Hard-Earned Fifth for SunTrust at Rolex 24
Electrical, Brake and Overheating Issues Can't Break Team's Resolve; Penske-Taylor's Podium Finish Puts Both Team Cars in Top-Five
As always seems to be the case at the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, the combination of perseverance and good fortune tend to pay off with top finishes. In the case of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley, the relentless efforts of the cast of drivers and crew from Wayne Taylor Racing earned a top-five finish despite three potentially devastating setbacks over the course of the 24-hour event, including an electrical failure, a major brake issue, and a major overheating problem.
Regular-season co-drivers Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante gave SunTrust Racing followers an encouraging glimpse of potentially great things ahead by handling the lion's share of cockpit duty with consistently lightning-fast laps in alternating wet and dry conditions around the 3.56-mile Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway superspeedway road circuit. Together with the father-son driving duo of team owner Wayne Taylor and 18-year-old Ricky Taylor, the SunTrust Racing quartet leaves Daytona with a hard-earned fifth-place finish.
Their "sister" car -- the No. 9 Toshiba Pontiac Riley of Penske-Taylor Racing featuring drivers Helio Castroneves, Kurt Busch and Ryan Briscoe -- persevered through an early race blown tire incident and overheating problems of its own that plagued its cast and crew for most of the race for a podium finish.
"Having not one, but two cars in the top-five is most certainly the result of all these guys' hard work," said Wayne Taylor, the three-time sports car champion who co-drove with Angelelli to victory at the 2005 Rolex 24 en route to that season's Rolex Series championship for SunTrust Racing. "I have never seen a group of guys pull together and put something together at this level in such a short period of time and do the job that they've done. Racing is tough. Going 24 hours makes it tougher. Little things go wrong and little things happen, as they did for both of us. But these guys fought and soldiered on. This top-five finish for both cars, with one on the podium, is a huge result.
"It was a roller-coaster race, really. Both the No. 9 and the No. 10, whenever they were out on the track, were always running (among) the fastest lap times," Taylor continued. "So we both had winning cars, no question. We just had some little problems, which you have. But I'm very proud of everybody -- SunTrust, for allowing me the opportunity to continue living this unbelievable dream, and to allow me to have my son drive with me; Toshiba, for coming on board to help make the Penske-Taylor program a reality; Pontiac, for stepping up to our two-car effort; and Miracle Sealants, our new partner, which has just come on board."
Starting from the fourth position on the grid, Angelelli made short work of moving the No. 10 SunTrust car toward the front. He ran second behind the front-row-starting No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley of current NASCAR regular A.J. Allmendinger by the end of the opening lap. Angelelli led on two occasions during the opening hours of the race before handing the car over to Ricky Taylor, who was making his Rolex Series career debut here this weekend alongside his father. The younger Taylor joined the race in 13th position at the 1-hour, 50-minute mark, and over the course of an error-free stint, was able to work his way into the lead by the time he pitted at the 3-hour, 20-minute mark to hand the car over to Valiante, Angelelli's newly named regular-season co-driver.
Valiante kept the SunTrust car at the front during his opening stint before handing it over to Wayne Taylor shortly after the 5-hour mark. It was then that the team's first major setback occurred. As he was attempting to leave the pit lane, Taylor radioed that the car had lost all power and would not restart. The SunTrust crew ran the length of pit road to retrieve the car and push it back to the garage. Just as they arrived in the garage area, Taylor was able to re-fire the car and rejoin the race, but not before falling four laps off the pace in 14th place at the 5-hour, 30-minute mark.
By the 12-hour mark, Wayne Taylor, Angelelli and Valiante gained back one of those four laps, worked their way back into the top-10 and were about to gain back another lap when the second major setback occurred. Just as Valiante was preparing to pit and hand the car over to Angelelli, he reported a total loss of brake power, with the team replacing all four brake units on pit road. That repair cost the team an additional six laps and sent Angelelli back on track in 10th place.
Less than two hours later -- at the 13-hour, 45-minute mark -- came the third major setback for the SunTrust team, this time in the form of a blown radiator as a result of overheating conditions under the engine cover.
For the third time, the team headed to the garage to replace the radiator, costing another 30 minutes of track time that didn't drop the SunTrust car out of the 10th position, but did drop it a total of 14 laps off the lead lap.
From that point forward, the SunTrust drivers and crew maintained their focus and kept their eyes on the goal of simply finishing.
"When we understood that it wasn't possible to win, we changed out strategy and started to think about the championship," Angelelli said. "We wanted to capture as many points as possible for our championship. We had a winning car so it was really disappointing that we weren't able to contend for the win."
"Everything went as planned throughout the race except for the two mechanical issues," Valiante said. "We had a fast car and I definitely think we had a shot at winning. It was a great effort and the team put the car back together when we had issues, but unfortunately we had a few too many problems to overcome. There are so many variables, many of which you can't control. The key is just staying out of the pits."
From its 10th position at the 14-hour, 15-minute mark, the SunTrust team gradually picked away at its deficit and, by the 21-hour mark, found itself in the top-five for the first time since the 5-hour mark, just eight laps off the lead. With two laps separating it and the fourth-place No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley, only a major setback by one of the cars in front of the SunTrust car was going to enable it to improve from fifth before the end of the race. Such was not the case even though Ricky Taylor executed another clean driving stint, followed by Valiante and Angelelli, who took the No. 10 SunTrust car across the finish line side-by-side with the No. 9 Toshiba Pontiac.
"Michael and Max, they are really fast. We're going to have a good driver pairing from this point forward," Wayne Taylor said. "I always knew Michael was the guy to have. I spoke about him for a long time. The opportunity came and it was the right thing to do. And not only is he fast, but he's a great guy. Everybody really likes to be around him. He fits us really well. He was spectacular here this weekend. He and Max will push each other from this point forward. That's what we need. I'm excited.
"I've got to say something about Ricky. There was so much uncertainty in so many people's minds about throwing him into the deep end like this. I even questioned it as we got close. But I remember going systematically through this and talking to all the players who, by the way, have been more than supportive. I'm especially proud of what he did. He never made a mistake. He got the car in 13th position last night and handed it over in the lead. For him, it's a huge confidence boost for him. I think what he did this weekend would have taken any normal person a year or two to get through. So, it was a crash course and he handled it really well. On top of that, my 16-year-old son (Jordan) was out there driving for the first time in this series in a GT Porsche, and he was in during the worst times and handled it really well. That was really special."
"We've been preparing all year for this with so much testing and so many laps," Ricky Taylor said. "We've been talking so much about what to expect, so by the time I got out there, I was fully prepared and had a great time. Just getting through traffic was the biggest thing for me to learn. I've had enough laps here but not in traffic under race conditions. The goal was to bring the car home clean for Max, Michael, and my dad. I never thought I would ever be able to share a car with my dad. We just started talking about it within the last year. Last year, I was just a spectator, running around with all of my friends. To think that within a year I went from spectator to driving in the Rolex 24 with my dad, that's pretty overwhelming."
-credit: suntrust racing