Despite coming close on several occasions, Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor had not won a Rolex Sports Car Series race since Homestead in March. That all changed Sunday at the Barber Motorsports Park, where the SunTrust Racing tandem drove their ...
Despite coming close on several occasions, Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor had not won a Rolex Sports Car Series race since Homestead in March. That all changed Sunday at the Barber Motorsports Park, where the SunTrust Racing tandem drove their Pontiac Riley to its third victory of the season in the Porsche 250 Presented by Bradley Arant. Angelelli and Taylor now have a 14-point lead over Ganassi Racing's Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz in the drivers' championship.
"When we came here, we were clearly in championship mode with the Ganassi car and the No. 4 Crawford," Taylor explained after the 95-lap race, which featured seven caution flags. "We set a strategy prior to coming here which is a different strategy from what we've run the entire year. And it worked perfectly. Max does stuff that amazes me. I don't know how he does it. The championship still has another six races, so we just have to keep working. We cannot rest."
Indeed, there was no rest for Taylor or Angelelli as they had to scratch and claw their way to victory lane on a stifling summer afternoon that left many drivers gasping for air. Angelelli started third, behind the Pontiac Rileys of pole sitter Alex Gurney and Christian Fittipaldi, but was up to second by lap 11, when Fittipaldi pitted so that his team could fix an oil leak. Gurney continued to lead until he stopped during the race's third caution flag, which flew on lap 21. This allowed Angelelli to lead until he made his first pit stop on lap 34, during the race's fourth yellow.
Taylor, now driving the SunTrust car, rejoined the race in eleventh, two spots ahead of Fittipaldi but two places behind championship contender Pruett. On lap 53, Taylor, then running fifth, handed the car back to Angelelli, who emerged from the pits eleventh, well behind Fittipaldi. Rejoining the race so far behind the leaders did not make Angelelli happy. "I was worried because I know how difficult it is to overtake here at this track. You really need to take a huge risk every time to overtake a car. And the car in front of you needs to understand that that is not the end of the world to lose position. Some drivers really don't get it. They don't care. They just don't want to lose a position. That just upset me. So I was more worried about myself - to stay calm."
As the caution flags continued to fly and a brief rain shower bathed the 2.3-mile, 16-turn track, it looked like Fittipaldi might be able to make it to the end of the race without having to make another stop. But while Fittipaldi continued to try to conserve fuel, Angelelli was busy working his way back to the front of the field. By lap 91 he had closed to within inches of Fittipaldi, who was trying desperately to nurse his car to the finish. "When I landed behind Fittipaldi, I thought I was a little bit faster, but I thought it was too risky in terms of the championship to try to overtake him. I tried once, but it was too risky. So I kept pushing him and hoping that he would run out of fuel. And that is actually what happened."
The Finlay Motorsports BMW Riley of Memo Gidley and Michael McDowell finished second, with Michael Shank Racing's Mike Borkowski and Ken Wilden taking the final spot on the podium in the No. 6 Pontiac Riley. "In qualifying the car wasn't very good at all," said Gidley. "But it was pretty decent in the race."
"We had a great car," said Borkowski, who equaled his best finish of the year. "I'm not sure if we could have challenged the SunTrust car or not. But we had a car that possibly with the right brakes could have challenged for a win." Pruett and Diaz ended up fourth, followed by Terry Borcheller and Ralf Kelleners in the No. 54 Doran Pontiac.
In GT, Joey Hand passed Craig Stanton's Porsche with less than five minutes remaining to claim class honors in the No. 16 PTG BMW M3. The win was the fourth of the season for Hand and the third for his teammate, Justin Marks. Hand and Stanton ran nose to tail for most of the second half of the race before Hand finally made the pass for the lead. "I just wore him down as hard as I could," said Hand, who emerged from his car drenched in sweat. "Tom Milner and my crew chief talked me through it and said Stanton might have to pit for gas and told me to just try to wear him down. That's what I did. With seven to go, I was like, man, he hasn't pitted yet, I'm going to have to wear him down harder. With five to go, I was like oh boy. So I just had to go for it and he made a little bobble and I slid on through. It wasn't too crazy, but he raced me clean and I tried my best to race him clean, contrary to what happens normally in this racing.
"I'm beat. I was running ten-tenths. I ran qualifying laps for about 80 percent of the laps I was out there. A couple of laps I tried to cool my tires down and back off and get a run at him. But prototypes were using me up in the worst corners. It was hard to get a run on him [Stanton]. So when I had my opportunity, I just stuck it in there."
Stanton and David Murry ended up second, followed by the No. 22 PTG BMW M3 of Ian James and Chris Gleason. Stanton remains the leader in the GT class drivers' championship. "I got hung up with a slower car, it was just the luck of the draw," explained Stanton. "The competition is so high here in Grand Am that it's just flat out the whole time. We were able to fight with these guys, not maybe hold them back, but we're getting closer and that's really encouraging. We're pretty good in the long runs, but they're just a tick better in the long runs. Hat's off to the BMW guys, though."