14 – 16 January
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship
Wayne Taylor Racing
After a weekend that didn’t go so well, in Sebring, we went to Mi-Ohio, a track in which the Acura won for the last three years (2018, 2019 and 2020). The will to win and go back to the podium also came from everyone who told us we really needed to win.
In fact, Acura has a factory in this state, so all its bosses were there at the race, which is why it was called the Acura Sports Car Challenge presented by the TLX Type S, a new model presented by this manufacturer during that race weekend. There was a lot of pressure – but there always is, by ourselves.
The track is small, in the middle of Ohio’s wheat fields and meadows of grass. On my way to the tack, always back and forth with Ricky, I noticed the fields, the lonely roads, the farms and the barns. There was audience at the track, events were open to the public, with the proper social distance. It’s been too long since the last time something like that happened.
The team culture was good, we were focused on learning more about the car, doing different setups, exploring additional ideas, mainly because the gap between races was long, which allowed the engineers to learn and study more about the car through telemetry.
The plan for this race was for me to qualify, start the race and take the car to Ricky, so he would finish it. The free practices went well although it’s always hard to really understand everyone’s true pace but it seemed like the qualifying was going to be disputed amongst ourselves, cars #60 (the other Acura) and #31. I really wanted to make pole position, especially because I’ve never made a pole position at IMSA and thought I had good chances. At one point I led the qualifying session but was overtaken by Mazda, who surprisingly did a better lap than we did. I say surprisingly because it was just .095 seconds faster and they haven’t shown their speed during free practices. It just shows how competitive this championship is. I was still able to qualify 2nd place, which is still the first row on the grid, even though I knew the start would be extremely hard at turn 1 because I was going to be on the outside and it’s a turn where many accidents happen, mainly for those starting in 2nd place.
I used the warm up session to practice the start and turn 1. This decision made a lot of people confused because they thought I was having issues due to the fact I was slowing down in the middle of the straight, after turning from the outside. I was already practicing and thinking about the race, not the warm up. As drivers, we prepare for a million different outcomes for the start. Even though I raced twice in Mid-Ohio before, it is always important to know new limits.
The start ended up to be terrible, probably one the worst as of recently. I immediately ended up fighting my place throughout that straight with Pipo Derani (p3), but I was prepared from that earlier practice of mine, turn 1 was under control and I was able to keep my place simply because I knew that turn well enough to go through it with cold tires.
On my first stint I was expecting to have the same pace as Mazda’s but that car was much faster and I had to manage my own pace. This lack of pace was a result of our race strategy, because we decided to kick off with qualifying tires, when most of the other drivers started off with new tires. At the pit stop, when exchanging the tires for the second stint, we put new tires in and my pace drastically improved, to everyone else’s level.
I handed off the car to Ricky when we were 3rd, he did half the first stint comfortably well, with good pace, until that yellow flag came in and changed everything. Everyone had to improvise the race’s strategy and it was at that time that we came to the boxes while the safety car was going and left after #31. The Mazda came down from 1st to 3rd.
At the restart, Ricky had an amazing sense of opportunity because #31 made a mistake at turn 4 and Ricky managed to place himself well enough to overtake him at turn 6.
We started leading the race we weren’t sure we would get through the end with the same fuel tank. All the cars were on the same strategy, to save fuel, only we were the ones defending the first place.
The #31 was going well and even seemed to have more fuel than the others. As at this point, our engineers were calculating at each lap the amount of fuel we had until the end of the race, without ever knowing if we would end it up midway through, like it happened to me at Petit Le Mans in 2019, when I ran out of gas on the last turn, after 10h of race.
We believed that all the other cars were facing the same challenge and stretching their boundaries. In fact, there were cars who stopped to add just a little over .5 gallon of fuel because they didn’t have enough to finish the race.
We decided to take our chances and run for victory, knowing the risk of literally getting stranded in the middle of the track and losing the race. It was all or nothing. I won’t deny, I was pretty nervous because I am used to doing all the last stints but it felt good to trust my teammate and to know that he was able to manage it – and if he didn’t, it was because it just wasn’t possible.
At the end it paid off and we won a race of skill, strategy and some faith. This was the fourth time the Acura won in Mid-Ohio, my first victory and Ricky’s third in 4 years.
Of course, when we win we’re all heroes, mainly when we have the big Acura bosses present and after having heard that Acura always wins at Mid-Ohio. Once again we matched the expectation but keeping in mind it was only our third race with this car.