Jordan Taylor and the Greenwood Corvette
Jordan Taylor and the Greenwood Corvette
Jordan Taylor sports strong modern racing credentials — at 28 he’s already a 12 year veteran with multiple wins — but this year, spectators got a special treat when he hit the track at the 2019 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion in a legendary 1976 John Greenwood Corvette.
Taylor was just 16 when he drove his first Rolex 24 at Daytona in a Porsche. He’s also done time in a Mazda RX-8 before eventually joining up with General Motors. He was part of the factory Corvette team that accomplished a class victory in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, among many other wins.
At Monterey this year, Taylor was able to show off his vintage car cred. “I’d say my interest starts in the late 60s, early 70s, then goes through the 90s with Porsche 935s and 962s, the GTP cars and others like the Greenwood Corvettes,” said Taylor.
“For me, [professional racers] miss a little bit of purity of the sport these days. To go to these vintage races and to see these old cars and to understand what it was like back then is super fun. I really appreciate it and I try to learn as much as I can about the history of the sport to know where it came from and where we are now.”
And he has done his homework. “I sat down with Mark Raffauf and Mitch Bishop (who co-wrote a book about IMSA’s 50 years) and went through the book from the 60s, 70s and 80s. We went page by page and they were telling me stories about everything back then. It sounds so interesting to me because it’s so different from what we have now.”
One good example is the design of the Greenwood Corvette, which was “very exaggerated,” Taylor points out. “Obviously they didn’t have the technology of CAD (computer aided design) and wind tunnels to perfect every little detail. But the car is beautiful. It’s based off the C3 Corvette, the lines are awesome, so aggressive and so mean. I think if you saw that car in the 1970s it would look like a spaceship.
“And it sounded like one too. When you start that car you feel it in every bone in your body, so much raw power. I think the car had about 800 horsepower, which is close to double what we have when we go to Le Mans these days in GT classes.”
The car was so powerful, Taylor had to change his handling style. “It was like a true monster of a car that you really have to manhandle and, as they say, get up on the wheel and drive it to get the lap times out of it. When you go to Le Mans in today’s C7.R it’s more of a finesse car where you don’t have the horsepower to save you if you make a little mistake. It’s more momentum based. If you overdrive it, it doesn’t reward you. So you have to be a little bit patient with the car.”
But that is not the case with the Greenwood Corvette. As Taylor explained, “You’re attacking everything and pretty much just hanging on for dear life. It doesn’t do everything very well. But it definitely goes in a straight line very well. And you use the throttle pretty much to do everything. You use it to rotate the car, to point it to the exit and accelerate. Honestly, it was one of the most fun cars I’ve ever driven because it’s so different than what we have these days… and it rewards you.”
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The older tools proved to be a great deal of fun for Taylor. “In a Greenwood Corvette you have to look at gauges again. Very cool. In race cars these days you have alarms that go off basically telling you something might be wrong. Now I had to look every lap to remember to check the gauges. It was fun to get back in the habit of just being a driver and not driving something in which engineers have taken away a lot of the skills a driver needs.
“I had to get back to doing brake-accelerator heel and toeing on the downshifts with an H pattern shifter. Thankfully the car has so much power. Our gearing was suited to Laguna Seca and I only used third and fourth gear. These days in our racing you can pick and choose every single gear to suit the track. You’ve got almost unlimited options to gear it properly. Then you’re basically flat on the gas and shifting with the paddle shifters when you see the shift lights. When you brake you push the down paddle and it auto blips the throttle. So for me it was a little bit of a blast from the past to get back to doing some heel and toe.”
When asked if he’d be interested in driving other vintage models, Taylor said, “I think it’d be really cool to experience some other cars as well, like maybe a GTP car at one point, and then something a little bit different, but the Corvette was an unbelievable experience, above all expectations in a positive way.
“Driving that old Corvette was unbelievable. It’s hard to put myself in the position of those guys back in the 70s driving with no HANS device, no good ear protection or fire suits and probably not good headlights doing 220 miles an hour on the Mulsanne in the middle of the night. It’s cool to just experience it and enjoy it firsthand.”
For a look at Jordan Taylor’s alter ego, check out @RodneySandstorm on Instagram. Be ready to smile.
John Lamm worked for Road & Track for 37 years and is equally happy behind a keyboard or a camera. He has written ten automotive books and has been honored with the International Motor Press Association’s Ken Purdy award and the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor award for writing. He is on the organizing committee for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and has been a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for two decades.