SunTrust Racing Mid-Ohio race report

SunTrust Racing press release

Heartbreaking End to Season for SunTrust
Angelelli, Taylor Still Clinch Second in Rolex Series Title Chase at Mid-Ohio Despite DNF

#10 SunTrust Racing Chevrolet Dallara: Max Angelelli, Ricky Taylor
#10 SunTrust Racing Chevrolet Dallara: Max Angelelli, Ricky Taylor

Photo by: Ted Rossino

Well, this certainly wasn’t how SunTrust Racing’s best season since winning the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series championship in 2005 was supposed to wind up.

Saturday’s 2011 season-ending EMCO Gears Classic at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington was shaping up for the SunTrust driving duo of Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor much like the previous seven Rolex Series events, three of which they won, six of which they started from the pole, five of which they led for a race-high number of laps, and all of which they finished on the podium, at worst.

But despite leading twice for 23 of the opening 43 laps on a day the 22-year-old Taylor started from the front row for the eighth race in a row, the No. 10 SunTrust Chevrolet Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing had to endure a rather unceremonious end to an otherwise rock solid season Saturday when the car’s clutch failed while Angelelli was trying to exit the pits after the team’s final stop with less than an hour to go in the two-hour, 45-minute event.

The SunTrust team was credited with an 11th-place finish after its first DNF (did not finish) since April 2010 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., 21 races ago, and only its eighth DNF in 104 races since joining the Rolex Series in 2004.

In the big picture, however, Angelelli and Taylor clinched second place in the driver championship for the second year in a row by completing 30 minutes on the racetrack today, and SunTrust clinched second place in the team championship merely by taking the green flag at the start of the race. All hopes of catching the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas in the driver and team championships were slim, at best, for the SunTrust team. All Pruett and Rojas had to do to clinch their second consecutive driver championship was complete 30 minutes on the racetrack, and their taking the green flag at the start of the race clinched the team title for the second year in a row and fifth time overall.

Pruett and Rojas went on to finish second in today’s race to first-time winners Ryan Dalziel and rookie Enzo Potolicchio in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley, giving them a 32-point margin (385-353) over Angelelli, Taylor and the SunTrust team in the final driver and team standings. The polesitting No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley duo of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty finished third today to clinch third in the team championship. BMW tied Chevrolet for the manufacturer points lead (385-385) but claimed the championship by virtue of a double-tiebreaker. Both manufacturers recorded five wins on the year, so BMW’s four runner-up finishes to Chevrolet’s three gave the title to the German automaker.

“We had so much on the line, not only for us, but in trying to win the manufacturer championship for Chevrolet, that this feels right now like a huge letdown,” said team owner Wayne Taylor, who co-drove with Angelelli to SunTrust’s Rolex Series championship in 2005. “I don’t know what to say. Ricky led laps again. We had a good car. When Max got the car from Ricky, he was really happy with it. The guys did a good job getting it ready, and we seemed to have the perfect strategy. I don’t know really what happened on the pit stop. After the car came down off the jacks, somehow we burned the clutch and we were not able to finish. Looking back on the year, we finished second in the championship, Ricky has now led 17 races in a row, he’s earned six poles, he and Max got three wins and lots of podiums (eight). I can’t complain but, you know, it’s all about winning races and championships. Hats off to the Ganassi guys on winning the championship again this year. We’ll have to work that much harder to try and get the championship for next year. Now the headache really starts. There’s a lot of work, a lot of things that need to happen, a lot of things to put in place. The bottom line is we have to win the championship. It’s been too long.”

While the driver and team titles were longshots as the day began for the SunTrust team, the season’s fourth and final victory appeared to be a distinct possibility as Ricky Taylor drove another strong opening stint. He stuck close behind polesitter Fogarty in the No. 99 Gainsco Chevrolet for the first nine laps before cleverly slipping by for the lead on a lap-10 restart. He upped his series-record consecutive races led mark to 17 with the pass, and he stayed in the lead until pitting for tires and fuel and to hand the SunTrust car over to Angelelli 42 minutes into the race on lap 26.

Angelelli resumed in fourth place behind three cars that did not stop during that lap-26 caution. He bided his time and had the SunTrust car back in the lead 12 laps later, holding the point for the next six laps until the team made a surprise strategy decision to bring him onto pit road for a fuel-only stop on lap 44. Angelelli resumed in eighth but, reporting over the radio that the SunTrust car was performing exceptionally well, he began making forward progress rather easily on a narrow racetrack that makes passing notoriously difficult.

In relatively short order, Angelelli picked off Brian Frisselle in the No. 77 Doran Racing Ford Dallara for seventh, and then appeared to have worked his way by Darren Law in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley for sixth on lap 49. Law refused to give up the position without a fight, however, making contact with the rear of the SunTrust car and spinning Angelelli sideways in the high-speed turn four. The SunTrust car emerged unscathed after the incident but fell all the way back to 11th, forcing Angelelli to mount another forward charge from deep in the field. He made his way back up to eighth when, on lap 63 with less than an hour to go, the team made another strategy decision and called Angelelli into the pits for what was supposed to be the final fuel-and-tire stop of the day. The SunTrust team would have been the first to complete its final stop of the day and would have been in prime position to win the race.

But the clutch failed and Angelelli never could keep the SunTrust car in gear despite being pushed by several crewmembers all the way through the exit of pit lane. He stalled on course, was towed back to the SunTrust garage, and the team called it a day shortly thereafter.

“The clutch failure was just the nail in the coffin that ended our day today, and our season,” said Angelelli, whose six laps led brought his season total to 302, second-best only to Taylor’s series-leading 311. “What really ruined our day was a stupid maneuver by the No. 5 car that ended our hopes of winning. The SunTrust car was absolutely great and, to be taken out like that, is so frustrating. That led to the situation we had to be in when we had to make another strategy call and we pitted when we did. The good thing is that we finished second in the championship, but when you have a car that should have won the race, it makes it very difficult to accept. I think when we go to Las Vegas (for the Rolex Series Champions Banquet) next week, we can look back on an excellent season and we will feel like celebrating. Right now, it doesn’t feel so good.”

Taylor and Angelelli’s combined 613 laps led this season are the most ever led by a SunTrust Racing duo. Angelelli and Wayne Taylor’s 508 laps led in their 2005 championship season was the previous high. Ricky Taylor’s six poles this season is also a season high for SunTrust, the previous high being four pole positions in 2008. The three wins this season is also the most since the SunTrust team scored five wins in 14 events in 2005.

“This is not the way you want to finish the season because we were just so fast today,” Taylor said. “We’ve been so fast all year and the team’s done such a great job all year. We owned the last two-thirds of the season, I think, and we wanted to finish with one more win. We’ll just have to keep the momentum going into next year and translate all that good work into the new bodywork all the teams will be running. That will level the playing field, so everyone will have to work really hard to get back to where they want to be – ourselves included. We’ll just have to try and get the championship next year, I guess.”

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Series GRANDAM
Tags angelelli, chevrolet, grand-am, mid-ohio, taylor