DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 59th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona Jan. 30-31 was one of the most competitive in the history of the iconic event. Still, it had a familiar ending.
Wayne Taylor Racing won the event on Daytona Int’l Speedway’s 3.56-mile road course for the third consecutive year, but there weren’t a lot of similarities between the team that topped the race in 2020 and the squad that triumphed in this year’s edition of the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic.
After 28 years of running General Motors race cars, most recently Cadillac DPi machines, the Florida-based team, operated by former driver Wayne Taylor, made the speedy offseason change to Acura ARX-05 DPi machines.
Ricky Taylor returned to his dad’s team, along with Filipe Albuquerque, Alexander Rossi and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves as the familiar Konica Minolta No. 10 used a completely different driver lineup than the previous season.
With Albuquerque at the wheel during the stretch run, the Taylor team outran the No. 48 Cadillac fielded by Action Express Racing and shared by Kamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud, Mike Rockenfeller and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson by 4.704 seconds.
However, up until the final few laps, it appeared Chip Ganassi Racing was poised to snatch the set of Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches from the grip of the WTR team, courtesy of an inspired drive by Renger van der Zande, who won the Rolex 24 with the Taylor team in 2020.
Aboard Ganassi’s No. 01 Cadillac, Van der Zande was chasing down Albuquerque during the closing laps when the right-rear tire on Van der Zande’s car shredded with eight minutes left on the clock. As the Ganassi-owned Cadillac limped to pit road, Albuquerque held off Kobayashi to give Acura its first Daytona victory.
“I could almost see his (Van der Zande’s) eyes in my mirrors,” said Albuquerque. “He was so hungry for this, especially with the story of him leaving Wayne Taylor (Racing) and having to go to another team.
“He was faster, definitely, but it’s one thing to catch … it’s another thing to pass,” added Albuquerque. “He was really pushing hard. I was lucky they had a puncture, but he was really pushing hard in that bus stop (backstretch chicane). Still, congratulations to Chip Ganassi, Renger and all of them. They ran a really strong race.
“I think this was a hell of a show, probably the hardest race of my life. Beautiful.”
The winning team completed 807 laps, a race distance of 2,876.14 miles, to top at Daytona for the fourth time in five years.
“I could probably tell you that today was one of the best days I’ve ever had,” Wayne Taylor said after the race. “It was a very, very special day.”
In late September, seven weeks before the end of the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, Taylor confirmed that WTR had signed with Acura for the 2021 season.
During that short time frame, the team had to acquire and assemble the equipment, hire drivers with experience in the Acura ARX-05 and get the car ready to race.
The reward, aside from the victory itself, was sharing it with his sons. While Ricky Taylor was helping WTR claim the overall and Daytona Prototype international class victory, Taylor’s other son, Jordan, helped Corvette Racing win the GT Le Mans class.
In 2017, WTR won the Rolex 24 for the first time, with Ricky and Jordan joining Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon as co-drivers. The latest victory, Wayne Taylor said, could be even better than the first.
“It’s hard to say I could top what happened in 2017 when I won with both of my kids, but today we won it with Ricky, Jordan won the GT class for Corvette and the Wayne Taylor Racing program won it overall,” he said humbly. “It’s given me a new lease on life. Quite honestly, I was getting bored.”
As a driver, Wayne Taylor was legendary, winning two Rolex 24s, three IMSA championships and the LMP1 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1998.
Taylor the team owner has two championships, a win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, three Motul Petit Le Mans victories and four Rolex 24 At Daytona triumphs.
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