By Mark Robinson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For Ricky Taylor, the news amounted to a family homecoming. One where he’s bringing along a couple friends and even a former adversary.
Wayne Taylor Racing announced its 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver lineup on Monday, as the team switches to an Acura ARX-05 from a Cadillac in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class. Fresh off winning this year’s driver, team and manufacturer championships for Acura with Team Penske, Ricky Taylor is returning to his father’s ultra-successful team as one of the full-season drivers.
Joining him for the entire season in the car will be Filipe Albuquerque, the 2020 European Le Mans Series and 24 Hours of Le Mans champion in the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class whose WeatherTech Championship past includes a memorable run-in with Ricky Taylor in the closing minutes of the 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Helio Castroneves, the three-time Indy 500 winner who teamed with Ricky Taylor to win this year’s DPi championship, will rejoin his mate in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura for the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January. Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 champion who paired with Taylor and Castroneves for the longer WeatherTech Championship endurance races the past two seasons, will fill the same role for WTR in 2021.
Team owner Wayne Taylor felt it critical to build a driver stable with continuity and previous Acura knowledge, considering his team is changing from an engine/chassis platform of Cadillac/Dallara to Acura/ORECA.
"It’s a bit of a new project for us, so the one thing I wanted to do was to have one thing consistent – and that would be to have the drivers that have currently driven that car for the last three years," Wayne Taylor said during a Zoom media teleconference, not hiding his delight in the lineup. "These are four drivers I’d like to have for the rest of my sports car career."
Wayne Taylor also had no qualms about adding Albuquerque to the mix. It was at the Rolex 24 in 2017 when Ricky Taylor – driving for his father’s team – had contact with Albuquerque in the Mustang Sampling/Action Express Racing Cadillac while battling for the lead with seven minutes remaining. Taylor went on to win in a lineup that included brother Jordan Taylor, NASCAR great Jeff Gordon and sports car standout Max Angelelli. Albuquerque finished second.
"Filipe and I have been talking for over a year," Wayne Taylor said. "We were trying to make something happen at the beginning of 2020, but it didn’t work out. I’m really, really excited that we have managed to get this to work out now."
WTR and Meyer Shank Racing are each taking on single-car Acura DPi operations in 2021 upon the departure of Team Penske, which won the last two class championships in its three-year run. WTR has big shoes of its own to fill in house, considering it has won the past two and three of the last four Rolex 24s while running Cadillacs. The No. 10 Cadillac also finished a single point behind the No. 7 Acura for this year’s championship.
Ricky Taylor is excited about the homecoming. He left the "home team" on top in 2017, with Rolex 24 and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts wins, five consecutive victories to start the season and the Prototype championship alongside brother Jordan.
"The way it ended last time with the championship at Wayne Taylor Racing was the best possible way to part ways with the team," Ricky Taylor said. "Now coming back after a great three years at Acura Team Penske and to join the team with a whole new knowledge base – I learned a lot over there – I’m looking forward to continuing my career with Acura and kind of coming along with the car to Wayne Taylor Racing."
Albuquerque, who has five IMSA career wins including two at the Rolex 24 (GT class in 2013, Prototype in 2018), said it was his goal to return full time to the WeatherTech Championship in 2021. He believes his experience driving an ORECA in ELMS will benefit the team transitioning to it.
"It gave me a lot of confidence to (join WTR) and keep working on the same chassis," the 35-year-old from Portugal said. "I have a lot of ideas to bring to the team, obviously. … I’m the rookie guy with the Acura but I think I will catch up with this great lineup."
Albuquerque also said he had no reservations pairing with Ricky Taylor. Both drivers said they talked over the 2017 collision after it happened and put it behind them.
"The world is always round and we always meet again," said Albuquerque. "After 2017 when we had that incident, I think it just made us, I think, respect each other even bigger; the way we treat each other and we resolved the things. And here we are."
For endurance drivers Castroneves and Rossi, the focus is on attaining the prized Rolex watches that go to champions at the Rolex 24. It would be the first for either. Castroneves called WTR’s four-driver lineup "like a perfect fit." Rossi agreed.
"I think that we have all the pieces," Rossi said. "It’s just going to take a lot of work and effort on everyone’s part to make sure we can come out strong in January and add a watch to everyone’s collection."
The 2021 WeatherTech Championship season kicks off with The Roar Before the Rolex 24 from Jan. 22-24. On-track action for the Rolex 24 At Daytona begins Jan. 28, with the 24-hour race taking the green flag on Jan. 30.