Eighth Is Not Enough, But It'll Have To Do
SunTrust Team Overcomes Early Contact, Stop-and-Go Penalty To Finish Eighth in Rolex Series RumBum.com 250 at Laguna Seca
An eighth-place finish has never been something to celebrate in the four-plus seasons SunTrust has competed in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. But after Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante brought the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing home in eighth at the conclusion of Saturday's RumBum.com 250 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, they and their SunTrust teammates have a bona fide finish for their new Dallara chassis to build upon as they leave the outskirts of Monterey, Calif., with nine races remaining.
Like the past three races, however, this one also wasn't without incident.
Less than three turns after taking the green flag, the team got a radio call from Valiante saying he was hit hard from behind by the No. 91 Pontiac of Jim Matthews. It was the last thing the team wanted or needed to hear after having its last three race efforts ruined by contact from behind by other competitors. The contact this time caused no damage, however. Starting from the seventh position he earned in qualifying Friday afternoon, Valiante kept the SunTrust car under control and went on to complete a stellar 59-lap stint during which he spent the final nine laps in the lead.
Valiante handed the car over to Angelelli on a lap-59 pit stop under yellow and the Italian former series champion resumed in 11th place -- or so he thought. As Angelelli merged into traffic while exiting the pits, he was brushed from behind by the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche of driver Bill Auberlen. During a subsequent yellow on lap 64, Grand-Am officials notified the team that Angelelli was to serve a stop-and-go penalty for the pit road contact, which Angelelli served under green on lap 72. It cost the SunTrust car several positions and, more importantly, valuable distance to the lead pack he was trying to catch with one of the fastest cars on the track.
"A car that is coming is responsible because it can see what is happening in front of him. I can't. It's that simple," said Angelelli, who worked his way up to the final finishing position of eighth over the final 26 laps of today's 98-lap event. "I followed exactly the rules they told us in the driver briefing. They explained it in the briefing several times that no car is allowed to occupy the middle lane on pit road. The 23 car was in the middle lane with a car next to it in the outside lane. It made contact with me from behind, but I am the one who got penalized. That is not consistent with the way the rule was explained to us. I don't understand why we got penalized. But, unfortunately, we have to suffer the consequences we do."
"It was a tough weekend, but we persevered," Valiante added. "We're continually just trying to develop the car, making it quicker and quicker. We made progress on it this weekend. I still think we have a lot of room for improvement. Things were going well in the race today. We led some laps. Unfortunately, there was some contact in the pits. We had the stop-and-go penalty that put us back. But we finished the race. Hopefully, this starts a string of finishes. The hit at the start of the race was a pretty hard hit, but the car was fine. We've just got to keep persevering like we did today. We've got to keep finishing races rather than getting taken out."
The No. 2 SAMAX BMW Riley of Henri Zogaib and Ryan Dalziel scored its first Rolex Series victory today, crossing the finish line 1.5 seconds ahead of the runner-up No. 91 Bob Stallings/Riley-Matthews Racing Pontiac Riley of Jim Matthews and Marc Goosens. The series-leading No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, winners of three of the first four races this season, finished third today.
"We're going to win the next race," Angelelli said. "That's how I feel. We have the best team. We have the best people. We have a great car. We are going to win races this year. End of story."