SunTrust Racing Opens Season at Rolex 24 With Thrilling Comeback, Podium Finish Angelelli, Taylor, Gordon and Magnussen, Once 5 Laps Down, Wage Furious Battle for the Race Win in the Final Hours In Maiden Voyage for Wayne Taylor Racing For the...
SunTrust Racing Opens Season at Rolex 24 With Thrilling Comeback, Podium Finish
Angelelli, Taylor, Gordon and Magnussen, Once 5 Laps Down, Wage Furious Battle for the Race Win in the Final Hours In Maiden Voyage for Wayne Taylor Racing
For the third time in the last four Rolex 24 At Daytona Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season openers, the familiar colors of SunTrust Racing battled their way to the podium, this weekend at the hands of Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor, Jeff Gordon and Jan Magnussen, who came from five laps down in the early going Saturday to a lead-lap fight for the race win until brake problems with just 38 minutes remaining relegated them to a third-place finish. It was the first race for newly formed Wayne Taylor Racing, which assumed responsibility for carrying the SunTrust Racing banner less than three months ago.
As is often the case for seemingly every competitor but the eventual race winner each year, the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team was faced with adversity in several respects, including a five-lap deficit during the third hour of the race, and an ill-timed brake problem that surfaced with just 38 minutes left to go and Magnussen, the Danish Formula One, Champ Car and sports car veteran, running second and chipping away at a 26-second lead held by the eventual race-winning No. 01 Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya and Salvador Duran.
Nonetheless, Taylor's first-year team performed like the seasoned veterans that they are in fighting their way back to the front from as far down as 22nd place.
"I felt really good for SunTrust, and really good for the team, of course," said Taylor, who teamed with Angelelli and Emmanual Collard in winning the Rolex 24 in 2005 enroute to that season's championship, and scored a runner-up finish with the same driver lineup in SunTrust Racing's inaugural Rolex 24 in 2004. "These races are really difficult to win, and people who have been doing it for so many years know that so many things have to go the right way. Look at what Ganassi did today: all they did was change drivers, tires, and add fuel for 24 solid hours. That's what wins these things. But the way we came back from so far down says a lot about the potential of this new team and that, in itself, is exciting."
Having consistently recorded the fastest overall laps in group test days at Daytona in November and earlier this month in the hands of Angelelli, the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley arrived this weekend as one of the pre-race favorites. Angelelli didn't disappoint as he qualified second on the 70-car grid, beaten only by the polesitting No. 99 Gainsco Pontiac Riley.
Then, Saturday afternoon after the green flag flew to start the annual twice-around-the-clock marathon, Angelelli had the SunTrust car in the lead by the third lap. He kept it there until handing the car over to Taylor at the end of the first hour, having led 29 laps in all. But the road got a little rocky for the SunTrust team in the next two hours as Taylor immediately found himself battling power steering problems that caused him to lose positions. Soon afterward, just short of the 2-hour mark, he was forced to the outside wall by a slower competitor entering the backstraight chicane, which caused him to check up and get hit from behind by eventual runner-up finisher Patrick Carpentier in the No. 11 Citgo Pontiac Riley, flattening Taylor's right-rear tire and necessitating an unscheduled pit stop that cost a lap. The most devastating blow in the early going was an engine misfire that arose at the 2-hour mark. The team replaced the Electronic Control unit (ECU) in the garage and also the nose of the car damaged in the earlier contact with the No. 11 car, and Taylor handed the SunTrust car over to Magnussen, now five laps off the pace in 22nd place.
Magnussen's first stint, by comparison, was relatively uneventful, and he was able to get to within three laps down in 19th place just shy of the 3-hour mark when he handed the car over to Gordon, the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, three-time Daytona 500 winner and Rolex Series "rookie." Gordon drove the first double-stint of the day for the No. 10 team and performed like a sports car driving veteran in relatively short order, working his way up to 11th place when he handed the car back to Angelelli at the 5-hour, 15-minute mark.
Upon leaving the pit box, Angelelli discovered that the clutch had failed, and the team was hit with the reality of having to push-start the SunTrust car out of the box after each and every pit stop for the next 19 hours.
Unbeknownst to Angelelli at the time, he would go three-consecutive fuel-and-tire stints, fighting his way back into the top 10 by the 7-hour mark, and all the way up to sixth, just two laps off the lead, when he handed the car over to Taylor shortly after the 9-hour mark.
Taylor, Magnussen, and Angelelli continued the SunTrust team's push back to the front as the early hours of Sunday morning came, and despite on-and-off rain showers that alternately dampened and deluged the road circuit until the clouds began parting not long after sunrise. Magnussen had the SunTrust team in the top five by midway through the 12th hour, when the race was red-flagged for 90 minutes while repairs were made to an Armco barrier damaged in a multi-car collision. Magnussen climbed to fourth after the race resumed, and Angelelli, who took over in the 14th hour, worked his way up to third, two laps down. Gordon drove his second double-stint of the race beginning in the 16th hour and held his position in the top five until a heavy rain forced him to the pits and a driver change back to Magnussen just short of the 19-hour mark.
"At the beginning of the race I was pushing and everyone was pushing," said Angelelli, who later was at the controls when he, the race-winning Ganassi car and the runner-up Citgo car were running oftentimes nose-to-tail engaged in a dramatic 1-2-3 battle that lasted for most of the final three hours. "I was very surprised at the lap times of the drivers throughout the race. It was tough to lose so much ground early in the race. To try and catch up after the clutch problem, the team had me triple stint the car. I went out just when the rain was ending (in the 20th hour). We made some adjustments to the car and I was able to do very fast laps and make up some of the distance. The team made some changes to the car for the drying conditions and that really helped. We experienced some tough luck in the end so it's disappointing but the SunTrust team fought hard to the very end."
Magnussen relieved Angelelli with an hour and 40 minutes remaining in the race and made a determined bid to catch the No. 01 Ganassi car. He was within 26 seconds of the leader, with Scott Pruett at the controls, when his brake pedal went all the way to the floor. He had no choice but to abort the run to the front in favor of a pit stop for brake repairs that cost two laps, a second-place finish, but fortunately not a podium finish as he rejoined the race in third place with just over a half-hour to go.
"They told me on the radio that everything looked good on the telemetry, but I knew that the brakes were not going to last much longer, said Magnussen, who co-drove the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac to its only 2006 season victory at Laguna Seca with Angelelli, and its only pole position of last season at Infineon (Sonoma, Calif.) Raceway. "I was ready for something to happen when it did happen. I was not planning to go straight (at Turn 1), but that's exactly where I was. We came in and fixed the problem and went back out. There's nothing like a 'small' brake failure to sap your confidence."
For Gordon, who left immediately after the race to fly to Las Vegas for Nextel Cup testing Monday and Tuesday, the thrill of his first driving experience in a Daytona Prototype and his contributions to a competitive Rolex 24 effort left him wanting more down the road.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I had a blast out there, but I made some mistakes. I'm going to have to come back because I don't like to make mistakes and I want to come back and fix those mistakes. I want to give it another try and be more of an asset to the team. I felt that there were some times where I ran some good laps and put some good stints together. All in all, it was a really great experience for me. It's a lot of hard work. Seeing these guys and what they put into it for 24 hours is unbelievable. You never know as a driver when you're going to be in (the car), when you are going to be out (of the car). Things can change when the rains come and when it's dry. It's a very challenging race. You've got to have patience, and that's a lot of what it takes to run 500-mile races here, as well. It's just another great learning lesson for me in a race car."
Taylor, for one, certainly welcomes the prospects of working with Gordon in the future as he reflected on the seemingly monumental task of assembling a brand new team over the past few months, then seeing it turn in a satisfying performance its first time out.
"I think I said this to Jeff: if he has any desire to come back and work with us, the door is open," Taylor said. "As for this weekend, Jeff, Jan, Max and the entire team really gave an effort we can all be proud of. We overcame problems throughout the race and came away with a podium finish. I'm really looking forward to building from here and making a solid run for the championship. That's the caliber of personnel, and the quality of effort that we are capable of putting out week in and week out."
The Daytona Prototypes of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series return to action March 3 at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City for Round 2 of 14 events on the 2007 schedule.