Birmingham: SunTrust Racing preview

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 15, 2008) -- As Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante head to beautiful Barber Motorsports Park for Sunday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Porsche 250, the driving duo and the rest of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara team...

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 15, 2008) -- As Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante head to beautiful Barber Motorsports Park for Sunday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Porsche 250, the driving duo and the rest of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara team from Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) feel they are long overdue for a heaping helping of Southern hospitality.

A little more than halfway through an uncharacteristic season of ups and downs for the SunTrust team, with ups and downs occurring seemingly every race weekend to date, Angelelli and Valiante are so ready for a simple, relatively uneventful weekend on the tight and twisty 2.3-mile, 16-turn road circuit where SunTrust has finished on the podium every time it's shown up there.

Each of the last four seasons, since SunTrust first joined the Rolex Series in 2004 with Angelelli and now-team owner Wayne Taylor sharing the driving duties, the No. 10 racing machine has brought home a top-three finish at Barber. Angelelli and Taylor's victory there en route to the 2005 series championship was sandwiched by runner-up finishes in 2004 and 2006.

And last July, without the benefit of a working coolsuit and a driver drink bottle void of water during a typically hot and humid Alabama summer afternoon, a heat-exhausted Angelelli persevered through a longer-than-normal driving stint and held off the challenges of not one, but two fierce competitors for the final podium spot before passing out in the driver seat at the conclusion of his "cool-down" lap. Angelelli was back to his old self after 90 minutes of treatment at the track medical center, but not before delivering SunTrust's seventh podium finish in 10 events to that point and keeping the team in the hunt for the series championship.

This year's pursuit of a second Rolex Series title and fifth-consecutive top-three finish in the season-ending point standings has been derailed time and again for Angelelli and Valiante despite flirting on countless occasions with the prospects of that much-needed breakout first win of the season. Their average starting position of 3.75 through the first eight races reflects stout practice and qualifying efforts on the many different types of layouts the Rolex Series has visited thus far. On race days, Angelelli and Valiante have worked their way into the lead at each event but one.

But thanks to a rash of on-track incidents involving the SunTrust Racing Pontiac -- most notably contact initiated by other competitors at Homestead, Fla., Mexico City and Alton, Va. -- the all-important average finishing position for the No. 10 team is a mere 11.87. Most recently, the stellar debut of an all-new Dallara chassis at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on July 3, when Valiante qualified third and, once again, led laps early in the race, was ruined when his right-rear tire punctured and blew apart just as he crossed the finish line early in the race. Forced to limp the car slowly around the 3.56-mile Daytona superspeedway road circuit for a new set of Pirellis, yet another victory bid was essentially over as Angelelli resumed a lap down and could never get it back.

Still, the driving duo and their SunTrust Racing teammates are as upbeat as ever as they prepare to get back on track in Birmingham. Despite the unhappy ending at Daytona, Angelelli, Valiante and Taylor, for starters, feel this latest Dallara is even better than the original, which was burned to the ground in a transporter fire May 19. With one race weekend under the new Dallara's five-point belts, and a little Southern hospitality on order this weekend, the whole SunTrust Racing crew may well be singing "Sweet Home Alabama" by the time it's all over.

Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara:

You're headed to Barber Motorsports Park, where SunTrust has been on the podium four times in four outings, including a win in 2005. Safe to say you like the place?

"Barber is a race track that has been very good to us, so far. We learned at Daytona that the new Dallara is a very good race car. So that combination should mean we could get another very good result at Barber this weekend. Unfortunately, things have kept happening to us this year and we have not gotten the results our guys have worked so hard for. It has been very unusual for this team. So, realistically, I don't know what to expect at Barber, even if the track really suits us and we know we've always had really good races there. We just need get some good breaks. Actually, what we really need is a race with no issues. If that happens, we will be up front at the end."

Daytona was a question-mark for the new Dallara because you weren't sure just how it would measure up to the other cars on the high-speed straights. It turned out to be very competitive. Are there any concerns about the tight, twisty Barber circuit?

"Every track that we go to for the first time with the Dallara is going to be a concern because we don't know for sure what we are going to face in terms of set-up and any potential problems it may create for us. Certainly, the Dallara has been one of the cars to beat at all the tracks we have been with it so far. Some tracks, we may need to do some work to make it faster. For sure, I believe we have a top-three car at Barber this weekend. This second Dallara is definitely much better than the first. I am much more happy with every aspect of it and all of the things that were done to improve it. I'm really excited about it. The car deserves win after win after win."

It looked like a frightening turn of events at the end of last year's race at Barber when you were overcome by the heat and had to be taken to the track medical center for treatment. Was it as scary as it looked?

"The problem was that we made the driver change pretty early (on lap 11 of 99), and my coolsuit never worked. On top of that, there was very little water left in the driver drink bottle, so I finished that pretty quickly. But I just continued to do my job and, somehow, we stayed ahead of the Brumos Porsche and the Ganassi car and finished third. Unfortunately, I was not able to go to the podium myself, but my teammate (Memo Gidley) brought me the trophy and the champagne in the medical center and everything was okay. It was pretty scary because I don't remember very much about the last part of the race. But the doctors and everybody did such a good job taking care of me that I was back in the car testing the next day."

Michael Valiante, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara:

Things were looking really good in the early part of the last race at Daytona until your right-rear tire was punctured just as you crossed the start-finish line while leading early in the race. What's your outlook for this weekend?

"I am really looking forward to Barber. We are starting to get back on our feet again since receiving the new Dallara. At Daytona, we were very quick and I think we had another great shot at winning the race until our tire let go. We need to keep doing what we are doing and our luck will turn around. The only thing I am not looking forward to this weekend is the Alabama heat!"

Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara team:

The last race at Daytona was another of those good-news, bad-news stories for you and the team. How have you and the team been able to deal with the string of heartbreaking occurrences this season?

"It's been tough, which should come as no surprise. We know we have the best team out there and our new Dallara is a very, very good race car. I just can't get over all the incidents after things have seemed to be going so well. Fortunately, everybody's pretty confident we'll have a good car again at Barber this weekend. Basically, we have a good car for most of the tracks on the circuit, now. We learned a lot at Daytona, which is going to be good for us this weekend and down the road. Everybody continues to be very upbeat. This is obviously a very special group of people and, sooner or later, we'll get back to the way things need to be -- finishing on the podium, winning races, qualifying on the pole, and contending for the championship."

For the fifth year, you and your fellow members of the Grand-Am community will have a chance to raise money for a really good cause and have some great fun in the process. Are you looking forward to Saturday night's Grand-Am & MOTO-ST Community Dinner & Casino Night at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum?

"Without question, it's one of the most fun evenings of the year and it's really something special that helps out a lot of kids at Camp Boggy Creek. The museum itself is spectacular and I always enjoy the chance to stroll through there. All in all, it's a great chance for drivers, owners, crew members, sponsors and others in the Rolex Series' extended family to get together and have a really wonderful time. It's thanks to the event's great supporters, starting with SunTrust Bank, Toshiba, Crown Royal, Pirelli, Miracle Sealants, Rum Bum, Tom Johnson Camping Center, and a|i|m MARKETING SOLUTIONS, that it continues to be such a huge event on the Grand-Am calendar each year. I'm really looking forward to it."

-credit: str

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Memo Gidley , Wayne Taylor , Michael Valiante , Max Angelelli
Teams Wayne Taylor Racing