BRASELTON, Ga. (AP) — The final championship of the North American motorsports season came down to the final turn of the 10-hour Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, where Ricky Taylor went off course attempting to make the title-clinching pass of Felipe Nasr.
Taylor drove through the grass as he blew the turn, then steadied his Acura fielded by Wayne Taylor Racing back onto the track. Nasr, though, sailed past him in the Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac for Action Express to nip Taylor at the finish line.
Nasr finished second behind Mazda Motorsports — a race winner in its final event competing in the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Series — but it was enough to give Action Express the title. After winning the pole on Friday, Nasr turned the Daytona Prototype international championship into a head-to-head matchup between Action Express and Wayne Taylor Racing.
First car across the finish line would be the winner.
Taylor went for it, after 10 hours and the finish line in sight.
“It's the championship and I'm always going to go for it,” Taylor said. “I should have gone full throttle earlier in the gravel. I race hard and I expect everybody to race me the same way I race them.”
The DPi title went to Brazilian co-drivers Nasr and Pipo Derani, and Mike Conway, a British driver added to the lineup for endurance events who just last week was part of the FIA World Endurance Championship title-winning team.
The title was a farewell gift for Nasr, who is leaving Action Express and is expected to be named as a Porsche factory driver for the Team Penske entry coming in 2023.
“It was intense, that’s the word,” Nasr said. “I’ve worked a lot for this moment. The Whelen Engineering team did a great job. Winning the race was possible. I saw (Taylor) coming, why does it have to be so hard in the final corner? I saw (Taylor) make a very late move and I knew he wasn’t going to make the corner. I just focused on getting through the exit clean and getting to the finish line.
"Job done. It is another championship for the team.”
The race was held six weeks after its usual date because of COVID-19 rescheduling, which meant it was 39 degrees when the checkered flag waved and teams ran under darkness longer than usual.
Mazda Motorsports, which is pulling out of IMSA, won the race with Harry Tincknell behind the wheel at the end. He was joined by Oliver Jarvis and Jonathan Bomarito on the race-winning team.
"We are over the moon, we are going to party tonight," said Jarvis.
Six hours before the dramatic ending, the Taylor family had an emotional stretch when Jordan Taylor was injured in a seven-car crash. Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia needed only to start the race to win a second consecutive GT Le Mans sports car title for Corvette Racing.
Neither expected a terrifying crash would spoil the celebration and turn the season finale into an emotionally draining day for Taylor's family.
Both of the Taylor brothers were driving around the four-hour mark on a restart when cars ahead of Jordan Taylor stacked up in traffic — he said three actually stopped on track — and he couldn't avoid slamming into one at 110 mph in turn 10B of the 12-turn, 2.54-mile circuit.
He immediately thought his back was broken. And yet that wasn't his main concern: Ricky Taylor was leading the race at the time of the crash and Taylor knew his older brother would be concerned as he drove by the crash site.
“My dad and my brother are at the racetrack competing and it was the first time one of us had a big accident, and it's always a fear for a family member to get injured,” Jordan Taylor said. “I knew Ricky was in the car and he was going to drive by this mangled Corvette and he was looking for a thumbs-up. I knew he'd be freaked out. So it was kind of an emotional moment, to be honest.”
Taylor was able to get out of his car on his own and when he stood on the pavement he knew his injury was likely muscular and not a broken back. But he was still required to take an ambulance ride to the care center for evaluation — all while his father was in tears on pit lane worried for one son as the other was locked in a tight championship race.
“I saw him probably an hour-and-a-half later and he was still crying,” Taylor said. “I mean, I hated watching him race for the same reasons and I can't imagine what it's like for him to watch his kids every day."
It was the fifth IMSA championship for Garcia, of Spain, and the fourth for Taylor, of Apopka, Florida.
IMSA will open the North American motorsports season in just 77 days with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, one of the most prestigious endurance events in the world.
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