Making of a Champion: Ricky Taylor|
Staff Report, IMSA Wire Service
The second in a series of articles highlighting each champion driver in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, “Making of a Champion” shares some previous experiences and “backstory” that led to this driver becoming a champion.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Without question, 2017 was a life-changing year for Ricky Taylor.
Co-driving the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R with his younger brother, Jordan Taylor, for the Wayne Taylor Racing team owned by his father, Ricky Taylor earned his first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
En route to the title, the team won the first five races of the season. That streak included the first victory for the brothers in the Rolex 24 At Daytona as Ricky came out on top in a thrilling, late-race battle with Filipe Albuquerque. They followed that with a win at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, repeating a 36 Hours of Florida sweep that Wayne accomplished as a driver 21 years earlier.
“This championship was all about the team, really, and not to be just that guy that says that,” Ricky said. “It really started at the beginning of 2016 when they started designing the car and then getting on track in November and all the preparation. It’s just been a great group of guys that put so much into the Cadillac.
“Just the way everybody performed and did their job, I think there were so many people that were so good at their job that we didn’t have to worry about it. Everything kind of took care of itself from there. The season started off with five straight wins, and to do that with Jordan and my dad was a dream come true.”
Shortly after the Rolex 24 victory, Ricky got a unique opportunity to test 2016 IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud’s Team Penske IndyCar at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The team must have liked what they saw in that test, as shortly after the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season ended, the team named Ricky as one of the drivers for the team’s new Acura ARX-05 DPi Prototypes that will make their debut in the 2018 WeatherTech Championship.
“It’s the biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten, to get an offer from a big team like Team Penske,” Ricky said. “It’s a dream come true, but with that great feeling of making it outside of dad’s team, it’s also a lot of pressure to perform, change gears and continue to prove myself.
“As cool as it is, as flattering and as much as an accomplishment as it feels like it’s been so far just to get this drive, I’m definitely putting myself under a lot of pressure. This is an opportunity where I have to perform, and I’m expected to do the job at a really high level. Although my dad gave me a hard time and he pushes me and Jordan really hard, it’s going to be different with Team Penske.”
It will be different, but it’s not like Ricky hasn’t raced for other teams before. In 2013, he left Wayne Taylor Racing to drive a Corvette Daytona Prototype for VISIT FLORIDA Racing.
Just this past year, he drove in the SprintX Championship for Cadillac Racing, as well as a Multimatic-Riley LM P2 car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with fellow WeatherTech Championship regulars Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen. He’s also driven a Corvette C7.R at Le Mans and in other FIA World Endurance Championship races over the past couple of years.
“Your career can go up and down, and you never know where you might end up landing,” he said. “For me, I really wanted to excel in more than just prototypes. Getting to drive the Corvette C7.R, the ATS-V.R or any of those GT cars is really helpful to get that experience, and in case something does happen in prototypes or I can’t find a drive, there’s always going to be GT racing.
“Also, on the GT side, driving other stuff might give you another perspective when you’re in a multi-class race and you’re in a prototype, what the GT guys are going through. What they can see and what they can’t see, what their car feels like in certain situations. In addition to having an opportunity to win more races, it’s also a good learning experience.”
Ricky has been learning since the earliest days of his racing career. Like many of his contemporaries, he began in karting and worked his way into open-wheel cars early on, before shifting his focus to sports cars. His big break, even if he might not have known it at the time, was the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona, when his dad placed him in the driver lineup for his team’s SunTrust-sponsored Daytona Prototype, which finished fifth in the race.
“Looking back on it now, I was not even nearly ready,” he recalls. “But just getting thrown into the deep end and being forced to learn a lot – and being surrounded by people with so much experience, like not only my dad but Max (Angelelli) and Michael Valiante and the engineering people, it was a humungous learning experience.”
The Daytona experience led to additional races with Beyer Racing and Doran Racing in 2008, and by 2009, he was a full-time driver in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series. In 2010, he joined Wayne Taylor Racing as Angelelli’s co-driver.
He won his first Rolex Series race that year at Lime Rock Park and continued with the team through the 2012 season before moving to the VISIT FLORIDA team, as Jordan Taylor moved up from GT cars to take his brother’s place in the Daytona Prototype in 2013.
Ricky rejoined the family team in 2014 alongside Jordan – who won the 2013 championship alongside Angelelli – and the brothers drove the next four seasons together. And while they celebrated victories seven times between 2014 and 2016, it wasn’t until this year where it all came together.
“It’s terrible going to the banquets every year and watching someone else celebrate, knowing that we feel like we’ve got the best team on the grid,” Ricky said. “Starting off (this) year going to Daytona, I think the team was extremely hungry, especially the engineering department, and I know the mechanics were as well.
“Just having that ownership from everybody on the team, and especially me and Jordan, going to Daytona, we just wanted to beat everybody. We haven’t left Daytona in the past four or five years with a good points situation. We came out of it one of the years with last-place points and a drive-time violation. Then, after Daytona, once we were leading the points, we were really motivated to keep it going and to prove it again at Sebring that it just wasn’t Daytona and we could do it again. I think that was what kind of set the tone.”
It certainly did for the 2017 season, as they built a championship lead they would never relinquish. It also may have set the tone for Ricky’s future.
“When you think about your career, and you think about if you’re ever going to have a year, and you set a goal in your mind of what would be a successful year, I think we exceeded it this year,” Ricky said. “This will be the bar for the rest of my life. If we could ever get close to a year like this (again), it would be unbelievable.”