The SunTrust Racing driving duo of Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante will start Saturday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Mexico City 250 from the outside of the third row after qualifying Friday on the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road circuit.
Valiante, in his third race with the team since signing on to be Angelelli's full-time co-driver at the beginning of the season, turned a fast qualifying lap of 1 minute, 20.165 seconds (112.268 mph) on the historic 2.5-mile, 14-turn former Formula 1 layout in downtown Mexico City, putting the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara sixth on Saturday's starting grid among 32 entries, including 17 in the Daytona Prototype class. The SunTrust Racing machine started sixth at Mexico City both in 2005 and 2007 en route to podium finishes. Angelelli was third with co-driver Jan Magnussen last season, and second with co-driver and now team-owner Wayne Taylor to clinch the series championship in 2005, when the race was held in October.
"The car rolled out quick right away," said Valiante, who had the second-fastest lap during the opening practice session Friday. "As the track changed, especially for qualifying, with a limited amount of new tires we're allowed to use this weekend (five sets allotted to each team by Grand-Am), we've run a lot on old tires and we found that the car is really good on old tires. But as soon as you put new tires on, you get a huge amount of understeer. So we just struggled with that in qualifying. The car just wouldn't turn. It's definitely not bad. But you always want to be on the front row and it's a disappointment when you're not. The best thing this weekend, I'd say, is that we've got a better car for the longer distances. At Homestead (three weeks ago), we had a faster car for short distances. That's the positive. We've got some stuff to work on for the race. It'll be tough if we're running behind cars with this much understeer. But I'm confident we'll make some improvements. We've got one more practice tomorrow morning to get it just right."
Valiante qualified second for the March 29 race at Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway in the much-anticipated debut of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara chassis of Wayne Taylor Racing. He went on to lead 20 of the first 42 laps of the 99-lap event before being taken out from behind by a spinning car on lap 43. After making repairs in the garage, Angelelli finished the race and was able to salvage a 14th-place result.
"After the first two races of the season, we're a little further back in the points than we've gotten accustomed to being," said Taylor, whose team currently resides in eighth place in the championship, 27 points behind the first-place No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley team, which won the opening two races of the season and whose Memo Rojas captured the pole for Saturday's race. "That makes Saturday a very important points day for us as we try to work our way back to the top. The good news is that I believe we have a really good race car. I had a feeling qualifying would be a challenge here today, but I'm confident Max and Michael will have a really good car on Saturday."