MILLVILLE, N.J. (Aug. 26, 2008) -- Moments after Max Angelelli took the checkered flag for SunTrust's first victory of the season last Saturday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., Wayne Taylor Racing general manager Simon Hodgson, who calls the...
MILLVILLE, N.J. (Aug. 26, 2008) -- Moments after Max Angelelli took the checkered flag for SunTrust's first victory of the season last Saturday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., Wayne Taylor Racing general manager Simon Hodgson, who calls the races from pit lane, radioed to his driver with a word of caution during the cool-down lap. "Watch out for a monkey running around out there, Max," Hodgson said. "It's the one that just fell off your back."
A jubilant Angelelli responded with a loud scream and words of thanks and congratulations to his teammates, including this year's new full-time co-driver Michael Valiante, who qualified their No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara on the pole for a series-high third time Friday and drove a flawless and dominating opening stint Saturday en route to his first career Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series victory.
It was the 12th win for Angelelli and SunTrust since both joined the Rolex Series in 2004. But few have been sweeter than the one Saturday that ended a year-long winless streak during which the team has endured countless race-day disappointments while trying to get its brand new Dallara chassis program off the ground, and a stunning blow in May by way of a devastating transporter fire that took with it a race car and every bit of the team's race-weekend equipment, spare parts, apparel and numerous other items of importance.
This weekend, the SunTrust team and the Rolex Series will make their first-ever stop at a brand new venue -- Millville, N.J.'s New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP) -- for Sunday's penultimate round of the 2008 Rolex Series championship, the Supercar Life 250.
With a huge burden having been lifted off of its collective shoulders, and the momentum that goes with any victory as dominating as Saturday's was for the SunTrust team, which led 80 of 102 laps and essentially was never challenged on the race track, Angelelli and Valiante will look to make it back-to-back wins at NJMP. Such a feat is nothing new to SunTrust Racing, which pulled off back-to-back wins twice during its 2005 Rolex Series championship campaign, when Angelelli and then co-driver Wayne Taylor opened the season with consecutive wins at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Homestead, Fla., and then again four months later with consecutive wins at Birmingham, Ala., and Watkins Glen, N.Y.
As the team heads to NJMP for the first time, Angelelli and Valiante say that, for once, they will start the weekend on equal footing with the other Rolex Series competitors, who will also be seeing to the brand new 2.25-mile road circuit located some 50 miles south of Philadelphia and 40 miles west of Atlantic City, N.J., for the first time. At each of its previous nine starts this season since debuting at Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway in March, the Dallara hit each respective race track with zero testing, practice, qualifying or race experience. Nonetheless, the Dallara has made speedy progress, posting an average qualifying position of 3.11 with three of the team's series-high four poles this season and another front-row start in nine outings, and it has led five of its nine races for a total of 122 laps.
But while the new Dallara already has proven speed and adaptability, particularly at the higher-speed layouts, getting to the finish line without incident has been a problem on race days -- until this past Saturday at Infineon. With that monkey finally lifted off its back, the SunTrust team is looking for more of the same on another fast and furious layout at NJMP this weekend.
Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara:
You and the team finally broke the ice with your first victory of the year and the first for the new Dallara. What does that do for the team as you prepare to race at New Jersey Motorsports Park for the first time ever this weekend?
"It was definitely very special to win like we did at Infineon. It was a very emotional win for everybody involved with this SunTrust Racing program because, as you know, we have all been through a lot this year. It was a very dominating weekend for us, one like we always knew we were capable of, and I think it was a huge relief to everybody because we have been trying so hard to win with the new Dallara. And we've been fast everywhere we've been with it, so far, and winning seemed sometimes like it was never going to happen for one reason or another. The win at Infineon, and the way we won the race and showed we were fast all weekend, is the best reward for everybody who has worked so hard and who has been so good to continue supporting this program 100 percent. I think you will see a completely different SunTrust Racing team, in a lot of ways, when we get to New Jersey. Everybody is happy, once again."
What do you know about the track at New Jersey, and what do you expect?
"There's really not much I can say because I've never been there. I am excited to go there because it's a new track and I can't wait to see it. It will be a good challenge, since nobody's ever been there, to see who can figure it out the best and who can figure it out more quickly this weekend. I haven't spent any time studying the layout. The approach I prefer when it comes to a new track is to go there one day early and do some laps (in a rental car) and then I will have a much better idea about what to expect when we have the promoter test day on Thursday. I did not really study the track layout on paper. I can't ever understand anything on paper because paper is 2D (two-dimensional) and the actual race track is 3D (three-dimensional)."
Do you have any history or connections with the area in South Jersey?
"Nothing at all. I've never been there. I hear Atlantic City is not far away, and that's the Las Vegas of the East Coast, right? The promoters say there is huge interest in our kind of racing from the local people, so the atmosphere should be great. They'll have a lot to see since we're racing, and about five or six other series are going to be part of the program, too. Anyone who ever had an interest in sports car racing is going to love it at New Jersey Motorsports Park this weekend. For us, it will be good to get back with the GT cars (racing at the same time as the Daytona Prototypes). It will be a very exciting race, finally. We should be good in practice and qualifying. And, Sunday, we will need another good run, a good race, and stay away from trouble. We're improving the car more and more all the time, and this weekend could be even better than last weekend, if you can imagine that."
Michael Valiante, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara:
You finally scored your first career Rolex Series victory. Do you feel it was a long time coming?
"I hadn't really thought about it that much. In previous series, before I came to Grand-Am, I had had a lot of success. But, oddly enough, before I left for Infineon, I was talking to my wife and I said that it's been four years since I won a professional race, and in Grand-Am, I hadn't won, yet. This year, there has been a lot of pressure on the team, Max, and myself, to get results and win races. It was a huge relief to finally get my first win. But, to be honest, my win is so small compared to what the team has accomplished. I've expected to win here. The team has expected to win. We've all put so much effort into it. But for me, I'm a small part of the team and there's so much that goes into the effort. When you look at a new car, a new driver pairing, there are a lot of new elements to our team, plus all the issues we've had all year long. To win is a huge accomplishment for SunTrust and Wayne Taylor Racing."
How do you feel about heading to a new race track, and do you have any idea of what to expect?
"I've seen a video of the track on YouTube, and that's about it. It's a new track, so it will be a learning experience for everybody. It looks like a really nice facility. It'll be new to everyone, so I think that'll be good in a way for us since it's a track no one else has driven on, either. It's hard to see even from the in-car camera just what to expect. It just looks really quick, and our car's been strong on fast tracks. So, I think it should be a good race track for us. And the facility looks quite nice. I'm looking forward to going. A lot of people have described the track as being a lot like VIR (Virginia International Raceway). But I can't say, either way. I'll just have to wait to decide what I think of it until I get there."
Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara team:
You're coming off the season's first win and are down to the final two races of the season, starting with this weekend on a brand new track in New Jersey. What is left for you to accomplish before the end of the season, and will being on a brand new track help or hurt that?
"Yeah, we're down to two more races. It's felt like an eternity since we started the season, but in a lot of ways it has gone by so quickly. Going to the new track, it's great because nobody else has been there. And we'll be coming in there in full force with all of the many series Grand-Am runs, including the motorcycles. My feeling is that now we know we can win again. We just proved we can win again. And there's no better way to win than the way we won at Infineon. We dominated from the beginning of practice. We won the pole. We won the race. And we got the fastest race lap. Now, my focus is to get through this and to start the rebuild of our program. We've been so fortunate that Ganassi Racing (with Felix Sabates) and Penske Racing and many others have loaned us all this equipment. Now, we've got to start replacing all of that. And really, the focus is going to be on rebuilding everything and then getting ready for the (Daytona) 24-hour (in January), to just to continue to learn and develop this car, and to develop as a team again now that everybody's got their confidence back. It's time to take some more big steps."