Headed in the Right Direction After Successful Tests at Homestead and Daytona, Wayne Taylor Thrives in New Role as Team Owner ATLANTA (Jan. 11, 2007) - When they loaded up the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley and rolled the team transporter...
Headed in the Right Direction
After Successful Tests at Homestead and Daytona, Wayne Taylor Thrives in New Role as Team Owner
ATLANTA (Jan. 11, 2007) - When they loaded up the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley and rolled the team transporter out of the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway garage late Saturday after a hugely successful three-day test session Jan. 4-6, Wayne Taylor the driver's work was through - for the time being. But for Wayne Taylor the team owner, work was just beginning with the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season opener and year's biggest race - the Rolex 24 At Daytona - just three weeks away.
Taylor has seen a quarter-of-a-century's worth of Rolex 24s. He's won America's most legendary endurance race twice. And until this year, he's had the luxury of leaving the annual test session the first weekend of January with time on his hands before returning for race weekend.
But not so this year. It will be the first Rolex 24 for Wayne Taylor Racing, the team that came to be just a few short months ago when Taylor assumed the responsibility of carrying on the SunTrust Racing legacy that he and Max Angelelli ushered into the sports car racing world as co-drivers in 2004. With the role of driver/owner comes a seemingly endless to-do list that has made daily life for Taylor almost as much of a blur as the blue SunTrust Racing machine was last weekend while clocking the fastest laps around the 3.56-mile Daytona road circuit in four of eight test sessions, including the fastest lap overall among the 63 cars that took part in the three-day affair.
To the casual observer, seeing the SunTrust car atop the speed charts - and in victory lane - has been a regular occurrence since it debuted at Daytona in 2004. It finished second in the Grand-Am series championship that year. A Rolex 24 win started the 2005 campaign that culminated in the series title. And last year, it battled for the championship all the way to the season finale before settling for third. On the surface, last weekend's turn of events, much like the team's first public appearance in testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway in December, where it also netted the fastest test lap, appeared to be business as usual. Until, of course, the realization that this organization is still very much in its relative infancy, and brand new race teams just don't do such things. Or do they?
For the Rolex 24, which begins Saturday, Jan. 27, Taylor will share the driving duties with fellow SunTrust regular Angelelli, as well as Formula One, Champ Car and sports car racing veteran Jan Magnussen, and four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon. It will be Gordon's first Rolex 24, though he proved to be a quick study in testing both at Homestead (Fla.) in December and at Daytona last weekend.
"Are we surprised at how things are going so far?" Taylor asked. "I'll have to say we set the expectation level pretty high when we set out to do this because, as far as the world out there is concerned, everyone still sees us as SunTrust Racing. For me, it was a huge responsibility to come out of the box with this new entity at the same level, if not higher than, where SunTrust left off last year. To that end, we have hand-selected a group of really good people, and we continue to have great partners in SunTrust and General Motors to go with our drivers, engineers, mechanics and administrative personnel.
"For this first race, we also felt the responsibility to put Jeff Gordon in a good, competitive situation. Things never go as you expect, but it certainly went well enough at Homestead and again at Daytona that the stress level has begun to go down."
While coming away with the fastest laps of the Homestead and Daytona sessions is a testament to the long days, nights and weekends spent at the shop by his new team, Taylor insists on taking it all for what it's worth.
"Coming away from the Daytona test being fastest isn't necessarily what we set out to achieve, but more a value-added bonus," he said. "A 24-hour race is about being fast, but it's also very much about making it to the finish with minimal problems, interruptions, glitches. The guys worked day and night through Christmas and the New Year's holidays getting us ready, so from that standpoint being fastest was very good for morale and to show the guys that all the work has been worth it.
"Now, we need to get absolutely everything working perfectly - driver changes, pit stops, practicing procedures for changing anything that might have to be changed on the car during the race. There is an enormous amount of work to do to get us through, not just by the mechanics and engineers, but by the drivers, as well. There are all of those details to attend to."
The task may seem daunting, but Taylor has surrounded himself with some of the best racing minds in the business, including technical director Travis Jacobson and crew chief Bill Mullen, both of whom played key roles in Taylor and Angelelli's winning sports car racing efforts dating back to the late-90s. Earlier this week, Taylor put the final piece of the management puzzle in place with the hiring of team manager Simon Hodgson, who oversaw Fernandez Racing's IRL IndyCar Series effort last season and before that was a fixture in the Ganassi Racing sports car, Indy car and NASCAR organizations since 1996.
"This is all so very different from anything I've ever done," Taylor said. "I'm a little bit of a control freak, which sometimes makes it difficult to not get involved in too much of the small stuff. But I feel we have all the right people in the right places, and it's my job to lead, and to look at the big picture and give my input whenever it's necessary. My years of involvement in racing are what I bring to the table."
Though busier than he's ever been in his racing life, Taylor is enjoying his new role and has no regrets about putting his name on the door.
"It was very difficult making the decision to do this last year," he said. "I spent months and months trying to make the right decision for carrying on the SunTrust legacy. There were two other options that might have worked, but in the end, this is what my family and Max and Travis thought was best, as they are really my partners in all of this. I also got input from key people in the organization like John Miles and Bill Mullen to see what they thought was best. I wanted to make the best decision for everybody, not just Wayne Taylor. This was going to be the most difficult way to go about it, with a lot more responsibility, but I was at a point in my career that if I was ever going to start my own team, now was the time."
Thus, in addition to his role as race car driver, which he thoroughly enjoys and has no immediate plans to give up, Taylor finds himself dealing with every aspect of running a world-class racing organization, including sanctioning body issues and their impact on the team, financial issues, the ongoing search for associate partners to come on board with SunTrust and General Motors, and the seemingly endless effort to find an edge over the competition through race car development.
It's a world-class racing organization, without a doubt, and already it has turned heads on the race track in testing. But Taylor is quick to point out that none of it would have been possible without the support of SunTrust.
"SunTrust, Max and I have been partners since 2003, when the bank first came into the series," Taylor said. "We won a championship together, finished second one year, and third the other year. When the time came to set up Wayne Taylor Racing, I never could have done it, financially, without SunTrust. They provided their financial services, which is what they do for the motorsports industry. This all had to be done in a very short period of time, and they worked with us to make it happen. When you set up a new race team, it costs a lot of money. You can't build a team, borrow the assets and run it simply on sponsorship because it's not enough. There are a lot of capital assets, like race cars and trucks and pit equipment, tools, parts. And that's just the beginning.
"I've always prided myself in developing and maintaining good relationships with my sponsors, my partners in racing, and SunTrust has been one of the best around since Day 1. The relationship we've maintained with these people at the most senior levels has been incredible, and that's had a lot to do with our ability to make this racing team happen. It's been a combination of our mutual success at the track and our excellent relationship. They have great vision, and they've become a flagship in the Grand-Am series in a relatively short time. What they've done in racing, no other financial institution has done. SunTrust has activated their sponsorship so very well. They've been very creative. Now, as you see, more financial institutions are giving racing a try, but SunTrust is way ahead of the game. I believe the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac is a very recognizable entity in not just sports cars, but all motorsports."
Likewise, Taylor hopes to establish a solid identity for his new race team over time as a standard-setter in sports car racing.
"Our mission is about getting the right messages out there and building a solid foundation for our new entity with sound technical and commercial resources," Taylor said. "What I would like is for anybody who thinks about sports car racing to think first and foremost about SunTrust Racing, about Wayne Taylor Racing. It's like when you think about Indy car racing, the first thing you think about is Penske and Ganassi; in Formula One you think about Ferrari and McLaren; in NASCAR you think about Hendrick, Gibbs and Roush. Hopefully we can someday achieve that status in sports cars.
"What seems to set us apart already is that we are a very close-knit group of people with great support, and we are highly focused and motivated to achieve our goals. It's a recipe for success and, so far, we seem to be headed in the right direction."