Interview: Jordan Taylor on Alonso, Kobayashi and chasing success after Ricky

Image by Dole/LAT

Interview: Jordan Taylor on Alonso, Kobayashi and chasing success after Ricky

Insights & Analysis

Interview: Jordan Taylor on Alonso, Kobayashi and chasing success after Ricky

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If the past two seasons have taught us anything in the world of motorsport, it’s that Fernando Alonso’s recent desire to drive pretty much anything has put him on the radar of nearly every top-level racing team on the planet.

One knock-on effect is that some Formula 1 fans are being introduced to new teams – or even new categories – as the Spaniard branches out. But the added pressure of a double F1 world champion’s presence is a small challenge compared to everything else that Wayne Taylor Racing has tackled over the same period.

Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande will share the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R with Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi this weekend, but Taylor has already had to adapt to a “very different” environment after brother Ricky – with whom he won the championship in 2017 – departed for Penske ahead of last year.

“Once he left, Renger was at the top of our list of guys that we wanted to get with me,” Taylor tells RACER. “It was so easy having Ricky because obviously it’s family, and you know what each other is like and how to make them happy or upset, what makes them click and what kind of car they like. With the engineer, we just understood so well what kind of cars each other liked and what kind of compromises we needed for different tracks.

“So when Renger came, or when any new driver would come, it just made it tough to relearn how to compromise and what he likes, what he doesn’t like and the way he gives feedback. I’d say it took a couple of races to get that to click and really understand it. I think halfway through the year, once we got through Detroit and we got to Watkins Glen and Mosport, we were back to, I felt, a winning team and a winning combination again, where we were putting ourselves in a position to win races.

“It was definitely a learning curve, but the second half of last year gave me a lot of confidence going into 2019 together.”

Those signs from the second half of 2018 may have played a part in making WTR so attractive to Alonso and Kobayashi, and as the only Taylor left racing for his father Wayne, Jordan felt Ricky’s departure marked his time to take on added responsibility within the team.

“I’ve been here for years, and we’ve won championships together, and I took on the responsibility where my dad basically told me that I needed to lead the team. The engineer took a lot of responsibility to work with me to understand what Renger needed, because the engineer isn’t a driver and he needs to understand what we each require.

“I needed to be the middle man for part of the year to translate what Renger was saying into what our engineer’s used to hearing from a driver. Where Ricky and I spoke in the same terms of understeer/oversteer, maybe Renger uses different terminology. In my position I was there to facilitate that, and translate from driver to engineer of what Renger needed.

“Those first couple of races, what Renger was asking for wasn’t a usual thing that we would ask for, so I was having to help translate that. Halfway through the year we got on the same page of using similar terminology and understanding what kind of race car Renger wanted. Thankfully it’s not a big difference from what Ricky wanted, so it’s like we took one driver out and put another one in, and he might talk a little bit different but he wants the same thing from the car.”

Taylor and van der Zande, learning to speak each other’s language within WTR. Image by Levitt/LAT

Retirements at Daytona and Laguna Seca last year ultimately derailed Taylor’s title defense, but there was still victory at Petit Le Mans to cap off the season. Off the back of that result, the additions of Alonso and Kobayashi add further momentum, but increased pressure for the No.10 car.

“It comes with a lot of pros and a couple of cons. The cons are just that there’s a lot more attention on us, and people will be picking apart everything that we do. But we’ve had guys like Jeff Gordon in the past, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rubens Barrichello. We’ve had highly rated and popular drivers with us before.

“I think, for us, it’s just a huge compliment to Wayne Taylor Racing and a huge compliment to what my dad’s built for a race team, that guys like Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi, when they want to come and do this race, they want to do it with Wayne Taylor Racing. Because they’ve seen the history, and they understand that this team knows how to be competitive in these races.

“For us, we feel like they come in with a huge amount of experience. At the same time ,we’ve done this race a lot of times, so we know how to run the race while they come in with all that experience. We can pick their brains and understand what they have done and learned in Formula 1 or WEC or Super Formula or Super GT that can translate to our form of racing, and what can we teach them and what can they teach us. I think it’s a good lesson for both sides, where we can help each other to move forward.”

While Alonso contested the Rolex 24 with United Autosports last year, Kobayashi is making his debut. Both have won races for Toyota in the World Endurance Championship this season, and while the Cadillac provides a different challenge, Taylor says it’s in communicating the unique aspects of Daytona International Speedway where he and van der Zande can offer the most advice.

“There’s no real integration driving-wise,” he says. “Obviously they’re incredible drivers, so the last thing I would want to do is tell them something to do driving-wise. The things that we can teach them are things that are unique to IMSA and our form of racing. In WEC they don’t have full course yellows like we have and full restarts, the pitstop procedure is different, driver changes are different, you don’t turn off the car, we are in a lot more traffic, so understanding where you can pass and where you can’t pass.

“It’s Kamui’s first time at Daytona and first time being on a banking, so he had no idea where to go on the banking, which was funny, and where to pass them on the banking. It’s things that I’ve been doing for 10 years that you don’t think of. When a guy like Kamui comes over and he’s never seen a banking before, I almost have to think about when I first came here; what it was like and what I’ve learned over these past 10 or 12 years doing Daytona, and how I can help him with those experiences.

“They’re both humble enough to ask questions, so I think that makes it easier for me to offer information. I don’t want to be the guy that’s forcing information that they might not need. I think they’re humble enough and they want to win this race enough that they’re open to hearing things that we’ve learned over all these years at this race that keep you out of trouble and get you to the end.

Taylor has been coaching Alonso and Kobayahsi on some of Daytona’s quirks. Image by Galstad/LAT

“It’s things like the curbing at the Bus Stop. You can damage the cars through there, so which ones you can touch and which ones you can’t. Where to pass GT cars on the inside and where to pass them on the outside, where they can’t see you. Where the puddles are in the rain. Those are things that we can teach them that are unique to Daytona.

“I don’t think there’s stuff we can teach them that they can’t learn driving-wise because as soon as they go out in the car, within five laps, they’re on the pace. For me, it’s fun to have guys like that to just look at their data and look at their onboards and see how they do things and learn from them.”

While the presence of Alonso and Kobayashi is likely to bring even more eyes from outside North America onto Wayne Taylor Racing, Taylor himself has been gaining attention for some time via with his social media exploits. And it turns out his first interaction with Alonso came through a light-hearted interview video he created after the announcement of the full Rolex 24 line-up.

“The Fernando interview one; I had never even met him or spoken to him before, so when I made that one… I usually send my videos to my brother because he’s usually pretty politically correct, being with Penske, so I asked him, ‘What do you think of this interview? I think it’s pretty funny’, and he was like, ‘Well have you asked Fernando?’. I was like, ‘No, I’ve never met him, I don’t know how to ask him’ and he replied ‘Are you sure he’d be okay with it, or McLaren?’. I said ‘Well I don’t know, but I think it’s funny’ and he was, ‘Okay… well it’s probably fine’.

“I posted it, and then my first form of communication with Fernando was an Instagram direct message. It was him laughing at the video, so I think that was a nice introduction to a superhero of mine, to not have an issue at the beginning.

“I think they’re both super easy-going, Kamui’s the same way. I also didn’t know how to approach it on a race weekend. I usually don’t do much on a race weekend, and we’re usually just focusing on the driving side. Fernando was the one who asked if I had all my Rodney Sandstorm clothing at the test, and he wanted to wear it and do the dance, so they definitely like to have fun as well.”

Don’t be fooled by the social media persona. Fun might be the outward image being portrayed by the WTR drivers, but Jordan is determined to emulate the 2016 success, this time as the sole Taylor in the team.

“It comes with different sorts of pressures,” he says “I think the pressure of wanting to perform just as a driver… it’s very easy just to get labeled as the son of a team owner, so for me it’s like I want to prove myself to the new guy to show that I’m not just my dad’s son.”

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