A date clash between the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and the NTT IndyCar Series round at Texas Motor Speedway prompted Wayne Taylor Racing to search for a new IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup driver, according to team owner Wayne Taylor.
Seven-time IndyCar race winner Alexander Rossi served as WTR’s third driver for the four IMSA long-distance races last year and was being considered for the same role in 2022 until the mid-March schedule overlap put paid to those intentions.
Sebring and the 600 km oval race in Texas are due to take place on March 19 and 20 respectively, although the 12-hour sports car race in Florida and the IndyCar Series have traditionally avoided each other in the past.
With Rossi prioritizing the IndyCar weekend, Taylor went on the hunt for a new Michelin Endurance Cup driver and agreed a deal with LMP2 ace Will Stevens, who won the 4 Hours of Monza this year with Panis Racing as part of a European Le Mans Series effort.
The Brit also previously drove for Jackie Chan DC Racing/JOTA in the FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 class and won the GTE-Am race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2017 with the JMW Motorsport Ferrari squad.
Rossi will remain a member of the WTR setup, as the fourth driver for its Rolex 24 at Daytona defense next month.
Ex-Formula One driver Romain Grosjean is understood to have been in contention for a WTR seat at Daytona and Motul Petit Le Mans, however a deal did not materialize.
Grosjean was unable to make a recent WTR test at Daytona due to clashing Andros Trophy commitments, which ultimately led to Stevens signing with the team for the full Endurance Cup.
“At this time of the year, we are always looking at who we’re going to have for Daytona and who we’re going to have in NAEC,” said Taylor, whose son Ricky will continue with Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 on a full-time basis.
“Last year Alex ran with us for the full Endurance Cup, and he won Daytona with us. He was the natural guy, but unfortunately there is an IndyCar race that clashes.
“Neither he nor I thought it was a good idea to do both.
“We spoke to lots of drivers. We had been following Will Stevens for a long time, and all the time I’d spent with Will, I didn’t realize that he and Alex were teammates in Formula 1, so there was a natural relationship there.”
Taylor explained that he had been in contact with Stevens prior to offering the four-race Endurance program which consists of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship rounds at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
“With Will, I have to thank him because I first offered him Daytona,” said Taylor. “Then I said, maybe I can’t… maybe I could offer Sebring… I then said I can’t do that. The poor guy was just great.
“Eventually I just said to him, how about doing the Endurance Cup? Because Alex can’t do it and we can have Alex for the 24-hour.
“Will came out to do the test [at Daytona] and that really convinced us that he was the right guy to sign.
“We’re really happy to have him and it’s a solid driver lineup. Three of the four won the race last year, and we need Will to do the same, which we know he will.”
Stevens is set for his DPi debut at the Daytona season-opener, as well as his maiden competitive outing at the Daytona International Speedway infield course.
After his recent first test at the track, the 30-year-old said that he encountered some differences between the Acura ARX-05 DPi and the Oreca 07 Gibson that he usually races in Europe, despite both vehicles originating from the same French-built chassis.
“The test was good,” reflected Stevens. “We managed to get through quite a bit as a team and I felt at home in the car very quickly.
“I think there are a lot of similarities but also quite a lot of differences. The power is quite a bit different, having a turbo instead of what we have in Europe, so that was one of the bigger things to get used to.
“Also there are a lot more devices you can use inside the car; the traction control is a lot more complicated. There’s a lot more adjustability that we can do through that, and also through a stint to help with tire degradation.
“There are definitely some things that I can carry over from what I’m used to, but every car is different. In Europe we’re using Goodyear tires and in America it’s Michelins.
“For the first few laps it felt different and you could feel the extra downforce the [DPi] car has. But the overall car is pretty similar.
“I felt comfortable within a few laps and I think the running we did was very productive.
“On the second day, we had a bit of rain just before I got in the car, which was tricky but probably a blessing in disguise to get some running in all types of conditions.
“I feel like I’ve got enough knowledge so far to be able to have the ball rolling before we get to the Roar in a few weeks.”