By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
LEXINGTON, Ohio — It was only a matter of time.
After four races that ended in disappointment, Acura Team Penske finally made good on their promising team lineup with a dominant drive to victory in the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor led the way, with Taylor securing the victory after a long closing stint. The pairing of Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron followed to give Penske the top two positions at race’s end.
Afterwards, the 28-year-old Taylor breathed a sigh of relief.
“For me it’s a huge sigh of relief,” Taylor said. “In addition to getting to drive with guys like Montoya, Dane and Helio, they (Penske) give you such great cars, which adds a lot of pressure. Because every time you go on the track, you know you’re in the best equipment.
“Our Acura’s been so fast all year long, and you know every time you get behind the wheel (that) you’ve got the equipment to win. For me and Helio to win here, and for me to get my first win with Roger Penske is a huge sight of relief. I feel like he pressure’s on still, but it’s not quite as tense every time out.”
Acura Team Penske had all of the potential in the world when the organization was first announced in late 2017.
Roger Penske’s return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship would come with the strong engine and cutting-edge design of Acura’s DPi.
The driver lineup was an all-star team. Verizon IndyCar Series veterans Montoya and Castroneves joined sports car aces Taylor and Cameron to complete the full-time contingent, with IndyCar vets Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal added for endurance races.
Penske arrived at Road Atlanta for the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans ready to contend. Their two entries – the Nos. 6 and 7 Acura ARX-05s – had pace from the start of the weekend, with one entry securing a podium. The organization continued to show speed through the opening rounds of the 2018 season.
Despite their speed the team struggled, suffering from a combination of crashes and mechanical gremlins in each of their first four starts. Through Round 3 of the 2018 season they’d finished no better than third with either of their two entries.
Team Penske is accustomed to winning wherever they go, but their re-entrance to IMSA showed the challenge of the Prototype class. Their two cars entered Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course sitting ninth and 10th in the championship standings, with hopes of a title slipping away after struggles in the season-opening endurance races at Daytona International Speedway and Sebring International Raceway.
Such early woes are traditional for most teams, but they were unacceptable for Penske. Trips to victory lane are as much a part of the “Penske Way” as fresh, well-fitting clothes and well-groomed hair.
After taking a leap of faith in leaving his father’s championship-winning Wayne Taylor Racing team and brother Jordan Taylor for the chance to join Penske, Ricky knew that as well as anyone.
“Team Penske… In everything they do, they’re winners,” he said. “Obviously we hadn’t won a race yet, so each time we got on track the pressure built more and more.
“We knew coming into this weekend that we were very strong, we just had to put everything together.”
Sunday’s result finally saw Penske do just that.
There were no mistakes, mechanical woes or engine issues. Instead there was dominance, a trip to victory lane and, for the first time, a positive vibe and sense that things had finally meshed for the new team.
“I will say I felt the dynamic was really good,” Castroneves said. “We were able to get the car in the front, pole position, and he (Taylor) was able to deliver the checkered flag.
“I feel that was probably the beginning of something we’ll see in many other races.”