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Penske Lures Ricky Away From The Taylor Clan

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 11 2017

The championship winning Taylor brothers will not be teammates in 2018.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Blood, apparently, is not as thick as the opportunity to drive a race car for Roger Penske.

Penske on Wednesday announced his full lineup for next season’s re-entry into sports car racing by Team Penske and that lineup will see recently crowned IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship prototype champion Ricky Taylor go to work for “The Captain”.

Taylor will be paired with three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who was announced as the third member of the team’s full-time driver lineup just prior to last weekend’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya were introduced as the team’s first two drivers in August.

“I can’t lie,” Ricky Taylor said. “Nobody could have taken me away from driving with my brother and everything that my dad had built there besides an opportunity like this with Team Penske coming back to sports car racing, and Acura, after their great season in GT this year with the NSX.  There’s so many big factors that it doesn’t look like it’s just a flash-in-the-pan sort of deal.  It seems like it’s something that is really exciting.  The series is growing.

“It was a hard decision after such a good year and so much momentum was built over there, but I think this is a new challenge and an amazing opportunity.  I’m excited to take it.  Although I think Jordan and my dad would have said I was stupid not to. Coming over here was a decision I’m really excited about.”

Taylor’s father, the owner of Wayne Taylor Racing, said he understood his son’s decision.

“No matter which way I look at it, professional and personally, it is a father’s dream to have his son called upon by Roger Penske,” said Wayne Taylor. “So, I’m incredibly proud of Ricky and excited for him, and I think, honestly, the entire team has been supportive of this move, as well as everyone at General Motors and Cadillac. But I’ve still got Jordan, and he knows how to win championships.”

Team Penske also announced Wednesday that IndyCar drivers Simon Pagenaud – who drove in Petit Le Mans with Castroneves and Montoya last weekend – and Graham Rahal will complete the team’s lineup for the 2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida.

“Adding a champion sports car driver in Ricky will help our team grow and develop,” said Team Owner Roger Penske. “Ricky had a phenomenal season in 2017. He brings a great deal of sports car experience and his knowledge of the cars, the racetracks and the series overall will be a big benefit to our team.

“Having that experience, along with the winning pedigree of Helio, Juan and Dane, provides a great platform as we launch the Acura Team Penske program next season. When you add Simon and Graham for the endurance races, I feel we have a strong lineup for Daytona and Sebring.”

Ricky Taylor solidified his reputation as one of the fastest drivers in the WeatherTech Championship in 2017. He qualified on the pole position for five races this year, and his eight career poles put him second on the all-time series list behind James French, who has 10 career poles in the WeatherTech Championship.

His team won the first five races of the 2017 season.

“There’s a pretty big checklist of things that we’re looking for when we’re talking about our drivers,” said Honda Performance Development President Art St. Cyr.  “But, first and foremost, was we want to get the fastest drivers we possibly could.  Looking at the way Ricky started out this year with the first five wins, it was very clear that he was a very fast driver.

“Part of the other things that we had was really someone who could represent the Acura brand well.  Ricky is an American, which helps, because Acura is a North American brand.  Those types of things.  He’s well‑spoken.  We think this is his time to really shine.  We thought that he would be good in the mixture as far as chemistry. When it comes down to it, ultimately we’ve got to win races.  He fits pretty much every box that we needed.”

Full-time drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series, both Pagenaud and Rahal have considerable experience in the sports car ranks. Pagenaud won the 2010 American Le Mans Series LMP championship and owns 10 ALMS victories, including the 2010 Motul Petit Le Mans. Last weekend, he co-drove the No. 6 Team Penske ORECA LM P2 car with Montoya and Castroneves to a third-place result in the 10-hour season finale at Road Atlanta.

“First of all, it was an honor to be part of the star lineup with Helio and Juan Pablo,” said Pagenaud, the 2016 IndyCar champion. “Also, the return of Team Penske to sports car racing, I think it really was an interesting start of a new era for the team.  Being part of it was very special.

“My background is all about sports cars.  Having the opportunity to drive again in that field was a lot of fun.  Great racing.  Fantastic level of competition, as well, whether it’s GTD or Prototypes.  We all had a blast.  The team did a fantastic job bringing the podium back home on the first race.  It was a great time.”

Rahal won the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona with Chip Ganassi Racing, and has made eight starts in the Rolex 24.  His most recent start came this year in the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3, co-driving with Andy Lally, Katherine Legge and Mark Wilkins to an 11th-place class result in the car’s debut race.

“As it kind of runs in the blood, it was a perfect opportunity to come over here,” Rahal said.  “Sports car racing is something that’s important to myself, to my family, and clearly is a huge part of the history of Team Penske.  So, combined with Acura Team Penske, I think it will be a great season for all the full‑time guys.  It’s a dream opportunity for me to jump in and be a part of the endurance races.”

Last weekend at the Petit, the No. 6 Team Penske ORECA LM P2 car with Montoya, Pagenaud and Castroneves drove to a third-place result in the 10-hour season finale at Road Atlanta.

Team Penske President Tim Cindric said work for 2018 will begin will begin quickly.

“We’re going to hit the ground running next week,” Cindric said. “We’ll have all four of the full‑time drivers in the car next week.  It’s good for them to get acclimated with each other.

“Helio and Ricky, they know each other I guess socially, you’d call it, but they’ve never worked together.  It will be interesting there. Dane and Juan, they got a chance to race against each other the other night.  I was glad to see they started things off the right way, kept things clean, because I was a little concerned about how that might turn out for day one as teammates.  They passed the first test.

“Then it’s our goal to be on track one or two times a month up until we get to the Roar in January.  We received our second Acura car actually at the end of last week, so we have two cars in‑house now.  We’re starting to build those up.  Hopefully there will be a point in time where we can actually take two cars to a test, but it will be a little bit before that occurs.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 11 2017
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