Top-Five for SunTrust in Alabama
Tire Wear Issues Prove Problematic for Angelelli, Taylor, Who Also Must Overcome Mid-Race Penalty, Early Contact
As far as top-fives go for the SunTrust Racing team, Saturday’s fifth-place finish in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park just outside Birmingham, Ala., was one of the more welcome ones once all was said and done.
The team’s best finish since 2007 at the scenic 2.3-mile, 17-turn road circuit came despite a rather tumultuous two-hour, 45-minute run by Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli behind the wheel of the No. 10 SunTrust Corvette DP of Wayne Taylor Racing.
For starters, Taylor had to take the green flag from the back of the Daytona Prototype-class grid after an off-course mishap during Friday qualifying. Still, the 22-year-old driving phenom was able to navigate his way toward the front in the early going today despite tire wear issues that hampered the team’s run all afternoon, as well as contact with a GT-class competitor that errantly closed the door in front of Taylor near the end of his opening stint.
Then, Angelelli was the recipient of a 15-second penalty midway through the race for contact deemed avoidable by race officials, which temporarily undid most of the forward progress made by Taylor in the opening stint.
Nonetheless, a determined Angelelli was able to get the SunTrust Racing machine back into contention with the help of heads-up strategy calls from the SunTrust pit box and, with less than 45 minutes remaining, the Italian veteran moved into the top-three for the first time today. Angelelli held down the third position until a restart with four minutes remaining when, first, Ryan Dalziel in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley, which was the better-handling racecar at that point, and then Scott Pruett in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley, which had pitted for fresh tires during that final caution period, both were able to get by.
Pruett, who restarted at the back of the Daytona-Prototype field, took advantage of those fresh tires to snatch a podium finish over the final three laps of the race. Dalziel took the checkered flag in fourth.
“It was a tough day – a tough weekend, as it turned out – but the SunTrust team put us in position to get a podium finish and, as a driver, that’s about as much as you can ever ask for,” said Angelelli, whose mid-race contact for which he was penalized occurred with the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP of Darren Law, whose racecar suffered extensive damage that took 33 laps to repair. “It was unfortunate what happened with the 5 car. I completed my pass on him and, when we were trying to get around the next corner, he was still there and he ran out of room. I honestly had nowhere else to go because my car was understeering very badly. But still, the SunTrust team helped get us back to the front and we are leaving here with a top-five finish.”
Taylor’s steady driving during the race’s opening stint got the SunTrust team off to the promising start it had hoped for after the mishap in Friday qualifying. From the back of the nine-car Daytona Prototype-class grid, Taylor weaved his way into the top-five before the race was seven laps old. But then he hit a major stumbling block when he became mired behind Memo Rojas in the No. 01 Ganassi Racing BMW for the next 17 laps. Rojas was finally forced down pit lane after locking up his brakes in front of Taylor on lap 23 and flat-spotting his tires. That handed fourth place over to Taylor in the SunTrust Racing machine, and he held down his top-five position before pitting six laps later to hand the car over to Angelelli at the 46-minute mark.
“We just struggled with tire wear big-time but, considering how we’ve been struggling here in recent years, we had a good points day,” Taylor said. “My stint wasn’t great. I tried to make my way up and got stuck behind Rojas and just killed the front tires trying to get by him, and that hurt our track position. Max did a great job in both of his fuel runs and I think fifth place is all we really could’ve asked for today. Third place would’ve been just an extra bonus. But after I got out of the car, if you would’ve told me we were going to finish fifth, I would’ve felt that sounded about right.”
The polesitting No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP of Richard Westbrook and Antonio Garcia led 84 of the 103 laps contested today and powered its way to the team’s first Daytona Prototype-class victory. It was also the first Rolex Series victory for the Corvette DP introduced at the 50th Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.
The No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty crossed the finish line in the runner-up position just 2.3 seconds behind the Spirit of Daytona car while Pruett’s late-race charge gave the Ganassi team the final podium spot less than a half-second behind the Gainsco entry.
With the fifth-place finish, the SunTrust team, which made a shocking exit just 30 minutes into the season-opening Rolex 24, climbed from 14th to ninth in the championship, 17 points behind the series-leading No. 8 Starworks Motorsport entry with 11 races remaining.
“We came here with big expectations but we clearly could not keep our tires under the car today,” said Wayne Taylor, whose SunTrust Racing team finished on the podium here in 2007 before finishing sixth, 14th, 12th and 11th the last four seasons, respectively. “Ricky made a mistake in qualifying and we started at the back. We had a huge problem with tires during Ricky’s opening stint of the race and lost a lot of time. We came in and made some changes on the car and Max ran really well. Unfortunately, we got the stop-and-go, plus 15 seconds, which really cost us the race. Max had a huge understeering car and really had nowhere else to go in that corner, so it’s just disappointing. At the end, he matched all the leaders and we really thought we were going to come out with a third place, which would have been a great result. It’s going to be tough but, slowly but surely, we’ll find a way to get it done in the championship.”