Acura Team Penske is in a “big pressure” situation heading into Saturday’s title-deciding Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, with both Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves cautious of their chances despite their championship position.
The duo, who have won four of the last five IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races, took over the DPi points lead following the last round at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, in the closest-fought title race of the four categories.
They head into the season finale with a two-point buffer to Wayne Taylor Racing’s Ryan Briscoe and Renger van der Zande, with Pipo Derani a further seven points back.
While having held the upper hand in the second half of the season, Taylor said he’s not taking anything for granted this weekend especially given the previous history of the Cadillac DPi-V.Rs on the 3.7-mile former World War II airfield.
Cadillacs have won the 12-hour classic in two of the last three years, with the No. 31 Action Express Racing entry of Derani and Felipe Nasr coming out on top in the Sebring July race as well.
“Every time we go to Sebring, the Cadillacs are very strong,” Taylor said. “I think as [we saw in] the IndyCar finale in St. Pete, everybody’s got to raise their game.
“Josef [Newgarden] had to win and he won the race and [Scott] Dixon had to have an outstanding performance too. Those guys are champions and really raised the game when they needed to.
“I think that’s what we try to do this weekend, to fight the Cadillacs as best we can. There’s a few of them so who knows if they’re going to help each other.
“We have a great wingman in the 6 [Acura] and I think a really strong lineup with Alex [Rossi] joining us again.
“I think we’re all at the top of our games. At this point in the championship, this is where you want to be. You want to be in the fight.
“It’s super exciting. For us, but it’s a big pressure situation.”
Castroneves, who is seeking his first championship title as a race car driver, said the season has proof of what’s possible in motorsports.
The duo sat eighth in the DPi points standings — at a 22-point deficit — following the second round of the season at Sebring International Raceway in July but have since made a remarkable comeback.
“[For] Ricky and I and the entire Acura Team Penske, it was obviously a very rough season in the beginning. Who would have thought,” said Castroneves.
“This is a perfect example that in racing, anything is possible.
“Right now I can’t believe we’re leading the championship. Everything has [come] together. We’ve put ourselves in this position.
“We also have to thank the group from No. 6 that helped us to get us the lead in the championship.
“When you combine [all] of the ingredients together, yes momentum is everything. We are definitely going to ride this wave going into Sebring.
“Anything can happen in 12 hours. We don’t want to lose this momentum now, especially when we need it.
“There’s a championship in mind so we’re going to be checking everything with what’s going on, the team will.”
Ricky added: “The way the points look, if the 10 wins the race — which they’re always strong there — they win the championship.
“We need to be prepared to win the race and not play a safe championship battle and follow them around.”
Wayne Taylor Wanting to Go Out on “Very High Note” for Cadillac
Wayne Taylor, meanwhile, said there’s motivation within his camp to end their four-year run with Cadillac on top with another championship.
Meyer Shank Racing and WTR, ironically, will take over the factory Acura DPi program following the conclusion of Saturday’s race, although Wayne said all focus is currently on securing the 2020 title.
“This is a two-way battle, but nothing is impossible for other teams to win the championship,” he said.
“Because of the closeness of the points and shortness of teams, it makes it harder for teams who are down a few points to come back.
“We’re going to be doing everything to beat Team Penske because I want to go out on a very high note for Cadillac as this will be my last race with them.”