SunTrust Nets Another Podium at Laguna Seca
Taylor, Angelelli Dominate Early; Mid-Race Pit-Stop Problem Sets Up Late-Race Drama
Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor picked up right where the No. 10 SunTrust Chevrolet Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing left off – both in their last outing of 2011 and in the series’ last visit to historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., two years ago – during Saturday’s GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Continental Tires Sports Car Festival.
Two weekends ago, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., the 21-year-old Taylor qualified on the pole for the third race in a row and held his position at or near the front of the field before handing the SunTrust Racing machine over to the veteran Angelelli, who lost track position late in the race as the result of various strategy decisions and had to rely on a last-lap pass of Ryan Dalziel to nail down a solid podium finish.
Saturday, it was déjà vu all over again as Taylor qualified the SunTrust Racing machine on the pole for the fourth race in a row and thoroughly dominated the event during his opening stint, leading all 25 laps he drove before handing the car over to Angelelli. The Italian went on to dominate the first part of his closing stint, keeping the SunTrust car in the lead for another 32 laps before losing several positions as the result of a problem with the left-front tire change on the team’s next-to-last fuel-and-tire stop of the day on lap 60 of 107 laps that were contested today. That forced Angelelli to wage a furious fight back to the front in the closing hour of the two-hour, 45-minute race.
And it was during the closing laps that things got a little bizarre as Angelelli appeared to have a shot at eventual race-winner Alex Gurney in the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley, had that chance taken away, then made a stellar pass of Dalziel for third place three laps from the finish, but still had to await an official decision about that pass before the SunTrust team was granted the final podium spot several minutes after the checkered flag flew.
The first incident occurred on a lap-95 restart, during which Angelelli took the green flag behind race-leader Gurney and second-place Scott Pruett in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley. When the green flag flew, Pruett left enough of an opening to the inside that allowed Angelelli to sneak inside across the start-finish line and ultimately complete the pass for second place in left-hand turns one and two with Dalziel in tow. At the outset of Angelelli’s passing move, Pruett drifted left and forced Angelelli onto the pit exit road – something that was deemed a no-no in the pre-race drivers meeting. That led officials to move Angelelli from second to fourth, behind Gurney, Dalziel and Pruett during a subsequent yellow.
In the lap-104 pass of Dalziel for today’s final podium spot, Angelelli slipped past the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley in the famed “Corkscrew” sequence of turns. There appeared to be side-by-side contact from in-car camera shots, and race officials reviewed that pass during the final two laps, determining whether a drive-through penalty would be levied for unnecessary contact. But it was decided no penalty was necessary.
“I don’t know what to say about that first incident with Pruett,” said Angelelli, who finished third at Laguna Seca in 2009 with then-SunTrust co-driver Brian Frisselle. “I was second and I lost two positions during the yellow. That was kind of weird. I’m not very happy. I thought I could have a nice fight with the 99 at the end, but it was just stolen from me. That’s it.”
As dramatic as the final laps of the race were for the SunTrust team today, the first half was thoroughly uneventful as Taylor, and then Angelelli, combined to lead a race-high 57 of the opening 59 laps and never really saw their lead threatened. The only two laps they didn’t lead during that time was when Taylor pitted on lap 26 to hand the SunTrust car over to Angelelli, who then found himself back in front when the rest of the field cycled through the opening round of stops.
“It was nice to be here for SunTrust’s 100th race (since joining the Rolex Series in 2004),” Taylor said afterward. “We really pushed hard and we really wanted to win for them this weekend. The car was very fast. It was a great qualifying car and we started on the pole, again. Then, we were really just trying to control the race from the front and had a minor issue with a wheel gun, and that cost us a bit of track position that led to some drama later on.”
Gurney and co-driver Jon Fogarty’s victory for the Gainsco team was the first since last July’s stop at New Jersey Motorsports Park for the two-time series champions. Pruett and Memo Rojas held onto second place for the Ganassi team, while Angelelli and Taylor’s third-place finish was their fifth podium in eight races this season. The SunTrust team now trails the championship-leading Ganassi team by 26 points (260-234) in the standings with four events remaining.
“We started from the pole, Ricky controlled the race from the front, and Max stayed in the lead after the driver change,” team owner Wayne Taylor said. “On our second pit stop, we had a problem with the wheel gun on the left-front and we basically lost our lead and that put us behind the 99 and the 01 a fair distance behind, and it’s very difficult to pass here. When Max passed Pruett on the restart with 10-12 laps to go, he was forced down into the exit to pit lane. I’m not exactly sure if that would’ve happened if there would’ve been a wall there because I don’t think Pruett would’ve put Max into the wall. But Max saw an opening, and I believe Pruett pushed him down into the pit lane exit, so I think Max was forced into that situation. And then there was the Ryan Dalziel incident, where Max made a brilliant pass in the Corkscrew and then we heard we were going to get a drive-through via the TV broadcasters. Then we found out that a corner worker called in to GRAND-AM that it was a clean pass. So, I commend GRAND-AM for looking into the incident properly, but I’m concerned that they were prepared to make a call without all the information and basing it only on one side of the story. In the end, it’s another podium, which is a good thing, but we’re not very happy.”
By: sunstrust racing