A year ago, two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso made his first visit to Daytona International Speedway for media day festivities that kick off the Roar Before the Rolex 24.
Alonso went on to finish 13th in the Prototype class in his sports car debut, driving a Ligier-Gibson LMP2 for United Autosports in the 2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Thursday, Alonso returned to Daytona for media day leading up to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship opener, wearing a brand-new black with blue trim uniform for Wayne Taylor Racing. On Friday, Alonso and co-drivers Kamui Kobayashi, Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande will get behind the wheel of the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, joining a 47-car entry list for three days of testing on the 3.56-mile circuit.
“This year, I’m coming to Daytona with a lot more experience,” Alonso said. “It’s not my first time in an endurance race [like a year ago]. Now, I know the traffic, I know the night, I know the circuit as well. This year, I’m in a very competitive environment with a very competitive team that’s had a lot of success here at Daytona. I’m hoping to be more competitive, and enjoy the race more this year.”
Team owner Wayne Taylor began negotiations to land Alonso shortly after the checkered flag on the 2018 event. The announcement didn’t come until mid-December.
“I met Fernando at last year’s race, and shortly after the event [United Autosports team owner] Zak Brown and I started talking about it,” Taylor said. “Fernando seemed really interested, but there was some stalling, so we started talking to other drivers. Then all of a sudden, Zak asked if we still had a seat for Fernando, and we said sure.”
While negotiations for Alonso dragged on for many months, the deal for Kobayashi quickly fell into place.
“We were studying available drivers, and comparing average lap times, and I came upon Kamui Kobayashi,” Taylor said. “So I called him at home one night — it was around 3 a.m. his time. So I put the phone down and he called me straight back. I asked if he would like to drive for us at Daytona, and he said, “Yes, very much.” So we did the deal on the telephone.”
Kobayashi visited the WTR shop in Indianapolis for a seat fitting.
“He’s a superstar, and he’s down to earth,” Taylor said. “After this test, he’s going to the Konica Minolta headquarters in Japan, which is a big deal.”
After racing for five seasons in Formula 1, Kobayashi went to endurance racing, finishing second overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in two of the last three years.
“This is a good opportunity for me, to come to race a sports car in America,” Kobayashi said. “I think the United States has a different type of sports car racing, and it’s going to be quite interesting. I know Wayne Taylor Racing is one of the best teams in the States, so I’m quite happy to join. I knew Fernando from Formula 1, along with being teammates in the sports cars in Europe. He’s fast; he’s good; he’s a world champion. It’s a good package for the 24-hour race. Cadillac has been quite strong here, but obviously I think the driver lineup is probably the strongest part for us.”
Jordan Taylor won the Rolex 24 in 2017 for his father, joining a lineup that included NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon in the debut of the Cadillac DPi-V.R.
“Today was the first time I met Fernando,” Jordan Taylor said. “Kamui came up to Indianapolis for a seat fitting, so I got to spend time with him there. Having Fernando as a teammate is exciting, and having both of them is super exciting. They bring all the experience to our team from Formula 1, Super GT, Super Formula. They also have tons of tire testing behind them, so they can really expedite our learning process for our first time with the Michelin tires.”
The car owner expects to have good chemistry among his regular drivers and the visiting veterans.
“I think this is going to be a great experience for Jordan and Renger, because both of these guys are superstars,” Wayne Taylor said. “I’ll think they’ll learn some things. I don’t see anyone being miles faster than anyone else. I think everyone will settle in and be comfortable, and we’ll find out during the race who’s the quick one, and then we’ll decide how to go.”