IMSA Daytona Auto Racing

Ricky Taylor walks pit road during auto race testing for the upcoming Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona International Speedway, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — So long as he can't get Andretti Global onto the Formula One grid — seemingly a long shot at this stage — Michael Andretti has turned his attention to other areas for his expanding motor sports program.

First up is the Andretti Autosport debut in this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona. A partnership with IMSA stalwart team Wayne Taylor Racing puts Andretti on the grid in the top GTP class for the most prestigious sports car race in North America and an eventual shot to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"It's no secret that the one thing missing from our racing portfolio was IMSA sports car racing," Andretti said ahead of the twice-round-the-clock endurance race that begins Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

The partnership with Wayne Taylor was announced in December, and although both teams said negotiations were quick and the deal seamlessly completed, it was a bit of a surprise considering how focused Andretti has been on landing an F1 team. His 2021 failed attempt to purchase an existing F1 team led Andretti to petition governing body FIA to expand the grid to allow him to enter two cars.

Existing teams have pushed back hard on the Andretti request, and F1 simply states repeatedly that Andretti is not the only person interested in starting an F1 team. Andretti's latest positioning was an agreement announced with General Motors that would pair him with the top automaker in the United States.The GM partnership, along with the Andretti name, theoretically makes Andretti's bid even more appealing as F1 expands to three races in 2023 across the U.S.

But as he waits, Andretti continues to build his empire. He broke ground late last year on what will be a state-of-the-art facility in Indiana that Wayne Taylor will move into when complete.

And Andretti will open a busy year on the Daytona grid, where his father, Mario Andretti, became one of only four drivers in history to win both the Daytona 500 and Rolex 24. Michael Andretti ran the Rolex three times in his career; Taylor won the Rolex twice in his career as a driver and four times as a team owner, most recently in 2021.

When the Rolex ends, Michael Andretti will shift to California for IndyCar testing next week as the IMSA program expands the Andretti brand into seven different racing series in 2023. That tally doesn't include the driver development program Andretti runs for the late Dan Wheldon's two young sons.

This weekend alone, Andretti will be represented by 12 different drivers in Daytona at the Rolex and two drivers in the Formula E race in Saudi Arabia.

Is there such a thing as being spread too thin? Andretti emphatically shook his head when asked by The Associated Press if he's entering too many racing series.

"I don't believe in that," Andretti said. "I believe if you have the right people in the right positions, that should only help the overall effort. I think there's a lot of things they do here that are going to help our IndyCar program and our Formula E program, and vice versa.

"I just feel we are strengthening ourselves, not spreading ourselves too thin. You are if you try to use the same people in every program, but we're getting the right people."

An Andretti representative estimated the motor sports program currently has 157 employees, with Wayne Taylor adding 30 more with the merger. It was the Andretti resources that Taylor eyed as IMSA transitioned to hybrid for this year.

Taylor had some initial conversations with Andretti but fast-tracked the talks when he saw the other teams during testing of the new cars.

"I was walking up and down the pit and thinking: ‘What the heck am I going to do here? We need to step up to the next level.' And I called Michael and said, ‘I think I'm ready to do this partnership,'" Taylor said. "We just felt that we needed to have a partnership with someone who could bring a lot to the table. Although we've been in sports car racing longer than them, they have major assets that are going to be helping us and are helping us with people and technology and so on.

"And, and so far, it's been just really fantastic working with Michael and the guys and the drivers and very excited about the long-term future."

Part of the goal in merging the two organizations is to help Taylor expand into a two-car factory team — Wayne Taylor Racing and Michael Shank Racing open this new IMSA era of hybrid engines as factory Acura teams with one car each — and to get to Le Mans. The GTP class has been overhauled for this year to make the teams eligible for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but Acura already has said it won't be ready until 2024.

That's where Andretti plans to be, though, as soon as possible. Both he and his father have scored podium finishes at Le Mans, while Taylor as a driver earned a class victory and noted it's the one major race WTR hasn't won as an organization.

"One hundred percent. Le Mans is definitely a goal for us," Andretti said. "With our new partners that we have with Andretti global, our goal is to be in every major racing event in the world. And obviously, LeMans is one of the big ones. And so, down the road, we definitely want to be there."

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