White Knuckle Win At Mid-Ohio

Overall winning Wayne Taylor Acura. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Overall winning Wayne Taylor Acura. [Photo by Jack Webster]

By Jack Webster

I can remember, on one of my many cross-country drives, passing a sign out west in the desert that said “Next gas 138 miles”. I assumed that I had plenty of fuel at the time, and just kept on going. However, as the miles ticked away and the fuel gauge needle kept getting lower and lower, I began to have that knot in the stomach feeling that I might just not make it to that next gas station. That feeling was reinforced when, with still some miles to go, the low fuel light lit up on the dashboard. For the next several miles, which seemed to take forever to pass, I watched that light seemingly glowing brighter and brighter as the fuel gauge needle pointed ever closer and closer to “E”.

I know exactly how Ricky Taylor felt as he piloted his Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Acura DPi to the overall win at the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which was Round 3 of the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. It was a real white-knuckle win.

Of course, when I was driving through the desert, looking for a fuel stop, all I had to do was cruise along, saving fuel. I didn’t have to worry about Felipe Nasr putting pressure on me from behind, like Ricky Taylor did.

And Taylor had to weave his way through traffic, keep his tire temps up, his lap times consistent and save fuel – all at the same time.

It was a great race, a well-deserved victory for the Wayne Taylor led Acura squad, and a great show for the real race fans who always show up in large numbers at Mid-Ohio.

Ricky Taylor’s co-driver Filipe Albuquerque, as other teams pitted for a splash of fuel near the end of the race: “Wayne and the team committed for ‘let’s go big’. Let’s go for the win. It was beautiful, because I was going for that: all or nothing.”

Seems simple, but remember that Filipe had experienced losing a race on the last lap when running short of fuel. “I had a few flashbacks of Petit Le Mans, running out of fuel in the last corner and losing the race. So, I could see Ricky having fuel surge in like the last corner and then miss the race. I was even looking to P3 to see where he was and could Ricky coast the car and get a second place. So, I kind of have experience with that but it was good it didn’t happen to me again and he just pulled it off!”

How about Ricky’s point of view? How stressful was it? “It was a fight from the green flag today. It was super intense. I was happy if he (Filipe) had driven longer and maybe driven the whole race, it was so stressful…They were giving me a fuel number and I was trying to hit it. There were times I wasn’t telling them, no. I’m not doing it this lap. But Nasr was putting me under so much pressure at some points that I had to push.”

How close was it on fuel? Ricky again: “I got the fuel light with three laps to go. I didn’t say anything on the radio because I knew they knew and what was going on in the pits. You could see he (Nasr) was bagging up some fuel over the previous 10 laps, you could see the gap grow out. And I knew he was just waiting to use it at the end and make a charge. And so they kept telling me to back up to him and save the fuel…but the problem with that is the tires cool down and it makes it really difficult, and pick up makes it really difficult when you want to push again. And by the time he was making the charge, the fuel light had been on for three laps, the tires are cold, it’s sliding around and he has a head of steam coming. Then we caught like two cars three corners from the end, it was very stressful.”

But proving once again that he is one of the finest sports car drivers on the planet, Ricky Taylor held on and brought his Acura home in first place, a scant .368 of a second in front of the Whelen Cadillac driven by an equally talented and determined Felipe Nasr (who co-drove with the equally fast and talented Pipo Derani). There is no shortage of driver talent in IMSA racing.

The Mazda Motorsports DPi entry, which started on pole after an outstanding qualifying performance by Harry Tincknell, took the final podium spot, finishing in 3rd, nearly 13 seconds in arrears. Tincknell and co-driver Oliver Jarvis were strong early, leading the early part of the race, before running out of time and laps to chase down the top two cars, which were running on fumes, but still out front, at the end.

Other Classes

The Acura Sports Car Challenge race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course featured three classes of IMSA WeatherTech competition: DPi, LMP3 and GTD. LMP2 and GTLM were given the week off, and a quality field of 25 cars took the green flag at the start of the race. Fans were somewhat disappointed that GTLM was not represented at Mid-Ohio, as Corvette Racing has a large and loyal following, but exceptional racing throughout the field made up for Corvette’s absence.

In LMP3, it was the Riley Motorsports Ligier JP P320 of Gar Robinson and Felipe Fraga taking a 3.249 second victory over the similar Ligier entered by Performance Tech Motorsports and driven by Rasmus Lindh and Dan Goldberg, followed by the second Riley Motorsports Ligier of Jim Cox and Dylan Murry, only 8.8 seconds behind the winning car. Once again, this class put on a good show.

Gar Robinson: “Perfect weekend. This track has always been important to me because I always felt that when you did well here you really set the tone. I don’t know why, but it sets the tone for the rest of the championship. Back in my TransAm days my first pro win was here. We carried the momentum through the rest of the year and ended up with the championship.”

Gar’s co-driver Felipe Fraga: “This was the first time I was able to race in IMSA this year and first time in a prototype, so I’m really happy we could put it together and we won the race together. It is hard for me because Mid-Ohio is not an easy track, it’s quite hard here…. Mostly I’m just thankful for Gar and Riley for getting me here. Let’s go for the next one!”

In GTD, what can you say? Veteran driver and old pro Bill Auberlen won his 63rd IMSA race, once again at the wheel of a BMW, this time the Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, which he shared with Robby Foley. After BMW, the Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 of Zach Veach and Frankie Montecalvo took second, with Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow taking the final podium position in their Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo.

Robby Foley: “The race was on, once we got off our qualifying set of tires. I think our car was better relative to the beginning, just in terms of balance. It was a great effort by everybody. Don called a strategy in the pits. The Liqui Moly car was on fire and Bill did a great job to finish it off.”

Bill Auberlen: “I said this earlier today. It has very little to do with me, everything to do with the cars I drive. The teams I drive for. The do-drivers I drive with. It’s a joke, when you say ‘hey give it to me with a 30 second lead’ – he (Foley) gave it to me with a 26 second lead! But that evaporated really quickly when a full course caution came out and we had to race for it and I had the Lexus right on my tail. The car was so strong on new tires that I was able to gap them and then just run their pace. It was pretty much just full speed ahead all the way through the last stint. The car was perfect. The reason I have so many wins here is because BMW’s are so good on these crazy twisty handling tracks.”

It was a great race weekend at Mid-Ohio. For the first time in recent memory, the weather was perfect and there was no rain at all. IMSA put on a stellar show, large numbers of fans showed up to take it all in, and it looks like we might be looking at the worst of the pandemic effects on racing (fan access to the drivers and paddock area) in the rear-view mirror. We certainly hope so. For more people need to get out and see in person the finest sports car racing anywhere on earth – the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.

Until the next time, keep a close eye on your gas gauge!

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