Even though the chase for the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series championship is only halfway over, there's a certain sense of urgency in the minds of Max Angelelli and the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing as they come...
Even though the chase for the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series championship is only halfway over, there's a certain sense of urgency in the minds of Max Angelelli and the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing as they come to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for Thursday night's Brumos Porsche 250, the traditional midsummer prelude to NASCAR's Pepsi 400 weekend at the legendary superspeedway.
After three front-row qualifying efforts and five podium finishes through the season's first seven events -- including their first victory in April at Alton, Va., for the newly formed Wayne Taylor Racing organization -- Angelelli & Company are off to a solid start that is comparable to their 2005 Rolex Series championship run that concluded with five victories and 10 podium finishes in 14 events.
While that 2005 championship run by Angelelli and co-driver and now-team-owner Wayne Taylor may be difficult to duplicate for any team in any series, the 2007 edition of SunTrust Racing is far ahead of where it was a year ago after an uncharacteristically rough start that saw the team post finishes of 29th, 9th, 11th and 8th at the first four events. Still, the 2006 team rallied down the stretch to put itself in position to win the championship heading to the season finale at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, where it led a race-high 53 laps but saw its title hopes dashed by electrical problems in the closing laps.
All of that in mind, sitting in second place in the 2007 team championship, 16 points behind the No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, the entire SunTrust Racing camp feels the overwhelming need to not only continue its blistering pace of podium finishes but to string together a number of race wins to vault itself back atop the championship standings, where it was after its dominating victory at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) by an 11-point margin.
Since the win at VIR, the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac scored finishes of 15th at Laguna Seca, third in the Watkins Glen six-hour, and fourth two weekends ago at Mid-Ohio -- certainly not the worst stretch in SunTrust's relatively brief Rolex Series history that began in 2004. But its championship-rival Ganassi counterparts strung together three consecutive runner-up finishes at those three events to turn the tables in the point standings as the first half of the season drew to a close. Moreover, other teams are also emerging to the forefront -- most notably the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stalling Racing entry of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, which scored its fourth pole and seventh front-row start at Mid-Ohio before running away with its third victory of the season.
Thursday's Brumos Porsche 250 marks a welcome return to the friendly confines of Daytona and its 3.56-mile road circuit, where the SunTrust team has scored wins in the 2005 Rolex 24 At Daytona and the 2004 Paul Revere 250, in addition to a runner-up finish in the 2005 Brumos Porsche 250 and a third-place finish at this year's Rolex 24. Angelelli will be joined for the third race in a row by co-driver Jonathan Cochet of France, a longtime sports car racing veteran and former Formula 1 test driver who, oddly enough, will be racing at Daytona for the first time in his career.
They return to the scene of the SunTrust racing machine's improbable third-place finish in the season-opening Rolex 24 when, with Taylor, regular co-driver Jan Magnussen and four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon sharing the driving duties with Angelelli, the team rebounded from a five-lap deficit after having to replace its electrical box early in the race to get back onto the lead lap and fight for the race win until brake problems set in with just 40 minutes remaining. Needless to say, Angelelli and Cochet hope Thursday night's 250-mile sprint leads to a much friendlier view afterward -- from the very top of the podium.
The Brumos Porsche 250 is a one-day show Thursday, with practice for all Rolex Series competitors beginning at 10 a.m. EDT. Qualifying for the Daytona Prototypes is set for 1:45 p.m. EDT. Race time is 8 p.m. EDT with SPEED-TV providing live television coverage. The complete schedule, as well as live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions, can be found at www.grand-am.com.
Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You're headed back to Daytona, one of the SunTrust team's most successful tracks, historically. What are your thoughts as you begin the second half of the season?
"I'm always very happy to go back to Daytona. It's a track that I always enjoy. It's a place to go where you can race really, really hard. As we begin the second half of the season, it is time to start turning things around because I cannot hide the fact that we have been struggling to get the results we really need to keep pace in the championship the last three weekends. It's been tough. We need to try and regroup and try to understand what the problems are. As soon as we figure that out, I'm sure we can attack the problem and solve it and be competitive again. Unfortunately, our struggles are happening during the worst part of the season. We have three races in a row and we have no time to go testing to try to figure it all out. We'll need to do it during the race weekends. Somehow, we'll need to find the time and get it all sorted out. We have a very good team and it is just a matter of time before we start to get the kind of results we know we are capable of."
You'll be co-driving for the third race in a row with Jonathan Cochet, and for the second time in three races, he will be seeing the race track for the first time ever when he arrives at the track. Is that any cause for concern?
"It's not going to be a problem, no problem at all. This track is easy to learn and Jonathan knows the car very well, by now, so it will be a lot easier for him to concentrate on learning the track. I don't see it as an issue at all. The bigger issue is that there are some cars that are much faster than everybody else. I'm talking mainly about the 99 (Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac) and the 75 (Krohn Racing Pontiac). I would like to think we are gaining ground on them but actually we are not. Our fight for the championship, so far, has once again been with the 01 (Telmex Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry), and they have had three second-place finishes in a row while we have been struggling a bit. I think we can fight with them if we keep with our race strategy and our pit strategy. The bigger problem will be trying to keep the pace with the 99 and the 75. Finally, this weekend, we will be racing with the GT cars, which is the way it should be. That will allow for a more competitive, more exciting race for the drivers and the fans."
Quotes from Jonathan Cochet, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You are a veteran sports car racer but you have yet to race at Daytona. How can that be, and are you concerned about having to learn the track quickly on Thursday?
"All I know about Daytona is that it's a very, very famous circuit where they have the Daytona 24-hour race every year. It just has never worked out for me to drive at that track. But there is always a first time. It will be a little tough because I will have to learn the circuit, practice the car, qualify the car and race all in the same day. I have been studying a video of the race from last year, so I have seen what the circuit looks like. I'm excited to learn about the new track. The video gives me a view of the circuit with the big banking, so it looks different from the circuits in Europe that I am used to. It's very different, but it's cool."
With having to learn the track, qualify and go racing all in the same day, do you feel any additional pressure trying to help the SunTrust team, which is fighting every race for the series championship?
"It will definitely be exciting for me. As far as pressure, I feel the same kind of pressure every weekend when I race, no matter who I am racing with. I don't think it's going to be any more pressure than usual. I always want to do my best. I will do my best to help the team again. I will be concentrating again to do a good job. They deserve a good result because they are fighting for the championship. We are focusing on the 01 team in the fight for the championship. But the 99 seems to be very strong at the moment. So we have to focus on all the good teams. The best thing the team can do is to start winning some races and the championship will take care of itself. The time to start doing that is right now."
Quote from Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:
Daytona is one track you and the team probably know better than any other on the circuit. Are you particularly glad it's another Daytona week, considering the need to step up and start scoring some race wins?
"In light of how things have been going for us of late, it's a good time to come to Daytona, which is a track we love and all of us know so well, and one which I've always considered my home track. We started out the season so well, and all of a sudden we got to Laguna (Seca) and things got a little sidetracked. We had a bad turn of events that kept us from winning at Watkins Glen. And then we had what I thought for sure was a second-place car at Mid-Ohio, and we came away with just a fourth-place finish and a 16-point deficit in the (team) championship. I don't believe we had a winning car at Mid-Ohio because the 99 car was so far superior to everybody else there. But a second-place finish on our part would have been a lot better at this point in time in terms of the championship. That's why we were hanging our heads as we left Mid-Ohio. We'll see if perhaps Daytona is just the thing the doctor ordered to help us turn things around."
What do you feel can be done to help turn things around the second half of the season?
"Our goal from Day 1 when we started this (Wayne Taylor Racing) team last fall was to focus on winning the championship this season because we felt it was most definitely within the realm of possibility. We got of to a good start with four straight podium finishes, a pole position at Homestead and our first race win together at Virginia. Then, it seems like a lot of little things -- some within our control, others that were out of our control -- got us off track a bit in our pursuit of the championship. At the same time, I look around and I see the (01) Ganassi team very much in championship mode. And the 99 team has very much gotten its act together. Overall, this series has gotten to be so incredibly competitive that you can't afford to have even the smallest lapses if you intend to win championships. We have no glaring weaknesses that we can point our finger at during our recent slide in the points. We just need to fine-tune and adjust a lot of little things that, if we can keep them under control, will get us back in championship form relative to everyone else who has elevated their game. And perhaps we can feel satisfied about our results once again."