Daytona 24: SunTrust Racing preview

ATLANTA (Jan. 23, 2007) - A new Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season ushers in a new era for the No. 10 SunTrust Racing program as the 2005 champs and perennial series title-contending blue racing machine takes to the track for the first time...

ATLANTA (Jan. 23, 2007) - A new Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season ushers in a new era for the No. 10 SunTrust Racing program as the 2005 champs and perennial series title-contending blue racing machine takes to the track for the first time with newly formed Wayne Taylor Racing and an all-star driver lineup at this weekend's Rolex 24 At Daytona (Fla.).

As he has for the past three seasons, team owner/driver Wayne Taylor, a two-time Rolex 24 winner, will share time in the team's Daytona Prototype cockpit at the legendary 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road circuit with regular SunTrust driver Max Angelelli. They'll be joined this weekend by veteran Formula One, Champ Car and sports car racer Jan Magnussen, and Rolex 24 "rookie" Jeff Gordon, the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner. Taylor and Angelelli's 2005 Rolex 24 victory - with co-driver Emmanuel Collard - kicked off a remarkable championship season that culminated in five victories, 12 top-fives and three pole positions in 14 events.

After a disappointing early exit from this event a year ago due to an accident in the fourth hour of the race, the SunTrust Racing team hopes to kick off its 2007 campaign on a much more positive note. Despite its 29th-place finish in the 2006 opener, the team rallied back into title contention by the midsummer and had a shot at securing back-to-back championships entering the season finale. An electrical problem led to a 14th-place finish in that nine-hour event at Miller Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City, but it gave the team a solid third-place finish in the championship to go with the series runner-up position in 2004 and the team champions title in 2005.

If its performance at the Rolex 24 Test Days earlier this month is any indication, the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac certainly should be one of the cars to beat once again this weekend. It topped the speed charts in four of eight sessions during that Jan. 4-6 test, which drew some 63 Rolex Series competitors to Daytona. Angelelli's lap of 1 minute, 43.483 seconds (an average of 123.552 mph) around the challenging 14-turn circuit was fastest among all competitors for the weekend.

Fellow Rolex 24 veteran Magnussen, who co-drove with Angelelli to victory at Monterey, Calif., and the pole position at Sonoma, Calif., in six appearances with the SunTrust team last season, also turned some of the fastest laps of the recent Test Days weekend in limited duty. As did Taylor, who in addition to his 2005 Rolex 24 win also won this event in 1996.

First-time Rolex 24 competitor Gordon turned out to be a quick study in mastering the art of navigating the Daytona road circuit with some fast laps of his own at Test Days. Gordon first drove the SunTrust car in December on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road circuit and turned in a solid performance in his Rolex Series testing debut.

Prior to last year's early exit from the Rolex 24, the No. 10 SunTrust team never finished out of the top five in five previous Rolex Series events at Daytona. In addition to the 2005 Rolex 24 win, Taylor and Angelelli co-drove to victory in the annual July 4 weekend 250-mile race in 2004, finished second in the same event the following year, and fourth last summer. Taylor, Angelelli and Collard brought home a top-five finish in the 2004 Rolex 24 in the first race ever for the SunTrust Racing team

Quotes from Wayne Taylor, driver/owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:

This is obviously a very special time for you as Wayne Taylor Racing begins a new era in carrying on the SunTrust Racing legacy. How have preparations for the Rolex 24 been for you?

"This has been such an enormous undertaking since we launched this team at the end of last season. But (technical director) Travis (Jacobson) and all the guys have been just incredible getting through the huge amount of work that has had to be done - setting up the team, preparing for test sessions, the build-up for the 24-hour. All the while, everyone in the organization is excited. There has been tremendous goodwill and support coming out of SunTrust Bank. We are getting ready for a really big event. With all the things that have needed to get done slowly getting done, I can start concentrating on actually going to a race and not still trying to build this entity. That's what we all love to do. We've been inundated with calls of support from people wanting to be a part of it, to be with us at Daytona. I can't imagine another team that can have the kind of relationships we have with our partners and our sponsors. It's great."

Rolex 24 Test Days appeared to go well for the SunTrust team. What are your expectations now that race weekend is here?

"It's always nice to be fast. But you don't necessarily have to be the fastest car to win a 24-hour race. Since the Test Days, Travis and all the guys have been focusing on a huge list of things we wanted to get done. It's about 300 line items long. Once those are done, it's a matter of getting the drivers and the team understanding exactly how we want to run this race. If all goes well, and all we end up stopping for is tires and fuel and driver changes during the 24 hours, then it could be a pretty magical experience for all of us."

You seem to have a formidable driver lineup. What have been your impressions of Jeff Gordon, so far?

"It's really great to see that Jeff is absolutely as serious about winning this race as we are. He's been absolutely remarkable. He's done everything we've wanted him to do, and more. With that, I can say we don't have a weak link in any of our four drivers. Everyone brings value to the table. The important thing for all of us will be to make sure none of us gets sucked into a race early on. We really have to plan this thing carefully and stick to the plan, no matter what everyone around us is doing. We need to run hard enough to be able to go racing at the end, and we have the car and the drivers to make that happen, provided we can avoid the unexpected."

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Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver for the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:

How do you feel your recent performance at Test Days will translate into a top finish for the Rolex 24?

"Going fast in testing is one thing. Racing is always unpredictable. A 24-hour race is the most unpredictable of all. Let's just say we have a good base to start from when we begin practice on Thursday. It was a good test, for sure. Perhaps it will translate into a pole position, or us getting the fastest race lap somewhere along the way. But, really, there are way too many variables for us to be able to know anything for sure. We just have to go out and do what we know how to do and hope that translates into a good result."

Considering this is a brand new team, were you surprised at how well things have been going so far?

"I wasn't certain, but I was hoping we could be a top-five car. For sure, I thought we could be in the top-10. So the way the tests ended made me feel really happy. This is a very tough series. It is very competitive, and there are incredible high-level drivers and teams racing against you. Then again, even though our team is new, the people within the organization are well-known in the industry and are very good at what they do."

How does your routine for this race differ from a typical race weekend during the season?

"The only thing different is that I'm sharing the car with three other drivers, so there is a lot of time out of the car. I just sleep every chance I get. I get out of the car and I go to the RV until they come and get me to drive again."

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Quotes from Jan Magnussen, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley at the Rolex 24:

You were able to drive for just a short time after you arrived at Test Days, but you got up to speed in a minimal number of laps. How is that?

"It's just something I've had to do, lately, in my career - make the most out of a limited amount of seat time. Maybe I'm getting old! Actually, I am very familiar with the team, with the SunTrust race car. Obviously, it's the best situation driving for such a good team. We have an incredible driver lineup. With four drivers, you're not going to get a lot of practice time, anyway. With Max in the lineup, it's difficult to get him out of the car. He would prefer to drive every lap of practice and qualifying and the entire 24 hours of the race. That's okay. By the end of the race on Sunday, we all will have had plenty of seat time."

There are a lot of other great drivers among the 70 cars entered. Does that mean we're going to have some exciting segments throughout the race - more so than usual?

"It's looking like one of the most exciting Daytona 24-hour races I've ever been a part of. There are some really great names. You have Indy 500 winners, Formula One drivers, NASCAR stars. I think we have a really great chance. We will just have to minimize mistakes and stick to our plan. We can't get caught up in all the small fights that will be going on from time to time. When there are other fast drivers out there during your stint, you have to keep your eye on the big picture and keep your mind on what it's going to take to get to the end."

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Quotes from Jeff Gordon, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley at the Rolex 24:

You've had two successful test sessions with the SunTrust team. Do you feel you're ready to go racing this weekend?

"It's an endurance race. I never expected to come in here and be as fast as the guys who run this series all the time. I want to be a contributor to the SunTrust team. I think we've got a great lineup. Now, I'll just be trying to live up to my end of the deal. We've got three fast guys out there and a great race team. I feel like we really have the makings of what it takes to win this race. I just want to do my part to make sure that I contribute enough to get us a victory."

The other three drivers are very familiar with each other. Has it been difficult to become part of the group?

"Max is obviously very fast. He's been extremely helpful going over telemetry and things like that. Anything I've asked him, he's been right there. He's funny. He's hilarious when you hear him in meetings. You can tell there is chemistry there between him and Wayne. They've welcomed me in and made me feel very comfortable. Jan seems like a perfect mix with the group in just the short amount of time I had with him at the test. I think the chemistry is great all the way around."

Are you looking ahead to your first driving stint with any particular expectations?

"I really don't know a lot of what to expect once the race starts, other than what other guys have told me. I think I'm going to have to go out there and experience it for myself. If it goes anything like it has so far, I'm sure I'll be smiling on Sunday."

-credit: www.SunTrustRacing.com

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jan Magnussen , Emmanuel Collard , Wayne Taylor , Max Angelelli
Teams Wayne Taylor Racing