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Another Season, Another Challenge For Taylor

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 8 2011

Ricky Taylor drivers the Wayne Taylor SunTrust Racing Corvette during this week's test at Daytona. (Photo courtesy of the GRAND-AM Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

An ever-so-slight hint of exasperation tinged Ricky Taylor’s voice as he talked about this week’s Rolex GRAND-AM Series test at the Daytona road course. Yet another challenge was blitzing the young sports car driver and his career, and the 22-year-old sounded ready but cautious on the other end of the telephone line.

“Initially, I was nervous. Coming to the test,” Taylor meekly said, “we kind of just didn’t didn’t know what to expect.”

Causing the concern was the fact that Taylor, his Wayne Taylor Racing team and his co-driver, Max Angelelli, were about to encounter a big change. This coming season – and beginning with the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona in February – they will be competing in the new Corvette Prototype.

Gone will be the Dallara/Chevrolet they had campaigned in for the past several seasons. The one which won three races and six poles in 2011. The one which challenged the Chip Ganassi Racing powerhouse BMW-powered cars – driven by Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas – before finishing second in the standings last season.

So as excited as Taylor and his team are about campaigning the beautiful new Corvette, they also kind of hate to see the Dallara go away.

“Dallara built such a great aerodynamic package,” Taylor said. “That was our main advantage. My initial thought was that we were giving away our one huge advantage. Coming to Daytona (for the test

Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor celebrate victory at Watkins Glen last year.

on Tuesday and Wednesday), we didn’t know what to expect. We heard all positive things, but (in the past) we were running a Dallara chassis and we didn’t know if it would translate.”

Turns out that it translated pretty well. Taylor said that he and his team found the Corvette to be quite racy. He said it feels, in fact, “very similar” to last year’s Dallara on the infield portion of the track.

“I think we can pick up where we left off, continue to learn what adjustments do what and do what we need to do to get faster,” Taylor said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Taylor has proven several times during his driving career that getting faster has not proven all that difficult.

The son of team owner and former Le Mans/Sebring/Rolex 24-winning driver Wayne Taylor, Ricky started at the bottom.

He successfully moved up through such series as IMSA Lights, Star Mazda and Skip Barber.

In 2008, he debuted in GRAND-AM. But not with his father’s SunTrust-sponsored team. Instead, he gained experience by driving part time for the Doran and Beyer racing teams. In 2008 and 2009 with those teams, Taylor notched three top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.

In 2010, he moved full time to his father’s team. And more success came with him. He, Angelelli and Wayne Taylor SunTrust Racing were not eliminated from GRAND-AM championship contention in 2011 until the final race of the season. In that race, which was run at Mid-Ohio, a broken clutch ended the team’s hopes of dethroning the Ganassi team.

“I think it was a good year for me,” Taylor said of 2011. “I learned a lot. A big part of last year was just learning. Learning how to get the most out of the car during qualifying and just a lot of little things that added up to make it look really good.”

Really good. Good enough that his performance last season allowed Taylor to vanquish all thoughts by others that he had been hired

Wayne Taylor, owner of SunTrust Racing, talks with legendary sports car driver Hurley Haywood.

simply because he was the boss’s kid. And there were plenty of those others who thought that, Ricky says.

“It’s tough,” he said. “Obviously, I would never have been in GRAND-AM if it wasn’t for him in the first place. There’s pluses and minuses to having a dad in racing. But driving for him, he is very tough. He’s much quicker to criticize me than I think most people would. But I think that’s good. It’s all constructive. He’s got a lot of advice and he’s helped me out.

“But, yes, that is something I will probably always be facing. Even if I’m not driving for my dad, I think it is still I’m his kid. For me, all I ever wanted was to prove I can do it. Going into 2010, that’s what I was thinking; I have to do a good job for the team, one of the top couple of teams in the championship, and I was going to have to perform to prove that my dad made the right choice putting me in. (The team) made it all real easy on me.”

That includes veteran co-driver Angelelli, the guy they call “The Axe”.

That nickname is used as a compliment by some but rather epithetically by others. The latter group includes some former teammates.

“Max has been with a lot of teammates in the past 19 years,” Taylor said with an uneasy laugh. “He has a history of being pretty tough on teammates. But our family and Max have been close since 1998. He’s kind of seen us (Ricky and younger brother Jordan, a GT driver) grow up. When it came time to be teammates, it was a little strange, actually, just because it was such a different thing.

“Now that we are driving together, he’s not shy about trying to tell me things and we’re comfortable around each other. While most teammates can be really of competitive around each other, just because every driver wants to be the quickest, but me and Max are not really like that. It’s kind of weird, actually. We both genuinely want each other to go quicker. It’s a bit unique.”

And this year, it will be in the brand new Corvette DP. A good car, the way it looks. But a car that several other teams will also be running.

Another year, another challenge for the 22-year-old Taylor.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 8 2011
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