By: Ashley McCubbin
When the pieces were being put together for Wayne Taylor Racing’s 2021 WeatherTech IMSA Championship driver line-up, Ricky Taylor had a request for his father – hire Filipe Albuquerque as one of the drivers due to being “a superstar of a driver.”
“Wayne owns the team, but I think in this project now, the maestro – that’s Portuguese for the person who puts everything into place, was Ricky because he pushed a lot to have me n the team,” Albuquerque said. “He called me and said to his dad, ‘We need to have Filipe,’ and I have to thank Ricky a lot for that.”
Albuquerque was a driver already on Wayne Taylor’s resume, as he had been trying to hire him for the past couple of years. Though this year making the switch from Cadillac to Acura and Honda Performance Development (HPD), the window of opportunity was there when it came to selecting his drivers.
“Of course I had Ricky who had been driving for them through Roger Penske and I needed to find him a teammate that was similar age because today, it’s the young drivers you need to have on-board,” Wayne told POPULAR SPEED. “Felipe has won several races – WEC, worked with ORCA, won the LeMans race, and more than that, he’s just one of the nicest people that I have ever met. I could never be as nice at that, not even if someone paid me could I be as nice as he is, and him and Ricky have a good bonding already.
“Then you add Helio (Castroneves) and Alex(ander Rossi) to the organization this weekend and it was fun, it was fantastic.”
The decision to hire Albuquerque paid off, as he drove the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 DPi across the finish line at the end of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona to score the victory.
As the laps began to count down, though, it was Ricky Taylor that was behind the wheel with less than three hours remaining, as the team pondered leaving him in the car. Albuquerque felt if Taylor wanted, “he could go to the end and do an amazing job,” citing that back to the trust the team has in one another’s ability.
However, as all the drivers sat on the timing stand ready to go, Taylor handed over the controls to Albuquerque.
“The reason was to have a driver that knew the track conditions,” Taylor explained. “It was so windy and the cars are so sensitive to the winds, and it pushes the car around a lot. Turn three, you could overshoot so easily. Bus stop – the car didn’t want to turn; you had to do some tricky things to get the car to turn. I think in having someone getting up to speed, it’s so risky to get shuffled back and track position is so important.
“I knew any of the guys could’ve done the job that I did during the stint, but Filipe did an outstanding driver. He only had 50 minutes of rest and got in there and was an absolute monster and carried the effort at the end.”
The close competition was also part of the reason, in wanting to have someone fresh who could put down laps and be able to fend off all challenges. If they would’ve left Taylor in the car, that would have equated to four stints and Alburquerque notes it’s unfair to place that all on his shoulders as “he’s human.”
“We didn’t have the quickest car but we were pushing so hard to defend – one eye on the road, one eye on the mirrors,” Albuquerque commented. “That’s why I was so mentally hard for us. The three stints that I did before handing over to Ricky over at the end, I was tired, really tired trying to open up to the 14-second gap to those guys at the end.”
It seemed they had the race in hand, until the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing entry began to grow lower in the mirror as Renger van der Zane began to reel them in, set to make his charge at the lead. Ultimately, though, he fell shot, being forced down pit road in the final eight minutes with a flat tire.
“In my mind, I was always pushing but thinking that we need to finish and I could see how he was going through the bus stop – everybody saw it, but that’s Ranger,” Albuquerque summarized. “He’s very fast and he didn’t want to leave this one behind. So congratulations to them because to them and everyone, it was an amazing race.”
The challenges for the team went beyond the simple race event itself, though, as they only took delivery of the Acura just a month and a half before the event. They also were unable to complete the usual testing program they would have in place due to the abbreviated off-season for the series.
“It was definitely a test of trust, and a test to preparation and sticking to a plan because of during the lead-up to the race in the shortest off-seasons in SportsCar history just the way it all came down,” Taylor said. “For the team to take on a brand new car with the Acura and to go into the most grueling event of the year, it’s just a testament to everybody. It goes to show they know how to win this race and I feel like we’re all lucky to be a part of it.”