Story and photo by Patrick Reynolds
DAYTONA BEACH Fla- Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem NC is a flat, quarter-mile paved oval that has a reputation as a tough, NASCAR grassroots stock car short track that offers more paint trading and contact between cars, than passing and racing between drivers. The finish of the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona took a page right out of the Stadium’s typical ‘rubbin’ is racin’ playbook as Ricky Taylor executed a bump-and-run on Felipe Albuquerque and won the IMSA crown jewel race.
With just over seven minutes remaining, Taylor snuck his Wayne Taylor Racing nose under Albuquerque’s Action Express ride while diving into turn one’s lefthander as the pair battled for the race lead. Taylor’s right front made contact with Albuquerque’s left rear and sent Albuquerque into a 360 degree spin.
The move resembled a Saturday night Sportsman feature pass at the Stadium’s ‘Madhouse.’
Albuquerque dropped only 4.6 seconds behind Taylor as he quickly resumed pursuit. Officials announced the pass was under review and both teams tensely waited for the call.
No action was taken by IMSA and the race continued with minutes to go. However, the battle between the two Cadillac-powered cars was not over.
“I came back still, but not enough,” Albuquerque said.
Albuquerque closed the gap but ran out of time as the checkered waved over Taylor who was only .671 seconds ahead at the conclusion of 24 hours.
Taylor’s winning co-drivers were his brother Jordan, Max Angelelli, and NASCAR star Jeff Gordon.
Winner Ricky Taylor said of the incident, “We came through GT traffic and was closer than I had been. He’d been struggling in turn one. We were really strong on the brakes.
“People always open their hands a little bit (in turn one). It’s so easy to release the brake and pop in there, you can make it work. I think he (Albuquerque) saw me coming, he saw me committing. He said he ‘closed the door.’ Beaux (Barfield, race director) always talks about shared responsibility and if he knew I was committing why would you close the door and make us crash?”
Albuquerque said, “I don’t think I lost the race to be honest because I don’t race like this. He hit me in the back. I spun and then he didn’t even wait for me, he just took off. If the officials don’t agree that there’s a penalty… ok, but there can be fair play by waiting for the fight, but it didn’t happen so it’s what it is.
“I don’t’ know (about a protest) I’m going to talk with the team and I will do what they say. For me I don’t agree with this… the decision,” said Albuquerque. “It was not a clean move and I think everyone saw that. Everyone knows that.”
“It was a shame the race was decided how it was,” said Albuquerque co-driver Joao Barbosa.
Ricky Taylor recalled his longtime relationship with co-driver Max Angelelli and his brother Jordan.
”He (Angelelli) would come over to our house with a pen and paper and teach us about downforce and overtaking. Today was a good example of one of those lessons. That was a Max move.”
Gordon becomes the fourth driver to win the 500 and the 24-hour race joining Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and Jamie McMurray.
Gordon said, “This is very surreal to me. This whole experience and moment, to have on my resume… it is a very elite group that has won the Daytona 500 and the Rolex 24 together.”
“You see a 24-hour race come down to that (battle between Taylor and Albuquerque) and it was a thrill of a lifetime,” Gordon said.
Jordan Taylor said, “The past four years we’ve had flawless runs. We’ve never gone to the garage. We’ve never lost a lap.”
“I’m very happy for what I did and what I achieved with the (Taylor) boys and Jeff today to finish my career with a win- a big win- in the Rolex 24,” said a retiring Angelelli. “It’s great. I’m thankful and grateful to the Taylors.”
A full course caution waved with 29 minutes remaining to retrieve Michael Shank Racing’s disabled GTD car driven by Andy Lally in the infield road course section. The lapped cars between the first and second place cars were advised by IMSA officials to stay clear of the lead battle on the restart. Taylor jumped up behind Albuquerque on the restart with 20 minutes left.
The duo raced side-by-side and banged sidepods through the infield kink just past pit exit with 17 minutes to go- a precursor for what about to happen 10 minutes later.
The premiere event in North American Sportscar racing produced similar results to summertime Saturday nights at Bowman Gray Stadium. Two teams with one winner and one in second place generated opposite emotions.
Victorious team owner and father to Ricky and Jordan, Wayne Taylor said of his joy, “I don’t think I’ve cried this much since I was a baby.”
Albuquerque said, “I would feel a little bit ashamed of the win.”
The winner completed 659 laps and there were 21 full course caution periods.
Nicholas Boulle steered the Performance Tech Motorsports car to the Prototype Challenge checkered flag along with James French, Patricio O’Ward and Kyle Masson.
The GTLM race produced an extremely competitive race with seven cars finishing on the same lap. Dirk Mueller pulled away from Patrick Pilet for the victory after a tight battle. Mueller’s co-drivers were Joey Hand and Sebastian Bourdais. Pilet’s Porsche then had a close finish for second over James Calado in a Ferrari.
The GTD class winner was Alegra Motorsports with Michael Christiansen, Carlos de Quesada, Daniel Morad, Jess Lazare, and Michael de Quesada sharing driving duties.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on http://speedwayreport.wpengine.com/ . Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.