Millville: SunTrust Racing race report

SunTrust Back on the Podium at New Jersey Angelelli Rallies for Third Place in the Closing Laps of the NJMP 250 To Solidify Second Place in the Rolex Series Championship with Three Races To Go Italian driving ace Max Angelelli rallied in the ...

SunTrust Back on the Podium at New Jersey
Angelelli Rallies for Third Place in the Closing Laps of the NJMP 250 To Solidify Second Place in the Rolex Series Championship with Three Races To Go

Italian driving ace Max Angelelli rallied in the closing laps of Sunday's GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series NJMP 250 at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville to give the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing team its fourth podium finish of the season and opened up a little breathing room for the second spot in the Rolex Series championship with three races remaining.

Angelelli, who took over from co-driver and race-starter Ricky Taylor with an hour and 15 minutes remaining in today's 2-hour, 45-minute event run in excessive heat and humidity, spent the better part of his driving stint running in fifth place after numerous futile attempts to move closer to the front.

But, on a restart with 23 minutes remaining, it was finally "go" time for the 2005 Rolex Series champion as he muscled his way past former co-driver Michael Valiante in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Dallara for fourth place. And with just nine minutes remaining, Angelelli made a slingshot move on the front straight to get past Burt Frisselle in the No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford Riley for third place, giving SunTrust its 44th podium finish in 87 Rolex Series starts dating back to 2004.

"It's about time," said Angelelli, who had a three-race podium streak end with back-to-back ninth-place finishes at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway over the previous two events. "Finally, we are back. It was very difficult to pass out there today, but when it was time to go, we finally found a way to pick up some very important positions. I am happy to be back on the podium. From here, we would like to just finish this championship on a high note and have some more wins. The car was quite good today. It's such a shame we couldn't have been a little closer to the front and have a chance at winning the race today. I got a little bit frustrated behind the Nos. 6 and 61 for way too long."

Had the race gone just one more lap, Angelelli easily could have given the SunTrust team a runner-up finish. The No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley, which thoroughly dominated the latter half of the race by leading 45 consecutive laps at the hands of veteran driver Scott Pruett, suffered a flat tire as the result of incidental contact with another competitor and gave up the lead to the pole-sitting No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley of Alex Gurney with just three minutes remaining. Angelelli did his best to get by Pruett, as well, but the Ganassi driver beat him to the checkered flag by less than a second.

"It's kind of like old times -- the 99, the 01 and the 10 finishing one-two-three -- but in the wrong order," Angelelli quipped afterward.

The 20-year-old Taylor did a stellar job handling what turned out to be the lion's share of the driving in today's challenging conditions, with temperatures in the upper 90s and humidity high enough to push the heat index well into the 100s. Taylor started from the second position he earned in qualifying Friday and kept on polesitter Jon Fogarty's tail from the very start. He was even in position to make an inside move on Fogarty heading into the fast, sweeping right-hand turn one when the green flag waved to start the race, but he thought better of it. Taylor eventually made his way around Fogarty for the race lead just eight laps later when the two reached the tail end of the GT-class field for the very first time. But Taylor held the lead for just four laps before the day's first caution appeared on lap 11. He pitted for fuel and the team opted to replace left-side tires while a number of other competitors opted for fuel only.

Taylor resumed in seventh place, but gradually made his way back into the top-three by the time he pitted at the 1-hour, 45-minute mark to hand the SunTrust car over to Angelelli under green.

"It was a lot of fun," said Taylor, whose qualifying effort Friday netted his fourth front-row start in his last six attempts. "It was very hot, but very enjoyable. We had a big fight at the beginning with Fogarty. It was a lot of fun. GT traffic was very difficult. You could easily lose two or three seconds a lap just with GT traffic. The (tire rubber) pickup was another factor. Sometimes passing DP or GT cars, something you normally don't have to think about is going offline and getting pickup on the tires. But today, sometimes it would take a whole lot, maybe even two laps, to get it all off. But, overall, I'm very happy, all things considered, to come away with another podium today."

With the runner-up finish, the Ganassi team opened up a 27-point lead over the second-place SunTrust team in the Rolex Series championship heading into the final three events. The SunTrust team, meanwhile, opened up a nine-point lead over the third-place No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley of Oswaldo Negri and John Pew, which finished eighth today, and the No. 99 Gainsco team.

"Going into the race, I was convinced that the 99 was going to drive away with this thing," said team owner Wayne Taylor. "But when Ricky reeled him in and went by him, and listening to Ricky saying he had a really good car, I thought we were going to have a really good day. Then, at the first stop, we decided to put tires on, so we lost a lot of track position, which probably looked bad. But, in fact, I still think it was probably the right move because Ricky went all the way back to the front, anyway. Then, I basically think we stayed out too long on the tires and we lost too much time. But it turns out nobody else chose to do any differently, either. It was one of those races that went right down to the wire, and Max did great to make up those positions at the end because we really need those points. You know, P3 is a podium, even though you expect so much more at the beginning, but these races are hard. I have to say my hat's off, absolutely, and I have so much respect for, Tim Keane and Scott Pruett and that entire Ganassi organization on a day when their driver (Memo Rojas) gets sick and has to come out of the car early. And, of course, hat's off to Bob Stallings and his team on getting their first win of the year."

After taking the next two weekends off, the Rolex Series will be back for round 10 in the form of the annual August sprint race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Traditionally a Friday-night event, this year's renewal of the Crown Royal 200 at The Glen will be held for the first time on a Saturday -- Aug. 7, at 6 p.m. EDT, immediately following the NASCAR Nationwide Series race held that afternoon.

-source: str

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Series GRANDAM