Homestead, Fla. – As Indy car test sessions go, it was considered a thank you from a manufacturer. Judging from Ricky Taylor’s smile after climbing out of Simon Pagenaud’s car, he was quite welcome.
Taylor spent today testing the Team Penske No. 1 Chevrolet – the same car Pagenaud will drive in two weeks when the Verizon IndyCar Series season opens at St. Petersburg, Florida – around the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.
The test was considered a courtesy by Chevrolet and General Motors to Taylor for his seven wins in four years in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – most notably his victory last month in a Cadillac prototype with Jeff Gordon, Max Angelelli and brother Jordan Taylor in the Rolex 24 At Daytona endurance race.
But there is the possibility – even an underlying hope, if you ask Ricky Taylor – that a courtesy test in an Indy car could lead to something more permanent in the future.
“It can’t hurt,” Taylor said after his first stint in the car. “Every driver dreams to be an Indy car driver. It can’t hurt to be involved with (Team Penske); there are no negatives to that. To get to know all the guys and get to drive the car and get an actual feel for it in a low-pressure environment is a great opportunity for me. Even if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s a big learning opportunity.”
Pagenaud, who set up the car before Taylor got behind the wheel, had as much fun teaching as Taylor had learning.
“Ricky’s definitely shown that he deserves to drive Indy cars,” said Pagenaud, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “When you get the call to test for Team Penske, it’s really cool. It’s a big honor for him and for us. He’s a super-nice guy and he’s been taking it all in. It’s a great opportunity for him.”
The daylong test also drew veteran Team Penske drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves, both of whom live nearby. Castroneves noted that Taylor had been practicing on an Indy car simulator, which helped him get up to speed quickly.
“Being on the simulator gives at least a little bit of an idea for what can happen,” Castroneves said. “Even if the simulator isn’t real, it gives a good direction. I remember the first time I drove here (on the HMS road course). I told him the thing he’ll notice most is the downforce in the high-speed corners. Normally people slow down going into the corners because you approach them so fast, but they forget that when you lift, it’s like a parachute (slowing you down). You don’t need to step on the brakes.”
Taylor’s first few laps were a learning experience. The team took a break for light rain, but returned in the afternoon and Taylor quickly adjusted to the multitude of differences between the Indy car and his No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.
“It’s a very different car to adjust to,” Taylor said. “I haven’t driven an open-wheel car for seven or eight years. There are a lot of different signals the car is sending me compared to what I’m used to. The total amount of downforce this car creates is unbelievable. That combined with how well it brakes and no traction control and no driver aids and no power steering, it’s very different from what I’m used to. … I want to make sure I get up to speed in a controlled fashion.”
Circumstances aligned to create the opportunity. Taylor, who lives in Apopka, Florida, is preparing for a sports car test at nearby Sebring International Raceway in central Florida. Meanwhile, the Penske car and crew will be at Sebring for a test next week, so a private session on Homestead’s 2.21-mile, 14-turn road course fit into the schedule.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for about a year,” said Kyle Moyer, competition director for Team Penske. “We’ve wanted to get Ricky into an Indy car to see how he’d do, and he wanted to do it as well. Everything lined up and we were able to do it today.
“You’ve got to take baby steps, and the first step was to get him in the car,” Moyer added. “Where it goes from here is up to whatever happens down the road. The first thing was just to get him in the car and see how he likes it.”
Montoya and Castroneves complimented Taylor for his win at the Rolex 24, which included a bold move and controversial bump of Filipe Albuquerque late in the race. Taylor, the 27-year-old son of sports car legend and team owner Wayne Taylor, said he’s been hearing about the race since the checkered flag waved.
“I’ve had positive and negative reaction to it, as you would expect,” Taylor said. “But the amount of support that the racing community has had behind the race and that move and the last stint has been really cool.
“To come here as a sports car driver is one thing, but to get to do it right off a big win like that eases everything a little bit more. The whole (Team Penske) team watched it. Having Castroneves and Montoya say congratulations this morning was pretty cool.”
Taylor gave up a day of sports car testing at Sebring to test Pagenaud’s car, but he’ll rejoin his Wayne Taylor Racing teammates Friday as they continue to prepare for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on March 18.
Most of the Verizon IndyCar Series teams will hold a private test next week at Sebring, the last track time before the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10-12. The season-opening race airs live at noon ET March 12 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.