CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Ricky Taylor's amazing sports car season landed him another perk Wednesday when he was picked as the final driver for Roger Penske's new Acura program.
Taylor teamed with younger brother Jordan to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the first five races of the season as the duo claimed the championship for their father's Wayne Taylor Racing. The family wrapped up the title on Saturday, and less than four days later, the eldest son was a Team Penske driver.
Ricky Taylor said it was an opportunity of a lifetime to drive for Penske, and one his father and brother would not want him to skip. He will team with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves next season.
"I can't lie: nobody could have taken me away from driving with my brother and everything that my dad had built there besides an opportunity like this with Team Penske," Taylor said.
Wayne Taylor said his entire organization was supportive of his eldest son's move.
"No matter which way I look at it, professional and personally, it is a father's dream to have his son called upon by Roger Penske," said Wayne Taylor, who did not name a replacement driver for his Cadillac program. "I've still got Jordan, and he knows how to win championships. I think the replacement we're working with at the moment is of that caliber."
Jordan Taylor won his second championship this season. His first was in 2013 with his father's team, while Ricky Taylor had a horrible year with Spirit of Daytona Racing. Although it taught the brothers how to race against each other, and how to deal with the emotions that come with one brother succeeding while the other struggles, they also learned to appreciate this season they had together.
"The thought of leaving the team this year was a bit strange," Ricky Taylor said. "I think when we do get back out on track, I'm going to make my best effort to treat him like any other driver. I got used to it in 2013."
Jordan Taylor posted on social media a series of photos of the brothers celebrating this season with a message to Ricky Taylor. "I'm going to miss this so much, but I am so proud of my brother to be joining Penske. Don't be sad that it's over, be happy that it happened," he wrote.
"For Ricky, having the chance to go to Penske is a huge opportunity for him," he later said. "As a brother, I couldn't be more proud of him. As a teammate, it makes me sad. But it's just an unbelievable opportunity to drive for Roger Penske."
The second Penske car will be fielded for Dane Cameron and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya. IndyCar stars Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud were named the endurance drivers for the organization.
Team Penske President Tim Cindric acknowledged the team has put together a high-profile lineup for its sports car return. In last week's season finale at Petit Le Mans, a race Team Penske entered just to get its feet wet, the trio of Pagenaud, Montoya and Castroneves finished third in an LMP2-spec Oreca 07-Gibson.
"Our intention is to put together the best lineup we can," said Cindric. "The experience that these guys have is kind of unquestioned. When you look at it, again, it's a matter of having a group that works together. We think this group is right there for that."
The team is returning to sports cars with Acura prototype program, and Penske has built a team he hopes will win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ricky Taylor got his shot with Penske in February when he tested the Indy car, normally driven by Pagenaud, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course. Pagenaud won 10 American Le Mans Series races between 2009 and 2013, including a class win in the 2010 Petit Le Mans while racing for Acura. He also earned four wins while driving for Peugeot, including two at Spa and two at Silverstone. He is a former pole sitter for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Rahal has competed in sports car competition since 2006, primarily filling in as an endurance driver at the longer events like Daytona, Sebring and Road Atlanta. His father fields a sports program.
Cindric said the Penske program wasn't the right fit for his 19-year-old son, Austin, an upcoming star in several different series.
"I think he's got a lot of time in front of him to continue to climb up the ladder," Cindric said of his son. "This probably wouldn't have been a good step for him initially with the high profile nature, not because he wouldn't want to, but he understands there will be the right time for him if he deserves it."