What can a racing driver teach other racing drivers – especially when the students are a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, a Formula 1 world champion and a versatile sports car ace?
With Jordan Taylor’s skill set, turns out it’s quite a lot.
Taylor, driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R GTD in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, has been named backup driver for the Garage 56 partnership between NASCAR, IMSA, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear that will field a NASCAR Cup Series-based Chevrolet Camaro as an entry in the “Innovative Car” class for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. He’s also serving as a coach and mentor for the car’s all-star driver lineup of Jimmie Johnson (the NASCAR legend), Jenson Button (the F1 champ) and Mike Rockenfeller — winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and multiple sports car championships around the world.
Not that Taylor thinks they need his help.
“My title is ‘driver coach,’ but I think that’s more of a joke than anything with the level of drivers that we have,” Taylor said, chuckling. “I think a more accurate title would just be a consultant, with a lot of experience on the sports car side — the Le Mans side, specifically, having raced there so many years.
“The Hendrick guys obviously have no experience there, so I can give them some feedback and things to look out for, whether it’s about rules or protocols of a secondary nature that are very easy to overlook when you’re not expecting them. It’s exciting being involved with a team like Hendrick and continuing my association with GM and Chevrolet.”
Indeed, Taylor would be a natural for the role just given his history with Corvette Racing. The younger son of sports car racing stalwart Wayne Taylor has tallied eight starts at Circuit de la Sarthe in Corvettes, claiming a class win in 2015 and three other podium finishes. Jordan and Antonio Garcia also earned class championships for Corvette in the WeatherTech Championship in 2020 and ’21 to go along with titles that Taylor earned in prototype competition in 2013 and ’17, both also with General Motors affiliation.
But Taylor also brings a truckload of intangibles to the effort — like an inquisitive technical mind and steely resolve that is sometimes masked by a happy-go-lucky personality that lights up any room.
As soon as he heard rumors about Garage 56, Taylor reached out to Hendrick Motorsports Vice President of Competition Chad Knaus, offering to help in any way. Knaus kept Taylor in the loop from the start, vowing to somehow get him on board.
“It’s just a cool project to be involved with,” Taylor said. “These days, most of our racecars are homologated to the dot, and this is a program that’s a little bit more old school where the driver gets out and says, ‘This could be better’ or, ‘This could be improved,’ and the team can go back to the shop and develop new parts or new pieces by the time you return for your next test. That’s how you develop a race car.
“It’s been cool to give feedback, and it’s always kind of rewarding when you see some of your feedback going into work and production,” he added. “At Daytona, I gave some feedback on the dash and the layout of the steering wheel, and then at the next Sebring test, it was all there on the car. It’s nice to see that progress happening so fast.”
Taylor believes the Garage 56 Camaro will impress international spectators with its performance in addition to the roar from its NASCAR-derived V8 engine. “I think it’s going to open a lot of people’s eyes at Le Mans and around the world when they see this car in person,” he said.
He’s also looking forward to seeing how the Garage 56 crew — many of whom are veterans of Hendrick Motorsports’ record-smashing NASCAR program — react to the atmosphere and pageantry of Le Mans, the granddaddy of 24-hour sports car endurance races celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first race in June.
“When I went there the first time, it was eye-opening and hard to take everything in, whether it’s scrutineering or the drivers’ parade or all the national anthems going on,” Taylor related. “I think it’s going to be super memorable for a lot of them.
“But this is a project they were all excited about,” he noted. “They’re coming back to competition in such a cool way, and I know they are all looking forward to it. It’s going to be everyone’s first 24-hour race, so I think it’s going to be an amazing experience for everybody.”
While Taylor admits he’d love to be competing at Le Mans for the ninth time as a driver, he’s still honored and excited to be a key member of the Garage 56 team.
“It’s a bunch of amazing people, and to kind of see how Hendrick works has been impressive and I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “Working with Chad and Jimmie, seeing their relationship, and (crew chief) Greg Ives had a lot of success in NASCAR. Seeing how the team operates — how they run through a test, how they do pre- and post-event briefings — there are so many little things I can take away and take back to my regular side of racing.
“Learning a different driving style suited toward a Cup car has been fun,” he added. “Learning from the different drivers — how they give feedback, what they focus on with their feedback, different driving style traits that each guy can bring from their different walks of life. It’s been a super interesting process so far. I’m really happy and excited to have been part of it, and looking forward to seeing how it progresses through June.”