SunTrust Opens with Solid Fourth-Place at Rolex 24; Frisselle, Lamy, Dallara, New Ford Power All Pass First Test With Flying Colors As Taylor, Angelelli, SunTrust Score Third Straight Top-Five at Daytona Opener
Throughout nearly the entire running of the 47th Rolex 24 At Daytona, Simon Hodgson, general manager for the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara team of Wayne Taylor Racing, repeatedly told each of his four drivers over the radio: "Be patient, there is a lot of time left, take care of the equipment."
Max Angelelli, Brian Frisselle, Pedro Lamy and team owner and Rolex 24 driver Wayne Taylor each heeded the advice and finished a solid fourth in the annual twice-around-the-clock endurance classic on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
The four drivers drove a smooth and clean race, avoided any major mechanical issues and scored SunTrust's third consecutive top-five finish in the Rolex 24 and fifth top-five in six season-opening events here. Taylor and Angelelli won this event in their second season for SunTrust en route to the 2005 Rolex Series championship. Having led four times for a total of 56 laps in this year's 47th renewal, Angelelli and the team were faced with their best chance since 2005 to score a repeat victory as the Italian driving ace was engaged in a fierce four-car battle for the lead over the final two hours.
Angelelli chased the Nos. 58 and 59 Brumos Porsche Rileys and the No. 01 Lexus Riley of three-time-defending race champion Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates to the bitter end before settling for the fourth-place finish. David Donohue in the No. 58 car passed Juan Montoya in the No. 01 with 40 minutes remaining and went on to break the Ganassi team's three-race stranglehold on this event. Despite their strong run throughout the entire 24-hour marathon, Angelelli and Montoya found the Porsches were not to be caught over the final 30 minutes.
"Well, coming out of last year, we really had an up-and-down year but we ended on a pretty high note (with a victory and consecutive second-place finishes at the final three events)," Taylor said after the race. "But coming to a 24-hour with a car you have never actually run for 24 hours is a challenge. Add to that the change in engine manufacturer to Ford power, and that was another massive change. So, coming in, there were a lot of unknowns. Last night, about four or five hours in, John Maddox (Roush Yates manager of Cammer Engine Programs) told me that it was possible that none of the Ford engines might finish. We spent about an hour talking about it amongst everyone and realized it was negative energy. We decided there was no point in worrying about it because if it was going to happen, it was going to happen. So we said, 'Let's go race.' If you take that perspective, then this fourth-place finish is great. But we come here to win. We had an understanding of what might be the problem and we knew we couldn't do anything about it, so we just decided to fight and go race. Maybe we got lucky, or maybe there wasn't any problem at all. We are happy coming out of here in fourth place. We got good points and we know now we have a good package. We have run 24 hours, so we should be able to finish the 2:45s. Our sites are on the championship. That is what it is all about for us."
Angelelli, who started the race Saturday afternoon after qualifying seventh on Thursday, moved toward the front from the opening laps and, with his co-drivers, spent virtually the entire 24 hours running in the top-five. Angelelli, his new full-time co-driver Frisselle, and European sports car racing and Formula 1 veteran Lamy all drove the SunTrust car into the lead at various points during the race. The Italian, however, was typically disappointed in the final outcome of fourth.
"We are very competitive and we want to win, and when we don't win, we are disappointed," Angelelli said. "That is our DNA. We want to succeed. It's written in our DNA and when we don't, we are disappointed and upset. I don't know what happened to the other Fords. Our car was fantastic. I want to thank Dallara and Ford for what they gave me today. Without that combination, I wouldn't have been able to finish fourth. I was fast by myself, but when I got close to the others at the end there, they had higher top speed and I just could not get around. Otherwise, I'm very happy with today. I'm looking forward to a great season."
Frisselle, a 25-year-old from Aspen, Colo., who scored his first career Rolex Series victories on back-to-back weekends in Montreal and Watkins Glen, N.Y., last August while driving for the AIM Autosport Ford Riley team, enjoyed a flawless performance during his three driving stints over the 24 hours.
"It was an excellent effort on the SunTrust team's part," Frisselle said. "The car ran flawlessly, for the most part. We had very minor issues and we stayed on the lead lap. There are a lot of positives that come out of this. Most importantly, we come out of here with good points, because the ultimate goal this year is the championship. Sure, we wanted to win this race, but the championship is the ultimate goal. I'm very satisfied. I didn't put a wheel wrong throughout the entire 24. I kept it on the track and the team did a great job of supporting me and giving me a great piece of equipment to run in. It's a great way to begin this relationship."
Lamy, too, enjoyed his first experience with the SunTrust team.
"There were no major incidents and I was quite careful with the traffic," Lamy said. "Maybe I lost some time with that, but when you have the possibility to leave the car on the pace to compete for the win, it makes the most sense to be sure and bring the car home in one piece. Maybe I should have risked a bit more with the traffic, but I did not want to hurt the team. I learned a lot about the Dallara and the Ford engine and the track all in 24 hours. The team did a great job with the strategy all race long. The car was very fast and we were able to keep going to the end. I am very, very impressed with everybody on the team and everything about this race. It's a great race."
Darren Law, Buddy Rice and Antonio Garcia joined Donohue in the winning drive in the No. 58 Brumos Porsche Riley. The victory came 40 years after Donohue's father, Mark, won the race for Roger Penske. In addition, Rice added his name to a small list of drivers who have won both the Rolex 24 and the Indianapolis 500.
The No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley, in which Montoya was joined by Scott Dixon, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, finished second, just .167 of a second behind, while the No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley driven by J.C. France, Joao Barbosa, Terry Borcheller and Hurley Haywood finished third to round out the podium finishers.
The top four cars all finished on the lead lap and were separated by less than 11 seconds after 1,440 minutes of racing that covered 2,616.6 miles. There were 25 caution periods for 100 laps
The Rolex Series competitors now take an extended hiatus before resuming with Round Two of the 12-race slate for 2009 by way of the Bosch Engineering 250 on April 25 at Virginia International Raceway in Alton.