TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 11, 2007) -- After 13 weekends and 5,284 miles of racing over the last seven-plus months, just three points separate the top three teams and top four drivers atop the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series championship standings ...
TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 11, 2007) -- After 13 weekends and 5,284 miles of racing over the last seven-plus months, just three points separate the top three teams and top four drivers atop the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series championship standings heading into Saturday's season finale -- the Sunchaser 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park just west of Salt Lake City.
One of those championship contenders is the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley of Wayne Taylor Racing, which this weekend has drivers Max Angelelli and Jan Magnussen in position to bring home SunTrust's second team title and Angelelli his second driver title in the last three seasons.
Improbable as it seemed shortly after last year's season finale at Miller, when Angelelli's 2005 co-driver and co-champion Wayne Taylor announced the formation of a brand new racing team that bears his name to carry on the SunTrust Racing legacy, the familiar, blue No. 10 has hardly missed a beat through the first 13 events of 2007. Angelelli and SunTrust find themselves within three points of first place in their respective championships with only Saturday's 1,000-kilometer shootout left on the schedule. The team rallied back from a five-lap deficit at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona for a hard-fought third-place finish with NASCAR star Jeff Gordon sharing the driving duties with Angelelli, Taylor and Magnussen. It went on to score victories at Virginia International Raceway and Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and has earned nine podium finishes and 11 top-fives in all.
The monstrous 4.5-mile, 24-turn Miller Motorsports Park layout proved to be one of the SunTrust team's best circuits when the series visited there for the first time for the 2006 finale. Angelelli, Taylor and co-driver Ryan Hunter-Reay entered that weekend just four points out of first place in the championship, and SunTrust appeared to be the team to beat all weekend. The No.10 led a race-high 53 laps and had the series title virtually in-hand before electrical problems forced several unscheduled pit stops and relegated it to a disappointing 14th-place finish in the race and third place in the championship.
Angelelli and Magnussen start this year's season finale weekend three points behind the series-leading No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, which set a Rolex Series record with its seventh victory of the season three weekends ago at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Just one point behind the No. 99, in second place in the championship, is the No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. The No. 99 has started on the pole at the last nine events, has 10 poles in all, and started second at the other three events. Since the season-opening Rolex 24, where it retired in the early hours, the No. 99 has led 555 laps compared to the SunTrust team's 133 laps led during that span, and 154 laps led by the Rolex 24-winning No. 01 team.
Even though just three points separate the Nos. 99, 01 and 10 teams, the championship possibilities are numerous. Quite simply, a podium finish by Angelelli and the SunTrust team would clinch the title only if the No. 99 finishes at least two spots behind it and the No. 01 finishes at least one spot behind it. Angelelli and SunTrust must finish up to four positions ahead of the No. 99 and up to two positions ahead of the No. 01 if they take the checkered flag further back in the order.
Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
Considering how close you were to pulling off your second consecutive championship at Miller Motorsports Park a year ago, you must feel pretty good about coming back and having another shot at it in relatively the same position in the points.
"I have been looking forward to this weekend since we finished the race at Sears Point. We are feeling very positive about this race for a lot of reasons. Looking at last year, I feel we were definitely the car to beat. We led the most laps. We were always super fast. Our race pace was really fast. Unfortunately, the final result (14th) was bad because we had electrical problems that put us down a couple of laps. But people know by the lap times and our speed that we were super fast. I think this year we have a good car, even if the result from Sears Point (fourth) did not necessarily show it. I feel we have a good car, and the track is good for us."
One of the championship-contending teams stands to be the beneficiary of an engine upgrade allowed to all the Lexus teams since the last race. How do you feel that changes the complexion of the race?
"As if this last race for the championship is not challenging enough, we have one more challenge to deal with. After the Sears Point race, the Lexus teams were allowed an engine upgrade that gives them some more horsepower. Am I wrong if I say that I feel this is not the way to decide a championship? The championship must be won on the race track. This is a big change right before the final race. Usually, these kinds of rule changes happen to help teams that are struggling and they happen much earlier in the season. I don't remember seeing the 01 (Lexus) struggling this year. They won the Daytona 24-hour and they led the championship most of the season. It's a setback for the Pontiac teams, for sure. But we'll see how it plays out on the racetrack. In a 1,000-kilometer race with GT cars out there, anything can happen. I'm going to go flat out, as usual, and do everything I can to win the championship. The SunTrust team will leave nothing on the table."
You have Jan Magnussen back as your co-driver this weekend after having won twice already with him this year. Any particular thoughts on that?
"I have had great teammates all year long and all of them have played an important part in putting me within three points of the championship going into this last race. Memo (Gidley) definitely was strong the last two races at Watkins Glen and Sears Point and he kept us in the championship, for sure. This weekend, we have Jan back. This was his race to co-drive with me all along and we have already won twice this year. So, any way you look at it, we have had a championship lineup in the driver seat all year long."
You're racing on a very unique circuit this weekend and the GT-class competitors will be joining the Daytona Prototypes once again for a 1,000-kilometer endurance test. Do you like these circumstances with the championship at stake?
"I like the track at Miller a lot. It's very different than any track I've ever been on, anywhere else in the world. It has a lot of turns, a lot of very slow turns. Finally, we get back to racing with the GT cars. I couldn't wait for that. It gives us another variable to take advantage of in our fight for the championship. That, and the fact it's a 1,000-kilometer race. We start the season going 24 hours, and we finish going 1,000-kilometers. I think that is a very appropriate way to finish the season."
Quotes from Jan Magnussen, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You're back co-driving with Max Angelelli for the first time since winning with him at Montreal the first weekend of August. Does that feel like an eternity ago?
"I'm looking forward to it with the championship fight being this close. I'm very excited. Montreal's not that long ago. I definitely feel I can be of good help to Max again this weekend. Having been away for the last two races, I might feel a little removed from the situation only in that I haven't had to deal with the pressure that Max has in trying to stay in the championship fight. My goal, once again, will be to help Max and the team win the championship."
You've competed at Miller once already this year in your American Le Mans Series Corvette. What are your thoughts about coming back and attacking it in the SunTrust Pontiac prototype?
"It's a great track and a really interesting layout. It's a little bit flat and a little featureless outside the racing surface. So that makes it challenging, at times, to determine your reference points. Overall, it's really a good circuit. It's got pretty much everything -- fast corners, slow corners, a good combination of everything. Our job, with the GT cars out there, is to work the traffic to our advantage and stay out of trouble. Again, I'm going to try and help Max win the championship. For sure, it'll be more challenging than for the other two teams because we have three points to overcome. We'll just have to go out and get it done despite all that."
Quote from Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:
How is the team approaching this weekend's 1,000-kilometer race with the championship on the line?
"There's really not much we can do other than to go and win this weekend. For us, winning is the only option because we have the biggest deficit among the championship contenders. But even if we do win, and Alex (Gurney) and Jon (Fogarty) finish second, they still win the championship. So, we need some luck on our side to win it all. Otherwise, the approach will be no different than any other race. These (long) races are no longer endurance races. They're sprint races. We've got Magnussen back. Both of our drivers like this track. Last year, we were pretty quick there. The wild card will be to see how much more power the Lexus will have. That very well might determine how this championship will finish. We just have to work harder than ever and hope that puts us over the top. We're certainly going to give it our best shot and do what we know how to do best."
-credit: -- www.SunTrustRacing.com --