Ahead of this year’s Petit Le Mans, I had a chance to sit down with the Wayne Taylor Racing team’s three drivers — Alexander Rossi, Ricky Taylor, and Filipe Albuquerque — about what it takes to prepare for a 10-hour race... and I walked away learning a lot more than I anticipated.
Like how Wayne Taylor selects his racing drivers for prospective teams; in 2021, when the team swapped to an Acura, Taylor hired drivers that had already driven the Acura for a different team to lessen the learning curve. Or that the current drivers actually have quite a big say in what other drivers the team brings on for longer events — since no one likes to work with an asshole.
Or how Albuquerque actually thrives on jet lag, which makes him a great teammate for those miserable, middle of the night stints.
Or how Rossi copes with the swap between a team-based IMSA endurance event and a driver-focused IndyCar race. (The answer? He just does whatever it takes to win.)
It was a great interview, one of those rare ones where I didn’t have to press the drivers for answers because the three of them had great chemistry and were able to feed off each other without much guidance. But it provides a fascinating insight into how Wayne Taylor Racing functions, both on a greater, overall level and on a personal level.
Full Disclosure: Michelin flew me out to Road Atlanta for the 2021 Petit Le Mans, and it set up interviews for me, which included this chat with Wayne Taylor Racing. It’s actually one of the more fun interviews I’ve ever conducted, in part because it began with Filipe Albuquerque offering me a Nutella breadstick.
Elizabeth Blackstock: So this weekend, I’m just basically focusing on logistics, especially with an endurance race — what it takes to bring all of the stuff together to make these things happen. You guys have multiple drivers. It’s a really long race. You’ve got a lot of equipment, tires, all of that stuff that needs to get organized. What do you do? What does it take for the team, and then for you personally?
Ricky Taylor: I think you could write a book on what we do. I think it’s one of those cases of, it’s really difficult to make things look easy. And I think the good teams really make it look simple. We’re here to do a very specific job, so we live in our own little bubble, and the team is responsible for making us... They’re helping us to do our job the best that we can.
But from our perspective, I’ll just talk about the driver’s side first and then maybe talk more about everything else. But basically, from whatever the media requirements are, autograph sessions and stuff, once the race starts, normally we all watch the start, you kind of get out of the car. We’ll drive anywhere from an hour to three hours at the very most. And then, since there’s only three of us, that leaves a maximum of five hours out of the car, you have to be in the box an hour before, you probably only get out of there 15 minutes after you drive.
So that leaves, what, three hours of rest time between stints? And so that’s when the team organizing really happens, of how do you recover yourself to get back in the car and do your job as well as you did the first time or two, three times ago, in the case of a 24 hour race.
So in that case, we have a masseuse. We have lot of nutrition partners to help us refuel. We actually work with a physiologist and some people that do the different sensors on us, to realize what we have to refuel with and how to get us back fit to go again.
Then we see the masseuse, we may take a shower, we get our food as quickly as we can. And then, we’re back in the box in an hour before you drive again, just in case somebody else has an issue, needs to get out.
And then you kind of just cycle through that, and I’d say that’s the simplified version. But yeah, on the team side, it gets way more complicated.
EB: Yeah, I can imagine.
Alexander Rossi: Yeah, I think the biggest thing is you’re trying to manage it like three very unique individuals, right?
AR: Whereas, that’s where during this race, it’s kind of unique.
No one’s always happy, whether that’s in terms of the car set up, whether that’s in terms of how you fit in the car, how the day is progressing and who’s driving when. There’s always some compromises that you’re doing.
And that’s why the relationship that you have with, not only your teammates, but also the team as a whole, is so critical. And I think that that’s something that’s often very overlooked from an outsider’s perspective — not you guys because you know racing — but from a fan perspective, they look at this is a very individualized sport, and it’s not the case. It’s such a big team effort. Everyone from the people that are in charge of working on the car to the people that are in charge of making sure that our schedules are aligned so that we have the appropriate amount of time just to get lunch on days like this, when it’s busy. That’s something that’s often overlooked. We still need to eat.
And so, it’s as Ricky said, I think the best teams make it all very seamless, but from a true logistic standpoint, I think that we’re fortunate enough to be... The team’s based in Indy, which is central to most of the races that they go to. So, from that standpoint, it’s not too challenging. We can all arrive midday on the setup day, kind of go through your initial meetings and track log everything.
For some of the races, all of us stay track side — for Daytona, especially. So, you can try and go sleep for a couple hours. I don’t think anyone really does. You’re too interested in refreshing the timing and scoring to make sure that none of the other drivers are messing it up.
But yeah, it’s a very fun and enjoyable experience to be able to share in it with other people. It’s different from the IndyCar side, where you’re very selfish, most of the decisions you make. Whereas, here you look at the bigger picture and that’s a team thing.
And then we have to put up with this guy.
Filipe Albuquerque: I think they said it all. But I think as a more outsider, like even before all this, that they said — and Alex is a good example because he comes from IndyCar. So, I think the human part on endurance it’s so important because often we spend more time together than I am with my wife and my kids. Because we go testing, we go traveling, we go racing. And then, often it’s like in-between, so it’s not worth it to go home.
FA: So, the human part and the character often is super important. So when the team chooses a driver, it’s not only just by... There are so many ingredients, like he needs to be fast, he needs to be reliable, he needs to be experienced, but he has to be a nice guy to be hanging with because if he’s just a petty guy? [Shakes head.] He needs to be available as well.
But for example, we’re going through a situation actually for next year, unluckily IndyCar next year clashes with Sebring — which we still don’t understand how they make those calendars because there’s so many drivers doing both of them, so just makes no sense. I don’t know if it’s selfish. I don’t know if they’re trying to measure whatever. I don’t know.
But so, in the end of the day, we cannot have Alex at Sebring, so we need to find a guy as great as Alex to go to that seat. And that knows the car as well and fits in the team and will be comfortable with us. And then, that me and Ricky, we are comfortable sitting in these seats knowing that he’s doing the job.
So, I think that’s why it’s super important from the team, reading people, reading drivers. And I think that’s then the key to success, in my opinion. The rest, they said it all.
RT: And I think, on the logistics side, I forgot to mention, the communication between what’s happening on the race track versus off the race track, like the masseuse and whoever’s feeding the drivers and driving them back and forth to the tracks, making sure we’re awake and that we’re ready to go. And it’s not as simple as just like a strategist telling the driver, “Come here, I’m ready for you.” It’s a lot of communication. They’ve got a pretty cool strategy sheet with all the scenarios of the driver order, and if something changes, that’s where it can get really complicated.
And then, aside from that, since I’m sure we’re talking about tires a lot, we have, I think, 16 sets.
Wayne Taylor Rep: I think there’s 22.
RT: Okay. 22, maybe for the weekend. And I think in the race it’s 17 stints or so, so we have to have 18 sets of tires ready.
I think we have 10 sets of wheels. So 10 sets, already mounted with tires, and we had scuffs put aside planning for how cold it’s going to be. And all that planning just gets to be really intense. Once you start running tires, it’s an art that even we don’t see.
But, I can’t imagine what goes on in the tent, between all the cars and stuff, but managing all that with the pit stops, the stints are really short, they’re only 35 minutes. So, turning that around, it’s not easy. We’re single-stinting tires. Those tires aren’t on there for an hour and a half. They’re on there for 35 minutes just because you want all the performance you can get. And so, we don’t know that side of it so well, but they make it look really easy.
And we have our little quirks of maybe you want a set, if there’s a certain situation, like if you want to set where tire pressure a little different and they have to make those changes on the fly. And all of those things happen really... Those decisions have to happen really quickly. And so, the planning has to be all in place to where everybody knows their job and has that time ready to go to where they can adapt and make changes. Because I think endurance racing is all about adapting.
EB: Yeah. I was going to say what does it, if it starts to rain or someone just gets too exhausted? How do you manage those changes all at once? I feel like that’s gotta throw a monkey wrench in it.
RT: I think the team has it a lot harder. The driver just says, “I want slicks, I want rains.” Which is still not an easy decision.
But, the team has to prepare for all that. And the track is such a dynamic situation, it’s always changing. Whether it’s the 10 hour race where goes from the middle of the day, it’s sunny, and then the track temp is going to drop, what 30 degrees or something, 40 degrees? That changes your tire pressures and how the tires work. A lot. Luckily we only have one compound, but if you go to Le Mans or something, you’ll have multiple compounds, and there’s a whole different aspect at it.
But how you adapt through those different situations, even just in the dry, but then in the wet as well, how much water is out there, we might vary the tire pressures a little bit with that.
FA: It’s improvising.
RT: It’s improvising really fast. It’s not so easy to change pressures on pit lane. And I know our tire pressure guy hates it when we give him no time to do something, but everybody wants to win. And so, he’s going to do what he has to.
AR: The other thing is like, so if you’re the driver that’s coming up, you can think, “Oh, I’m not going to get in the car for 25, 30 minutes.” But, then if there’s yellow and you’re past half tank [of gas], you might take it and do a driver change. You might not. Because obviously the driver change can add to the pit stop time, depending on if you’re doing a full fill or not.
So knowing how quick, if you had to jump in. I know in Walkins I’ve had to... It was Filipe to me, I think. And it was under yellow, and I think they were like, “Okay, you’ve got 19 seconds. You can get it done.” Because usually you’ve got 30. And me and the driver changer looks at each other and we’re like, “uh...”
And so, you do it, and you execute it, and you get it done. You just never know. So, you always have to... Even though it’s like, “okay, you’re done for now,” you never know what’s going to happen. I remember in 2019, with Ricky, he was just driving behind the safety car, and who would’ve thought that would be a problem? And because you’re sitting behind safety car and the exhaust was blowing right at him.
Because it was just, they couldn’t go green. He got carbon monoxide sickness, just from the exhaust, which is crazy. What are the odds that’s going to happen? So, he got nauseous.
But it makes sense. You just never think, I mean, you’re that low you’re sitting right in the exhaust for 45 minutes, yeah, it’s probably going to happen. So, you just never know the variables that can exist.
And then, I got in the car and it was wet and our strategist was like, “Okay, you’re just going to drive just to keep the car running. It’s not going to go green or whatever.” And I was like, “Cool.” Because I hadn’t really driven the car in the rain.
I’ll never forget, he came on the radio and was like, “I’m really sorry, but it’s green next lap.” “Shit!” And so that was... you just have to do it. That’s what you’re hired to do, right?
But, it’s just with endurance racing, there’s so many variables, you never know what’s going to happen over 10, 12, 24 hours, but it’s part of the joy of doing it.
RT: And then, [Alex] kind of alluded to it, but even driver to driver, just based on your driving styles, you might have different tire pressures. So, the engineer knows like Ricky’s style versus Filipe versus Alex, the split of pressures might flip flop and that’s all communicated during preparing the tires for that driver. And if that switches, suddenly you have to adapt.
It’s a lot of things that, and oftentimes, they don’t even tell us. Because they’re just tire targeting the pressure. So whatever that starts at, the different driving style makes it go to wherever it needs to go. And so, they might even tell us what they changed, but yeah, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, for sure.
EB: How many people do you interact with on a daily basis? There’s probably a lot, that there’s like caterers and everything else.
FA: Yeah. It’s a lot of people, and it’s super hard to... It’s my first time racing as well in the World Endurance Championship. So it’s another team. It’s super hard to keep up the names. So it sounds rude, but in the end of the day, you’re going to be buddy and pal. It’s hard, but it’s not taking it without consideration of them.
But, it’s a lot of people and many times it switches, especially nowadays, with the rotation and COVID and going on. So you need to always improvise, but it’s a lot, like here we have what, 20 people?
Wayne Taylor Rep: Yeah
FA: Yeah, 20. So, the core ones we know obviously, and they’re staying there, but then often, like for example, we are going into a new era where we going to a new car type. And it’s going to be more people coming in to help develop that thing. So it’s going to be more people. It’s going to be all spread out. So, yeah, it’s all lot of people, but again, the main ones, it’s our anchor outside the PR person that, okay just guide and gives what to do so you don’t get lost.
RT: That’s where the magic of the team comes. Like, today we belong to Krista and Liz, those are our two people that manage our day. And then, when it comes to racing, we talk to Brian, who does the strategy in engineering. And really we don’t have to talk to anybody else.
FA: We just get told what to do and where to be and what time to be there at. And, “Do this, do that.” And, “Now you’re going to be with this guy.” So it’s like a nanny, taking you to another other person, “Now you are in charge of him.” And, “Okay, you’re done? So come with me.” And we just had to do whatever.
AR: Ricky and I can do it ourselves. Maybe you can’t.
EB: And then, with different teams, you’re interacting with a lot of different people. Alex, you’re coming from IndyCar where you’re interacting with a whole other set of people with different expectations. Filipe, you’re involved in various championships where you’re, again, different people, different expectations. How do you change your mindset? How do you switch that on or off and get to this team with these expectations?
FA: I think the expectation is always the same at this level, it’s like you are hired to win. And it’s like, if you’re doing well, and at this level, these teams, they’re so ambitious, if they’re hiring you. And as well yourself, you are only going to accept good teams that have all the ingredients to win. You are not going to accept something that is like that, “I’m not going to be able to win that,” because then automatically if the car, and the team organization, everything is not there, you know that your results. And you are always dependent on your last result, no matter what you say.
So, the expectation then is always the same, which is win. The switching is, I think, comes along with the territory, with time. It takes a little bit. And then you start getting the routines of like, “Okay, this car is like this.”
Now in America, the race director thinks in a way different than the European guy. Time zones, the way the track is, the way that the tires go around the track is in a bit more above track than others. Different tire pressures have different measurements.
It’s like in Europe we have centimeters metrics and here it’s inches, I’m always confused, like miles and hours. I’m just lost. So basically, and there we have like 59.9 speed limit on the pits, here it’s like 36 miles.
So, I’m just going flat and just hoping I don’t get any penalties.
AR: You know we use kilometers, right?
FA: We do have here, right?
FA: But for the last five years, it was miles. With Action it was miles. Cadillac was just a different one. And, yeah, it is what it is. So it was just like, you adapt to it.
AR: You still have to win no matter what you’re doing, I would say the biggest thing is like, at Andretti in particular, you are answering to more people, I guess.
There’s just another layer of engineering support and stuff. And every driver has their own Honda guy. So from that HPD standpoint, it’s a little bit more, again, you’re tuning everything to a point for you as a person. So there’s just more options available to you.
So, I would say, that’s the biggest shift, just reassessing, what you’re comfortable with. It’s like, “Oh, okay. The car was good for me, but I know it’ll be great for them.” So, that’s good enough. I don’t need it to be excellent for me. Because, ultimately... Most likely I drive the least amount.
So my goal is to keep the car going in the right direction in one piece while they rest. And, if they give me the car in second, either give it to him in second or first, don’t give it to him third. And, everything’s fine, right.
So, it’s really, I try and take a step back and give information from my previous experience, because in IndyCar, with the open damper program that we have, there are certain things where I can contribute like, oh, or if this is a problem, we’ve done A, B, C. If that’s something we can do. So I’m able to bring some outside communication from that standpoint.
And then, the only other big thing is the rules for IMSA endurance racing are very unique, especially with the yellow flag. So I always, the night before a race, just reread basically the guide rule book. Because the last thing I would want to do as the extra guy, is do something stupid and get a penalty for some rule I didn’t read.
So, those are the pressures that I have to think about just because it’s not something that I... It’s second nature. Right?
RT: Alex is honestly the best third driver you could have because he remembers all of this stuff, better than we do. He knows the rules and we’ve spent two years at Penske together. And he remembers stuff that I don’t remember. And I was there for three years.
He only drives the car four times a year. But you put him in, and it’s like a full time guy. It’s super nice.
EB: When you guys are interacting together, do you have to like, before the season, get to know each other or before a race, what do you sit down and talk about?
AR: So, it was interesting, like this year in particular was very interesting because obviously WTR was getting an Acura. Very close to Daytona. And Wayne was really smart. He literally just hired the entire No. 7 car with me, Ricky and Hélio [Castroneves] to come do Daytona because he knew that, okay, the team is going to really be struggling to just get the cars prepared as they want and learn the car.
The last thing they’re going to have time to do is teach drivers about it. So, bringing me, Helio, and Ricky and we knew how the car worked. We didn’t need instruction on all the systems and we could just dedicate our time to helping Filipe.
And so, I think that was a really critical decision that Wayne made because if it was only Ricky and then there was two or three new guys, I think that would’ve been a really challenging situation. Whereas, the three of us could really just help Filipe get up to speed, in terms of, how the car works.
The other thing that was smart was Filipe has driven the Oreca chassis, so there was a lot of just plug and play that existed, which is, I think, why the team was able to have the success so early on.
FA: You’re in an organization of choosing the people. It was key. It’s interesting.
EB: That’s a very high level management vision that you just don’t think about from the fan’s perspective.
FA: And Wayne goes a lot on like now to replace Alex for Sebring. “What do you think about this guy?” “It’s possible, I know that it’s possible.” And they are like, “Yeah, he is a dick.” So, we don’t think that guy. So you go for a different guy. So think about it, “Alex is a cool guy.” “Okay, so this go to the list. What about this guy?” “Yeah.” “Then. Okay. We go to list.” So we kind of-
AR: Like Tinder for racing drivers.
FA: But we do choose a lot like on the personality because it’s not so funny when people think he’s a superstar. We’re going to be like, “Get the hell out of here. You will not fit here.” So, it’s interesting because it’s super important.
EB: Yeah, you can’t have the big ego.
FA: No, it’s like, I don’t care who you are, where you come from, but here you come, you better do the job that we going to ask you for.
RT: And, what’s crazy. You get humbled a lot. You get to drive with a lot of different guys that will humble you in many different ways. As fast as you think you are, as good of a day that you had, the next day, somebody’s going to show you that you’re just a normal person. And, having somebody that’s willing to learn or help you and open the floodgates of communication and working together. The three of us, it works really well. I knew Filipe from the outside, but I had never worked with him. And the same with Alex.
And obviously before this year, we knew Alex from the past. But Filipe just fits in awesome. Everybody shares, like if I’m struggling, he’s the first one, like practice one, for practice two, he’s like, “Ricky, this is how you have to drive this car. You’re not going to like it. But, we’re going to try to set it up to where you like it.” But he is like, “For now, this is how you have to drive it. You have to do this and this.” He’s helping me to be better, which is going to help him.
FA: But, that’s where he goes because I know that it goes both ways. So, along the way that you see the information only goes one direction, it’s like, “Mm-hmm (affirmative), this guy is kind of smart.” But it’s just that openness and humbleness of sharing.
And, that we are dependent on their success. If he wins that’ll be great. And it goes both ways. So you just need have the big picture.
EB: I was going to say, it feels like you’d be shooting yourself in the foot to withhold something from someone else.
FA: You’d go crazy. But there is drivers that they’re like-
AR: All they care about is, “I’m the fastest on the track.”
FA: Yeah, well, we lost because I was not in the car. There’s people like this, they are super selfish and dumb.
AR: And dumb?
FA: Dumb. Because, he is not the single big picture, you know?
EB: And, in terms of just getting here to track, what preparations are you making? How are you getting ready physically, mentally? What are you doing?
AR: So, it’s funny because driving the race car is the smallest fraction of your job, ultimately. So all of your life and year, if you break it down to 365 days, probably in the car for 40 days. So the rest of your time is all just built around preparing yourself, whether that’s through the way you like look at videos, and Ricky is super detailed with his notes from previous years. And, that’s his way. For me, I’m more of a, I learn visually from video. So, I’ll spend days just watching a single lap over and over again, just trying to ingrain that in my mind.
But, I think physically we’re all... You train above a level, then you actually need for the car. So, ultimately with all the travel and different commitments that we all have, your fitness... Is funny, it actually goes down, I think, during the year. Just because you can’t have this consistent training program in nutrition because you’re eating at whatever restaurant all the time.
FA: You’re racing fit.
AR: You’re racing fit, but yeah, you’re not at your peak level of fitness.
But anyway, so it’s... All of your days are kind of spent towards prepping for the next race weekend. So, you don’t really do anything differently. It’s just life.
RT: I think, differently from IndyCar, IndyCar, everybody takes RVs like purely speaking, how we get to the track? He’s coming from Europe. He doesn’t care about jet lag. He likes jet lag.
FA: I like this jet lag, if I’m coming from Europe to here, it’s awesome because then I wake up super early and I do some stuff and... It’s easy to wake up. But when I go home... It’s good that I’m going home and I just need to take care of my daughters. So they just come over and always wake me up because I just want to sleep because it’s five hours different.
But yeah, especially going to Daytona, it’s super interesting because it’s 24 hours. I sleep a lot in the 24 hours. So, basically because it goes down to seven o’clock in the afternoon. Normally no one can sleep. But because I have the jet lag, so it’s like 11 o’clock in Europe. So I’m good to sleep and boom, straight away, two hours or something.
But, then when they ask you to drive at 3:00 AM, you’re like, “Yeah!”
FA: Yeah, I’m as good as gold.
RT: Now we know that we can sign him up for the four o’clock stint.
FA: I sleep all... This trip was ridiculous. Like it was one time I think I slept this trip like eight hours which was crazy.
EB: That is a full-ass sleep.
FA: It is. It always never comes out in a row. Like three hours here, two hours there, three hours later. And I did it. So it was awesome actually. So I felt really fresh for the last hours. And I think that’s the most important part.
So the jet lag. But I’m not lying, but lately I’m aching from Bahrain. So it’s like eight hours difference, so I’ve been waking up at like 4:00. So yeah, it’s a pain.