MILLVILLE, N.J. (April 28, 2009) -- The last time Max Angelelli and the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara team of Wayne Taylor Racing visited New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP), they were flying high from having won their first Grand-Am Rolex Sports...
MILLVILLE, N.J. (April 28, 2009) -- The last time Max Angelelli and the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara team of Wayne Taylor Racing visited New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP), they were flying high from having won their first Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race of the 2008 season just eight days prior at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
My, what a difference a year makes. As Angelelli, new co-driver Brian Frisselle and the SunTrust team head back to the outskirts of Millville for Sunday's Verizon Wireless 250, they're feeling pretty low after getting crashed out of last week's Rolex Series race at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in Alton just three laps from a potential podium -- but virtually certain top-five -- finish.
Undoubtedly, they'll use the disappointment to their advantage this weekend as Angelelli and Frisselle look to go one better than last year's gutsy runner-up finish by the SunTrust team in the inaugural Rolex Series event on the 2.25-mile, 14-turn NJMP layout about an hour's drive south of Philadelphia. Last year, Angelelli fought his way back from not one, but two off-course excursions and executed a dramatic, next-to-last-lap pass to grab second place behind the race-winning Michael Shank Racing Ford of Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri.
Angelelli's second off-course excursion, oddly enough, involved the driver who is now his SunTrust Racing teammate while he and Frisselle, who was driving the No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford Riley, were waging a fierce battle for third place with some 40 laps to go. The 25-year-old Frisselle got the better of it at the time, staying on-track while Angelelli and the SunTrust Racing machine left behind a huge dust cloud as it ventured off-course at the high-speed, left-right combination at turns two and three. Angelelli came back on-course in ninth but battled back for the runner-up finish while Frisselle, a two-time race winner with the No. 61 team last year, finished sixth.
Last Saturday's race at VIR ended on a sour note for the SunTrust team after Frisselle drove a flawless opening stint and handed the car over to Angelelli in second place. The Italian then mounted his typical charge at the front of the pack, leading laps for the second time in as many events in 2009 and clocking the fastest overall lap of the race. He was sitting in fifth place on a restart with three laps remaining and appeared headed for third when the third-place No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett was slammed into from behind by the fourth-place No. 58 Brumos Porsche of David Donohue heading into the hard, right-hand turn one. Angelelli was tapped by Donohue as he attempted to get around the incident on the inside. Donohue then hit the No. 01 a second time and spun Pruett sideways into the left-rear of Angelelli, sending both Pruett and Angelelli into the grass while Donohue continued on to finish third.
The 13th-place finish was particularly difficult to swallow for Angelelli and the SunTrust team, which fell from fourth to seventh in the point standings with 10 events remaining. The crew spent Sunday at VIR repairing the damaged race car before sending it on to New Jersey for Sunday's round three on the 12-race Rolex Series schedule for 2009. Knowing the NJMP layout turned out to be one of the more favorable ones for the new Dallara chassis last season, it should take no time at all for last weekend's disappointment to become a distant memory for the cast and crew from SunTrust Racing, once they're up and running in South Jersey.
Practice for the Verizon Wireless 250 begins Friday with qualifying set for 1:45 p.m. EDT Saturday. Race time Sunday for the 2-hour, 45-minute race is 1 p.m. EDT with SPEED-TV providing the live broadcast. The detailed event schedule, as well as live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions, can be found at www.grand-am.com.
Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:
You left VIR last week with significant damage to the racecar as the result of an accident that simply caught you in the wrong place at the wrong time. What's on your mind as you and the SunTrust team head to New Jersey this weekend?
"I just can't get over the fact that a team that put two good cars out of the race was able to celebrate a third-place finish at VIR, is celebrating its lead in the championship, and nothing has happened. We're the ones who came away with extensive car damage. And the accident was totally unnecessary. Basically, no action has been taken, so I just can't get over it. I was far behind the (No.) 58 when he hit the back of the (No.) 01. Pruett had to get off the gas to try and recover. When I went inside to get around them, Donohue hit me in the left side, he hit Pruett a second time and spun him, and Pruett spun into me hard in the left rear and I went off the track."
Last year's inaugural race at New Jersey had its share of contact, which you were a part of on a couple of occasions, including an incident with your now-teammate Brian Frisselle. What are you expecting there this weekend?
"I think it was a good result for us last year -- second. I enjoyed the race because I overtook quite a few cars. I'm really looking forward to New Jersey because it's a track where we can really show how good we can be. I like the track. The Dallara agrees with the track very well. As far as the incidents last year, let's just say I like drama. After the first incident (with Alex Gurney), the team was on the radio and telling me to not do it again. But it happened a second time, with the driver who I am now sharing the SunTrust car with. I think it will be that kind of race, again. There are so many good drivers, good cars and good teams out there that it's difficult to pass. It's always close racing with the Daytona Prototypes. It's almost like a NASCAR-style racing and that's the way it should be. It's good for the fans. It's sometimes difficult for the drivers, but nobody says doing this is supposed to be easy."
Brian Frisselle, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:
How was your first taste of the New Jersey track last year?
"We had our ups and downs. I got the (No. 61 AIM Autosport) car up as high as second but got shuffled back after some poor choices in traffic. The track's a lot of fun to drive, especially with GTs out there. It's such a narrow track. The (racing) line really becomes one single line, especially with the amount of buildup that comes off the tires on that track. But when you're on your own and you're running around that track, it's one of the most enjoyable to drive. It's got a lot of high-speed, sweeping corners. I've always liked high-speed tracks. It's got a nice flow and rhythm to it. It's really fun to drive. I think New Jersey is a bit like our Bristol. It kind of forces you to be physical and it's just the nature of the track. When you overtake there, a lot of times there's going to be contact. I expect the same this year."
You had tough battle with Max for third place about 40 laps from the finish and he ended up going off the track. What do you remember about that incident?
"I was working on trying to get by him and knew he was probably going to try and close the door. I just kind of took on the mentality that you can't let yourself get pushed around. So, I left my foot in the door and it ended up working out fine for us. I'm glad it didn't mess up his race too badly. It was good racing. He understood it, I understood it. It was just good, hard racing. Lo and behold, we're teammates, now. I know I won't be having contact with Max again because we're sharing the same car. But I definitely wasn't thinking that at the time. Those types of things, for a young driver, are always a lesson and a way to show the veterans you're the kind of guy who won't leave anything on the table. Sometimes, in racing, people let themselves get pushed around. Some drivers don't. Max still has a reputation where you don't push him around, and I think every young guy out there is trying to be the same way."
Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara team:
You had good result at the New Jersey track last year on the heels of the team's first victory of the season the week prior at Infineon Raceway. How do you feel about coming back to New Jersey, especially since it wasn't completely finished from a construction and landscaping standpoint?
"We really liked the venue, even though the huge dust clouds became a problem. By now, they've had a lot of time to grow some grass. We really liked the event. The Dallara was really good, there. Now, it's the second of back-to-back race weekends. That's a good feeling after being off for so long after Daytona. It's good to get the momentum going again."
The Rolex Series has been tremendously competitive over the years, but it seems it's even more so this year. Do you agree?
"Obviously, the series, with Penske coming in and so many other teams running so well, the stakes are so much higher. It's always been a competitive series, but now it seems it's more competitive than ever. It wasn't long ago we remember thinking we'll always be fighting for a top-five. Now, it's more like we'll always be fighting for a top-10 because it's just that much more competitive."
After things were looking so good for so long for you in the race at VIR last week, it certainly ended on a sour note. What are your feelings about that, moving forward?
"It's very difficult to put it in the right words. This is a great group of people. Everyone worked so hard to get to that race. They did such a tremendous job in the race. And for it to end the way it did, all I can say is I'm thoroughly and utterly disappointed."