They say that the spirit of racing runs in the family. And none more so than in the case of the Taylor brothers who, under the guidance and stewardship of their father Wayne, are speeding their way to the top of the sportscar racing tree. Leading the way at the mid-point of the IMSA season, Ricky and Jordan Taylor speak to John Hindhaugh about life, Le Mans and what it means to represent one of the sport’s most famous families.
As we grow up, many of us are drawn down a similar career path.
When your parent is South African-born racing legend Wayne Taylor, whose accomplishments include two Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona wins, victory at Petit Le Mans and four IMSA WSC titles, it should be no real surprise that sons Ricky and Jordan were destined to follow into the racing business.
However, as Ricky – the older brother – explains, the path to the top wasn’t so straightforward. “Early on, [racing] to us was like any other parents’ job. Dad would go off to work and we would watch him on TV. Then, it became more serious [for us], and it was something we wanted to get into. It was the only thing we were ever good at, so it became the only thing we could do and that we wanted to do.”
Fortunately, the less than 2-year age gap between the brothers ensured that sibling rivalry was confined to home and not played out on the U.S. kart tracks in the early stages of their career, says Jordan. “We didn’t race against each other in our early years. We were always one [age] class apart, and that was nice. Through our karting years, no-one drew any comparisons between us or said who was better. That made it easy.”
As they continued through the racing ranks, it seems that they were destined not to be on the same tracks at the same time. “My path was straight into GT racing,” says Jordan. “I raced a Mazda for a few years, then a Camaro, then with Corvette. So my path was strictly GT racing and Ricky’s was pretty much straight to prototypes so, again, it was nice to have that separation. When he left [Wayne Taylor Racing] for Spirit of Daytona, the seat was open and it was natural for me to fill that spot.”
That move by Ricky to the Spirt of Daytona prototype team did set up a competitive track meeting. The year was 2013, and Ricky remembers it well. “Our first race where we were actually on track together was at Circuit of the Americas, I think we – that is, I – overdid it a little bit with my defensive driving. Eventually, we worked it out. Maybe we went a little bit too nice [to each other]. But we found a good balance racing against each other, trying to treat each other like any other driver. Hopefully we don’t have to do that again.”
Indeed, since 2014 they haven’t had to worry about meeting on track. The pair were brought together as a formidable driving team and, this year, are racing in the IMSA Weathertech Series in a Konica Minolta Cadillac DPI V prototype, in a team run by their father.
Now, halfway through their 4th season of racing together, Jordan believes the brothers’ family connection has become an important part of their racing performance. “I think we are used to it now, I think, over the years, it has become an advantage. At the beginning, we didn’t want to drive together as it would look like, ‘Dad’s kids are driving together on Dad’s team’. We wanted to prove ourselves on our own, and once we had won races separately, we felt we could get together and battle for race wins and championships together.”
Jordan is straightforward in explaining what it is that gives the brothers an edge over other driver pairings. “The advantage comes that, in endurance racing, you normally want to beat your teammate. That’s your number one competitor. But for us, we take that ego side out of it, work together, compare data, give up our secrets. We don’t hold anything back from each other. If we find a [racing] line that works, we aren’t afraid to share it. In that aspect, it works really well.”
There’s no doubt that the brothers have a special bond, both in and out of the cockpit. But add in the dynamic of a team principal who is also your father and the story evolves. Isn’t it almost the job description of young men – Ricky has just turned 28 and Jordan, 26 – to disregard parental advice in all aspects of life, in favour of ploughing your own furrow?
To this question, Ricky is refreshingly honest. “It’s just like any other family. Dad kinda bugs you and gives you all of this information. You don’t want to listen but we HAVE to listen. He’s the boss. He’s so experienced in the sport, and he’s still giving us driving tips; telling us that we are doing it all wrong.”
As Ricky continues, he sheds light on a further advantage. “Another thing about being a family is [that], normally, you can’t make everyone in a team happy but… as a family, we share the emotion and any input applies to all of us. When we come away from the track, we are all on the same page.”
The Taylor family partnership has certainly paid dividends this season. The Cadillac Dallara prototype is the pick of the new DPI formula in IMSA. In fact, no other marque has won a race as yet, with the black #10 car winning more than twice as many races as any other Cadillac entrant. At the Circuit of the Americas in May, the brothers seemed in a different class to the other prototypes and romped to victory. A mistake in qualifying with the Caddy hitting the wall at the Detroit race meant they had to start at the back of the grid. But the race was another triumph. Jordan, however, is quick to point out the role of the team in delivering these results. “Detroit, we won on strategy, and a quick car. At COTA, we had a very strong car. We can always rely on the team for a lot of aspects of racing.”
The competition within IMSA’s top category allows for BOP (Balance of Performance) adjustments – a series of measures implemented by the series to equalise competition. Let’s not go into technical details or get into debating the process right now, but it’s clear that the class is getting more competitive at every race. Jordan agrees: “We’ve seen that, since Long Beach (Round 3), when ESM had the fastest car that weekend, we’ve been fighting. We have to keep doing what we have been doing, and executing our plan.”
However, it could be said that the pressure of that tighter competition may be affecting the normally cool racing outlook of Jordan and Ricky. Tiny misjudgements in the heat of battle can be costly. At the last two events, accident damage cost them valuable points and, so, despite their early season domination, Jordan knows that to win the championship means performing at the highest level, right to the end of the season.
“The first half of the season was a dream, with five straight wins. Both Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) and Watkins Glen, we had tiny little touches [with other cars] – me with the Corvette [of Tommy Milner] and Ricky with Olivier Pla [in the #52 Liger at the Glen]. Those little issues had a huge impact on our championship.
“It was unfortunate, but it’s happened in the past and it will happen again. There are three races to go, at three good tracks for us. We have a 19-point lead over the #5 car [Mustang Sampling Cadillac] and now there’s 8 cars in our class – [Mazda have withdrawn to allow Joest Racing to develop their car for 2018] – so there’s less of a potential swing in points, which makes it tough for them to make up those points.”
With all that said, Ricky is quick to set the record straight when I presume that his father Wayne – who sits on the pit stall and is, by all accounts, a very hands-on team principal – will be on the radio during the remaining races, no doubt reminding his sons that they don’t need to win to take the championship.
“Dad is the one telling us we HAVE to win! Our goal is to get to Petit Le Mans [the season finale] and not have to worry about points. We’d like to clinch the championship early, so get to Road Atlanta and race for the Petit Le Mans win and hopefully get the point for the North American Endurance Championship and win another big race. We want to win the next two races, as well. We have had a really tough time at Road America in the past [neither of the bothers have yet had a victory], but Laguna Seca has been good to us.”
The 2017 IMSA Championship is clearly the immediate goal, but the Taylor boys’ stars are in the ascendancy. So what of their futures? When I ask this question, Jordan jumps in to answer. “We are both very happy in sportscar racing. It’s where we have made names for ourselves. Ricky has done a cool test with Penske, in IndyCar. [But] for me, I love endurance racing; I love going to Le Mans. It would be cool to try Australian Supercars one day, [and] to do the Bathurst 12 Hours [sportscar race). There are definitely things on my list and hopefully they will come along at the right time.”
As Jordan mentions Le Mans, I feel it’s time to mention the 2017 race. Driving for the Corvette Racing works team and leading the GTE-Pro class from Aston Martin, he would get into the car to take it to the chequered flag. With just one hour to go, the battle for the lead was remarkable and was resolved, sadly for Jordan, only when AMR’s Jonny Adam took the lead at the start of the last lap. The phenomenal defensive driving display by Jordan left him with zero grip and he was forced to relinquish a further position to finish a hard-fought third in class.
“It was a tough situation whereby we had to run the last four stints of the race with Jan [Magnussen] and me bouncing in and out of the car in single stints. I had to get in [for the run to the flag] on used tyres, to keep track position, so we knew it was going to be a fight. We knew that they [Aston Martin] had had a strong car all race long so, when I left the pits with them on my tail, I thought, ‘This is the worst case scenario – I’ve GOT to hold them off’. I was actually shocked that I could hold them off for so long because all race long they had been blowing by us on the straights. To come that close was heartbreaking, but I think we put up a good fight in true Corvette, ‘Never Give Up’ fashion.”
Manufacturer conflicts are such an important part of Le Mans history and, whilst over the last 2 years, much has been made of the re-kindling of the Ferrari/Ford feuds which were at their height in the 1960s, Corvette and Aston Martin have fought highly competitive, yet very respectful, battles at La Sarthe for over a decade.
Jordan agrees that this is THE defining GT rivalry of this generation.
“It was an honour to be a part of it. I used to lie on the coach with my dad and watch Le Mans through the night. I miss those days but, to think I watched that race as a kid, and for fans to watch the race this year, I don’t think there’s been such a close GTE race; [the pass for the lead] coming so close to the end of the race – it was cool.”
The final word goes to older brother Ricky, and thoughts about his future. After his successful test for Penske, is there an Indy 500 drive coming shortly?
“Jordan and I are in a similar situation,” he explains. “We have made our names in sposrtscar racing and it’s our home. To go to IndyCar would mean starting from zero, and all of that would be exciting, but I think we’ve still got a lot to achieve in sportscar racing. We’ve had great support from GM and now Cadillac. It’s an exciting time here in IMSA. We have Mazda Team Joest and Penske Acura coming to the series in 2018. We are in the place to be. Other drivers should be excited about coming to join us in this championship.”
IMSA Radio’s, John Hindhaugh was speaking to Ricky and Jordan Taylor at Road America during the run up to the race on Sunday. Live video can be seen for audiences outside North America via the IMSA Live Video Stream, with free, global access available on IMSA Radio at RadioLeMans.com. Images courtesy of WTR/Brian Cleary.