HOMESTEAD, Fla. (March 20, 2007) -- In the eyes of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing, good things may come in threes, but even better things come in ones -- as in first place. As the SunTrust team and its ...
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (March 20, 2007) -- In the eyes of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing, good things may come in threes, but even better things come in ones -- as in first place.
As the SunTrust team and its fellow Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series competitors converge on Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway for Saturday's annual Grand Prix of Miami, three has proven to be the operative theme thus far in 2007. It's the third race of the season. The team has opened with back-to-back third-place finishes at Daytona and Mexico City. It sits a mere three points out of the series championship lead coming into the weekend. And it is only the third race in the brief history of Wayne Taylor Racing, which took on the responsibility of carrying the SunTrust Racing banner late last year.
Yes, three might be nice -- certainly more palatable in racing circles than four, five or six. Back-to-back podiums are nothing to sneeze at either, especially in light of last year's early season struggles that saw the SunTrust team with finishes of 29th and 9th at the first two stops at Daytona and Mexico City before battling back for -- you guessed it -- third place in the 2006 season-ending points.
But by the time the sun sets on South Florida on Saturday, Taylor and his drivers Max Angelelli and Jan Magnussen hope to be hoisting a first-place trophy from the top spot on the podium and leaving town with the top spot in the points race in their back pockets. Winning races and championships is what has always motivated all the players in the SunTrust Racing camp. And this year, new team and all, is nothing different. Their next win together will be the 10th in the Rolex Series for SunTrust since it joined the fold in 2004.
This season, with back-to-back podiums at the outset, harkens memories of Taylor and Angelelli's 2005 series championship run that began with back-to-back victories at Daytona and Homestead. That was the start of an amazing run that saw the SunTrust team score five victories in all, and 10 podiums in the season's 14 events. It started from the pole three times and never finished out of the top 10.
It was a dominating run that set a mean precedent for the years to come, but the brand new Wayne Taylor Racing organization feels it is up to the task of continuing SunTrust's recent history of Daytona Prototype-racing success. The new team's undying focus on perfection and its ability to battle back from adversity are its primary assets.
Case in point: podium finishes at both of this season's opening two races despite each having its share of drama.
With four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon making his first career Rolex Series start in the SunTrust Pontiac at the season-opening Rolex 24, sharing the driving duties with Angelelli, Taylor and Magnussen, the front-row-starting team fell five laps down to the leaders after spending a lengthy period of time in the garage replacing an electronic control unit during the second hour of the 24-hour event. Sure enough, the familiar blue No. 10 SunTrust Racing machine fought its way back onto the lead lap and found itself dicing with the leaders in the final hours before a brake problem warranted another extended stop with just 40 minutes to go and relegated it to a third-place finish.
Three weeks ago, at the historic Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in downtown Mexico City, Magnussen started sixth and was working his way into the top three early in the race when he was assessed a drive-through penalty for what series officials deemed "avoidable contact" with another competitor. Despite the penalty and the subsequent loss of power steering that struck shortly after Angelelli took over for the final half of the race, the team was able to battle its way back to another third-place finish. Never mind that the Italian driving ace could barely lift his arms after getting out of the car. He managed to have little trouble spraying champagne with Magnussen after reaching the podium once again.
This weekend, the Rolex Series hits the 2.3-mile, 11-turn Homestead Miami Speedway road circuit that includes a majority of the facility's 1.5-mile, banked oval that annually hosts the NASCAR season finale and also Saturday night's IRL IndyCar Series season-opener. The SunTrust Racing team looks to score its first victory in the history of Wayne Taylor Racing and get SunTrust back to the top spot on the podium for the first time since Magnussen and Angelelli brought home a win in the No. 10 Pontiac at Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., last May. Magnussen, also a driver for the GM factory Corvette team in American Le Mans Series competition, is riding the momentum of a solid 1-2 finish by the Corvettes at last Saturday's prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring. He hopes it will help buoy another successful result at Homestead.
Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You've had two weekends that were far from perfect so far this year, but you are just three points out of the championship lead. What does that say about this year's effort with the newly formed Wayne Taylor Racing organization?
"I won't say it's surprising that we are three points out of the championship lead. I would much rather be leading the championship, obviously. Yes, this is a brand new team, but it's made up of some of the best people Wayne and I and (technical director) Travis (Jacobson) have worked with over the years, so we are very well aware of how to win races and win championships. We had good moments during the first two races this year, and we were able to overcome some of our problems to finish on the podium. But the series has become so competitive that you really need to have a perfect weekend in order to win. We had problems at Daytona and again at Mexico, but the good news was that the ability of our team to perform didn't allow those problems to keep us from the podium. If we finish on the podium at a majority of the races this season, we will win the championship."
How do you feel about the Homestead circuit, and sharing top billing Saturday with the IndyCar series?
"I like all the tracks we race on, and Homestead is one of them. The weather is always really nice, and I really like the banking on the oval portion of the track. It's a challenge and it is really fun to drive. I'm very happy to share the same race weekend with the IRL guys. It gives us the chance to bring our kind of racing to a completely different style of race fans. They get to see a road course race and an oval race all on the same day. We will show them what endurance racing is all about, and the IndyCar guys will show them what a sprint race looks like. That's a taste of two completely different types of racing for the same set of fans. I know after our race is over, Wayne (Taylor) and I will be out there watching the IndyCar race because it's exciting, and we have many, many friends over there. So I'm looking forward to it."
You won at Homestead in 2005, then came back and had a frustrating run last year. What are your expectations this year?
"Last year, our first four or five races turned out to be really frustrating. It wasn't always a matter of our performance, but it was a matter of bad luck. At Homestead, it was just bad timing on our pit stop that cost us a better finish. We were caught in the pits with the pit lane closed because the pace car was bringing the field around. We went down a lap and that was pretty much the end of it. We could get no better than 11th place. This year, if we keep doing what we have been doing, we can hope to see a much better result. There are a lot of teams that are very strong. The No. 99 team is strong. The Krohn team is strong. The Ganassi team is strong, as usual. I think between those cars, and our team, of course, that is what the championship will come down to. We need to continue to work hard and to improve each week. And have some good luck, for a change."
Quotes from Jan Magnussen, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
After back-to-back podium finishes, you come to Homestead, a track where the team has also enjoyed success in the past. What are your feelings coming into the weekend?
"I think we're in really good shape after the first two races of the season. This weekend, I think we have a really good chance at a race win, and I hope to do everything I can to contribute to that. Mexico wasn't all that great for us, even though we came away with a podium finish. We ended up paying for the small mistakes we make. Last time I raced at Homestead, I was fighting for the lead late in the race but got involved in a dinging match with Max Papis that ended up taking us both out. This kind of thing won't happen this weekend and I can only hope we finish the job this weekend."
You are coming off of a solid 1-2 finish at the 12 Hours of Sebring last weekend in one of your other racing programs. You seem to be very busy these days, or is it just business as usual?
"Between the SunTrust program, my factory Corvette program and testing, I think I'll end up with more seat time this month than I had all of last year. I'm really loving every minute of it. That's easy to say when things are going well. I've been on the podium after every race I've driven so far this year. I'm racing every weekend. I would hate to think what it's like to have a real job! Sebring will help me this weekend because I'm very much in a racing groove. I qualified on the pole, and mentally, I do feel like all this seat time really makes me stronger as a driver. It makes me sharper. It's like any other sport. You can't expect a golfer to go out and shoot a good round when he hasn't picked up a club in months. It's the same with racing. Now, we just need to go out there and get the top spot on the podium. Just getting there doesn't seem to be enough, anymore."
Quotes from Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You're back in the 'States' after another relatively strong showing in Mexico City. What is the battle cry for Homestead?
"We obviously are looking forward to Homestead. This is an important, very well-supported event by SunTrust because it lies deep in the heart of their footprint. They will have a lot of guests and executives on hand, so we are especially motivated to do well. Of course, we are trying to win every time we come to a race, but in the big picture of things, we are out to win a championship. Sometimes those two things don't go together. But between winning for the SunTrust folks, and winning for all the guys on the team who have been working so hard since September to get this team off the ground, I think there is plenty of motivation there."