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TAYLOR: The Tale of Two Races

Acura’s Ricky Taylor checks in following back-to-back races at Watkins Glen, CTMP…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Racing can be hard. This week, I’ll recap a bit of our last two weeks between the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen and the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park race weekends.

This IMSA championship has been so competitive, the rivalry with our teammates in the number 60 has been unrelenting. Both teams have been trading blows week in and week out, with neither team blinking or making a mistake. The points have never stretched outside of a one race swing, leaving both teams fighting for each and every point.

When we went to Watkins Glen, it would kick off a two-week swing that we knew could set the tone for the rest of the season. The Glen was historically a strong track for Acura but WTR hadn’t won there since 2011.

The weekend started off well and both Acuras locked out the front row to start the 6-hour. Going into the race it looked like it would be another dogfight with the 60 car, but at the end of the day we need to have Acura in a position to win the manufacturers championship as well.

The race began and Filipe made an outstanding move to overtake the 60 car into the Bus Stop. We knew this would be a possibility with our pre-race preparation, and Filipe had been going over his plan all night before the race and executed it perfectly.

Filipe was originally meant to drive for around 1 hour and 20 minutes, but with multiple full course cautions ended up doing two hours and only one stop. I did my two stints in the middle of the race and we kept everything short to keep both of us fresh for the finish. Filipe got back in and finished one strong stint in P2 before the red flag came out for lightning.

This was where the race got very interesting. At the time of the red flag, we were off sequence with strategy and only had about 20 minutes of fuel remaining while the rest of the field had just stopped and now had a full tank.

During the red flag, it was looking like we would restart with about 12 minutes to go, but just before the cars were to roll off, the clock stopped and another ten minutes were added, meaning we would need pass the 60 for the lead at the restart and immediately transition to save a little over a lap of fuel in a very short period of time.

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

Unlike the race start, a restart is very difficult to overtake because it is single file and the race leader is allowed to restart much earlier. Filipe managed the restart beautifully and went into T1 just behind the 60 car. Coming out of T1 he nailed the exit and got a great draft up the hill, but it was going to be very close into the bus stop.

Filipe gets a look in his eye where you know that nobody else is going to win the race. On that day, he had “the look.” He forced his way by in the brake zone for the bus stop around the outside.

So we grabbed the lead with only 20 minutes to go but the final 20 would be the most difficult 20 minutes of the entire year, having to hold the lead and save a ton of fuel while not making any mistakes through traffic.

A few laps later, going up through the flat out uphill Esses, an encounter with a GTD car that didn’t see Filipe coming ended with Filipe being squeezed into the wall and crashing between the GTD and the wall.

This was a MAJOR hit, the car was completely out of alignment but Filipe was committed to push to the end. So now it was a game of: hold off the 60, save fuel, and preserve the now broken car.

It sounds bad, but he was well in control and drove wonderfully to control the race. Halfway through the final lap, the team finally gave the order to push to the end. At that point, we knew we were going to win.

It was an amazing win and the whole team did such an amazing job to secure that win for the first time since 2011. After leaving the track, the whole team recreated the tradition of heading to Seneca Lodge for dinner and to hang the race winning flag, which is one of the most special traditions in all of motorsports.

Photo: Brian Cleary/BCPix.com

The celebration was short lived. Four short days and we were back on track at CTMP for the eighth round of the championship. Mosport was another high-speed commitment track where we needed to keep the momentum going.

This was another strong track for our car, but the battle for the 60 was anything but comfortable. Starting off the weekend, we qualified just behind the other Acura by only 0.06 seconds. I knew we had a winning car, but in qualifying I just didn’t nail the right lap.

I couldn’t quite match Filipe’s first lap from Watkins, and settled into P2. An early yellow, meant we got another restart early. The car didn’t feel right, I thought we had some pickup on the tires so I kept pushing to clean them off on the first green lap, but exiting Turn 5 the tire failed.

Later we learned it was a puncture (and in that tire the pressure sensor was not working), so nothing to do with the tire failing on its own. Luckily the tire came off completely to avoid any damage, and we took that opportunity to put Filipe in.

It was super early in the race but luckily we caused our own yellow to be able to fix it and get back out. Filipe drove a solid stint, but overtaking at Mosport without the help of traffic is very difficult. We ended up doing another driver change at the next stop to avoid having to drive for 2 hours and 20 minutes at the most physical track of the season.

I got in again, and straight into a big battle with Renger in the 01. We battled on the out lap and he ultimately won out with a good counter move in the final corner.

In hindsight this was a big loss for us. It put us behind the 02 as well and in a position where we couldn’t quite control our own race. We eventually passed the 60 car to put us P3 on the road and fighting for the lead. A few laps later the yellow came out.

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

On a later restart a collision with the 02 sent us spinning and reset us back to the rear of the field again. This was devastating. We had just worked our way into contention again and the points situation was looking very strong, and we were shuffled in to a very difficult position.

At this point the 60 was in a position to win and we were mired back in fifth place with nothing to lose. The goal was to make as many points back as possible.

The first car I caught was the 31 and I was in a huge rush to get by and to try hunt down the 5 car ahead. But I was a bit too optimistic with my move in to T9 and wasn’t properly positioned to complete the pass. This resulted in our car in the wall and damaged. So back to rear of the field again to simply survive to the finish.

In the end, we lost out on points with the 60 finishing second and us in last place. It was a very hard way to end the two-weekend stretch but the positive is that the championship isn’t completely out of our hands.

If we can find a way to win both of the final two races of the season, it doesn’t matter what the 60 car does, we will be champions. We have shown we can rebound from bad weekends and we want this steam frigate more than anything. See you in August at Road America.

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

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