Ricky Taylor believes the finish of Sunday’s IMSA Road Race Showcase at Road America would have been “tooth and nail” with Mazda had it stayed dry, following a hard-fought battle with the pair of Multimatic-run cars in the second hour.
Taylor and co-driver Helio Castroneves claimed victory for Acura Team Penske after an interruption for torrential rain created a seven-minute dash to the checkered flag that ultimately caught out the pair of Mazda RT24-Ps.
Oliver Jarvis, who took over the lead from Castroneves with 58 minutes to go, remained out on slick Michelin tires with the hope that the race, which was red-flagged for 21 minutes, would not restart.
That strategy ultimately backfired for the No. 77 Mazda DPi, which finished fifth behind the No. 55 entry that also challenged for the lead in the hands of Harry Tincknell in dry conditions.
While pole-sitter Taylor stretched out into an early lead, he reckoned the end of the race could have been a different story had the rain not arrived.
“The start of the race was really strong,” Taylor said. “We had great single lap pace in clean air. But the Mazdas, you can never count them out, and they really put a really tough fight for today.
“I think with the way the weather fell, and them staying out and not taking rain tires, was really important for our race win.
“In the dry conditions it was going to be tooth and nail. It was all the difference of staying out a lap longer and trying to get that extra second or two of track position in the pits stops.”
Taylor praised Castroneves’ driving in getting around the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R of Renger van der Zande for the lead and eventual win with less than five minutes to go.
“You really have to give it to Helio,” Taylor said. “He did an amazing end of the race, so much pressure. He did a flawless job to get the lead there with only a few laps to go.”
It marked the pairing’s first series win since Mid-Ohio 2018 and came after a challenging start to the season that was plagued with mechanical-related issues.
“It’s been way too long for both of us,” Taylor said. “It’s really nice to get the monkey off our backs. After the start of the season we’ve had, it’s really great motivation for all of the team to get some momentum back and some points.
“The more you struggle, you start having to work harder and harder to overcome it.
“All of the Acura Team Penske guys never gave up. I think everyone just became more and more motivated to get ourselves back in it and get some momentum going.
“We talked with our engineer so many times, especially with COVID going on where you can’t do anything other than work at home and try to be ready for the next race.
“It’s really great to get this momentum back.”
Castroneves: “It Was Like Driving on a River”
The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner compared the closing laps of Sunday’s race to the conditions seen in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in 2019, which started under the safety car.
“I couldn’t see a thing,” he said. “But definitely I noticed a little gap. And every time you have a little gap when there are a few laps to go, you go for it.
“I had confidence in the car. [Since] last year at Sebring we were able to improve the car. Especially from Daytona this year, we learned a lot as well.
“When you put all these things together, it makes you confident enough to drive the car and push it.
“When I went into the lead I just said, ‘OK, nice and easy.’
“And it was getting worse. The back straight was getting really bad. It was like driving on a river. You were basically just a passenger.”