one of the classic race tracks on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule.

This race is always one of the most difficult of the season. A combination between where it is on the schedule, the sprint race format, the track layout where you are forced to compromise on car setup, and the track surface that always makes it extremely hard on tires.

We were really looking to rebound after a tough weekend at Mosport because had a great test a few weeks before the race in Road America.

We opted to have Helio finish this weekend and I was elected to qualify and start the No. 7 Acura.

Everyone from Acura and Team Penske have been learning so much throughout the season and as the team continues to get stronger, the processes are becoming more refined. You can see the team starting to gel as one.

We showed up to Road America with a lot of reserved confidence. Confidence in our own package and confidence that we were going to maximize our performance.

The unknown variable that was the recent Balance of Performance changes since Mosport, however, were always in the back of our minds.

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

We knew this weekend would be a tough one, but when we completed first practice we knew we had a lot of work to do. The cars were not responding like they had at the tests and we would have to reset and get ourselves back into our performance window in the next two practice sessions.

The car continued to improve, and the team worked hard to get ourselves closer in each session.

Our car never completed a session higher than 7th fastest hall weekend. The team remained confident, we hadn’t shown speed yet but felt that our balance was improving, and we could still have a solid qualifying and race effort once we get a bit of a rhythm.

Qualifying came and we knew the lap time would be best early in the session, but the team made a nice call to wait in the pits to get us some clear track.

We had fully clear racetrack on our first three laps and ended the qualifying session P2 behind the JDC Oreca of Robert Alon.

Big kudos to Robert on a great lap there; he has really been on it this year. For a guy that’s only been racing for a short time he is only going to keep improving and will be hard to beat in years to come. Awesome job by him.

During the race the name of the game would be tire wear and taking care of our Continental tires.

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Rolling off from the outside of the front row we didn’t quite get the jump on Alon and slotted into P2. The first stint of the race was relatively uneventful and we ran second behind Alon while pulling an eight-second gap on the third place car.

Then, an untimely caution caught the leaders out right at the end of the first stint.

The Action Express cars managed to pit just before the yellow and cycled to the front of the pack. Sometimes those gambles pay off. Sunday it did for them and did not for the top-five cars who had to pit under yellow.

A bit of an issue cost us on pit lane, but we completed a full service and driver change at the stop.

Helio was back out on track but outside of the top five at this point. Just when we were looking to get our momentum back and start moving forward, Helio was turned by another driver and was cycled all the way to the back of the field.

At this point, we had nothing to lose and Helio put his head down to chase down the field. We had great pace at this point in the race but unfortunately could not get into clean air to stretch our legs and make gaps.

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

We continued to cycle through pit stops and through a yellow-filled race and wound up tenth on the day.

It was a very difficult weekend, but it still had promise that we could have fought for a podium and maybe even a win.

These IMSA races are so tough and it’s weekends like this that show how just a few tiny mistakes can cost the race. It takes a perfect performance to win these races.

We are all looking forward to rebounding at Laguna Seca where we will strive for a perfect race and capitalize on our opportunities.

Laguna will be another tough race with high tire degradation, so we can take what we learned here in Road America and hopefully apply it towards a win in the penultimate round of the championship.

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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