IMSA Leans on Driver Star Power to Increase Interest

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IMSA - Racing - Social - Juan Pablo

Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Jordan Taylor.

While this could be everything from a “Dancing with the Stars” lineup to the podium of a Formula One or IndyCar race, it just so happens to be a grouping of the talent that is helping propel IMSA to new heights in 2019 and beyond.

Having secured a new TV rights deal and with key digital metrics up across the board, IMSA is trending upward at a time when other motorsports series are experiencing declines.

One of the reasons why? Driver star power — something that IMSA has been able to capitalize on over the course of the last few years.

“Having Helio and Juan Pablo in our paddock has, without question, been a boost to the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship,” IMSA President Scott Atherton said. “They each brought an impressive resume to IMSA consisting of many race wins, championships and memorable moments across several top categories of motorsport. Their ‘household name’ status – along with Penske –  has had a positive impact on IMSA as a whole.”

While Montoya and Castroneves built massive followings competing in other series around the world, Taylor has grown up in IMSA, a series in which his father won the 1996 Rolex 24 At Daytona and 1996 12 hours of Sebring and was IMSA WSC champion in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998.

“My dad drove for 30 years and for Ricky and I, what was normal for a kid who would go to the football field or the baseball field on the weekend, we would go to the race track,” said Taylor as he was talking about his passion for the sport. “There was never any passion to want to be a football player or basketball player or a lawyer or anything like that, it was only racing so it was almost like nothing ever entered our minds to do anything else.”

SEE MORE: Inside IMSA: A Series on the Rise

Chasing that passion has worked out for Taylor, as he found himself in on the top of the podium last year at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and at the end of the season as the 2017 champion in the Prototype class of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

He has also brought another personality to the track in Rodney Sandstorm, an alter ego that has taken on a life of its own and has thrust Jordan into the spotlight at NASCAR races and with fans across the country.

“The Rodney thing originally started because my neighbor was selling their house and a lot of people were coming in to look at it. So, I was going to dress up as a character every day and introduce myself to them as these weird people and Rodney Sandstorm was one of the characters and he happened to turn into a super fan of racing. I’ve made a couple of appearances as Jordan Taylor, but I’m getting calls to make appearances as Rodney. I flew to Talladega, I’m flying to Charlotte later this year, Martinsville has asked if Rodney wants to come. So it’s kind of taken on a name for itself.”

Much of the attention around Sandstrom stems from Taylor’s use of social media, an aspect that IMSA has helped champion and encourage from all of its drivers.

As someone who grew up watching and then racing in IMSA, Taylor couldn’t be more happy to have guys like Castroneves and Montoya racing alongside him in the series.

“Having Montoya and Castroneves, arguably two of the biggest names in motorsports, is great for IMSA,” said Taylor. “It brings a ton of eyes from the open-wheel world and from South America. For a driver like myself, it brings more eyes to me and our team. It’s all positive.”

Not ones to shy away from a challenge, Castroneves and Montoya have used the early part of the year to get up to speed in a type of racing that is somewhat different for them. Now, both are enjoying their time with the series and the challenge it presents.

“It was like learning a new language,” said Castroneves. “I’m lucky that I have an amazing team and great teammates who have been able to get me up to speed quickly. It’s not easy to teach an old dog new tricks.”

As for the fans, they have come out in force.

“Everyone has been so welcoming and they have been so excited to have me here,” said Castroneves. “It’s a situation that has really been positive for myself and hopefully for IMSA as well.”

SEE MORE: Michelin Makes Largest Motorsports Commitment Ever With IMSA

For Montoya, the opportunity has placed him alongside quality drivers in an area he feels comfortable being pushed outside of what he is used to doing.

“We have two very experienced drivers between Helio and myself and two really young guns between Dane and Ricky, said Montoya. “It’s been an amazing experience. We do some things better than them and they do things better than us, but we keep pushing each other and learn from each other and make ourselves better.”

When it comes to the future of the series, Atherton believes that it’s in good hands.

“With drivers like Ricky and Jordan Taylor, Joey Hand and Ryan Briscoe – and many others, we have some of the best sports car racers in the world to work with. And with several developmental platforms also under IMSA management, we are consistently watching for that next group of young career-minded drivers coming up through the ranks aspiring to compete at the highest level in the WeatherTech Championship.”