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No. 90 Vette Is Out To Improve Spirits In Kansas

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, August 15 2013

The Spirit of Daytona Corvette is in search mode at it arrives in Kansas for the SPF Grand Prix this weekend. (File photos courtesy of the Grand-Am Rolex Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – There wasn’t even the slightest hint of resentment from Daytona Prototype driver Richard Westbrook when he was asked the awkward question about the disappointment level of his and his team’s performance during the 2013 Grand-Am Rolex season.

Probably because such questions have been fired his way fairly often over the last couple months, but also because – it quickly became evident – he feels the questions are warranted.

“Every driver during their career is faced with tough seasons,” Westbrook said, “and we’re definitely going through one at the moment. There’s no point in hiding that.”

Making 2013 so tough for Westbrook, co-driver Ricky Taylor and their Spirit of Daytona Racing team were the expectations that swirled all around their one-car operation prior to the start of the season.

The team had won three races in 2012 and it had finished a super impressive third in points. Seven times, the dark blue No. 90 Corvette finished in the top five at races. It started on the pole three times. In the offseason, it had added Taylor, who challenged for championships while driving for the team owned by his father – Wayne Taylor Racing – in the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Taylor said that one of the big reasons he left his father’s team to driver for SOD was the promise the No. 90 showed in 2012.

Ricky Taylor is the new guy at the Spirit of Daytona.

“They had the car to beat,” Taylor said Wednesday. “I think everybody wanted to be in it.”

“We were a very fast car last year,” Westbrook added as his team began to set up for Saturday’s debut race at Kansas Speedway. “We had the three wins. It’s fair to say that we were very confident going into this year.

“And maybe, that was our mistake.”

Whatever mistakes were made, the results began to show immediately. In the first race of the season – the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway – the No. 90 Corvette finished fifth. In the succeeding  eight races, the team has been able to post just one podium finish.

Last weekend at Road America, Spirit of Daytona had its worst finish of the season as it was 13th in class and 27th overall.

Waiting for the team at Kansas was the question Westbrook and Taylor have gotten so used to in 2013: What’s happened to the Spirit of Daytona this year?

Several things, Taylor and Westbrook say.

For Taylor, just joining a new team. He turned 24 years old earlier. His entire Grand-Am career has been as a driver for Wayne Taylor Racing. Even though that team and his new team both use Corvettes, they are different Corvettes as WTR uses Dallara chassis and the Spirit of Daytona car uses a Coyote chassis.

“It’s a new kind of learning experience for me,” Taylor, who in 2011 won six straight poles and finished second in points for his father, said. “I’m not driving with Max (Angelelli, his experienced co-driver at WTR) for the first time.”

Then there is the “stuff” that happens in racing – especially in sports car racing. Bad luck. Having to adjust to a new lead engineer. Wrong place at wrong time.  Caught up in other people’s stuff.

Both drivers say their team has not been off by a whole lot.

“We’ve shown pace,” Westbrook said. “We’ve definitely shown pace. From what I could tell, we were the fastest Corvette in Atlanta, we were the fastest Corvette in Watkins Glen, we were the fastest Corvette in Barber (Motorsports Park in Alabama). We just got ourselves in situations during races, whether it was strategy or a puncture or a problem in the pits that put us out of contention and it made us appear like we were just not running on the pace. I can tell you, the pace is still there. We just need to brush up on everything else.”

The brushing up process begins this weekend at the SFP Grand Prix on the brand new Kansas Speedway infield course.

Counting Kansas, there are just three races left in the season and though Westbrook and Taylor are seventh in points points – 31 behind the leading Starworks team – they are counting heavily on a good showing this weekend.

“We just need a bit of momentum,” Taylor said.

Said Westbrook, “This season is not over. Maybe points-wise we’re out of it, but these last three races are so important to us. We’ve got a low downforce track here at Kansas, where we want to prove we’re quick on the low downforce tracks, which we haven’t been able to do in the last two years. And then we’ve got two tracks that you could argue are in our comfort zone; Laguna and Lime Rock, where we had a first and a second last year.

“We want to go out and emulate that and show that we still got it and that we’re going to be the guys to beat in 2014.”

There is no shortage of spirit in the Spirit paddock.

Saturday’s SFP Grand Prix will feature rare night racing. The race is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. EDT and go for 2 hours, 45 minutes. It will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 2 and shown again on Fox Sports 1 at 4 p.m. Sunday.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, August 15 2013
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