Heartbreak for SunTrust at Rolex Series Finale Bonafide Championship Bid Goes Up in Smoke -- Literally -- As Shredded Tire Leads to Oil Fire that Ends Angelelli's Day Max Angelelli and the SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor ...
Heartbreak for SunTrust at Rolex Series Finale
Bonafide Championship Bid Goes Up in Smoke -- Literally -- As Shredded Tire Leads to Oil Fire that Ends Angelelli's Day
Max Angelelli and the SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing worked their way into prime position to win the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series driver and team championships entering the final laps of Saturday's marathon, 1,000-kilometer Sunchaser 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City. But, with 23 laps remaining on the mammoth 4.5-mile, 24-turn road circuit, it all came to a shocking end, leaving 2005 championship-winning SunTrust Racing to settle for a still-admirable fourth top-three finish in the season-ending points in four years in the series.
Having just completed the day's final pit stop on Lap 112 of today's 139-lap event, Angelelli cinched up his five-point seat belts for a final sprint to the finish, working his way back up to third behind the fellow championship-contending No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett and the No. 99 Gainsco Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley of Jon Fogarty by Lap 115. Both the Nos. 01 and 99 cars still had to make one final stop for fuel and tires before race's end, which then likely would have turned the lead over to Angelelli and the No. 10 SunTrust Racing machine for its final sprint to the finish.
However, Angelelli never had a chance to run for the checkered flag. On that fateful Lap 115, Fogarty bumped Pruett off the track from behind and out of the lead. The contact left Fogarty with a flat right-front tire and Pruett with a flat left-rear, sending both cars limping back around to the pits with Angelelli, approximately half of a lap in arrears, preparing to move into the lead. Big problem: even though Pruett's left-rear tire began shredding to pieces on his way back to the pits, destroying the left-rear bodywork of the No. 01 car and spewing debris all over the track, the track stayed green. Angelelli, continuing at race pace, ran over some of that debris and suffered a tire puncture of his own -- the right-rear -- sending him limping back to pit lane, as well. Like Pruett's left-rear, Angelelli's right-rear began to shred and tear up bodywork. It also ruptured an oil line on the SunTrust car and ultimately led to a fire. Angelelli managed to make it just past pit entrance but could make it no further, the engine having shut down from the fire with the cockpit quickly filling with smoke and flames. The yellow came finally came out when Angelelli's car, thoroughly engulfed in flames, came to a rest near the pit entrance. By then, it was too late for the SunTrust team. He got out of the car safely, but the day -- and the season -- was over for him and the team.
"We knew we did not have the quickest car for one lap, but we knew that we could race both (the 01 and the 99) over the longer distances," said Angelelli, who started eighth and co-drove with Jan Magnussen for the eighth time in 14 races this year, collaborating on victories at Alton, Va., and Montreal, Canada. "We had the strategy in our favor. Our car was good on older tires. We fought all day long on the track. And losing a race and a championship this way is not just. It's just awful. It's a bad feeling. It's going to take a long time for me to forget today and this result."
The Gainsco team and drivers Fogarty and Alex Gurney, winners of a series-record seven races this season, went on to clinch the team and driver championships by two points over the Ganassi team and Pruett by virtue of their eighth-place finish today. But even that did not occur without controversy. Pruett, damaged car and all, appeared to be on his way to his second career Rolex Series championship when he worked his way past Gurney with seven laps remaining, some apparent incidental contact occurring along the way with both cars continueing. Series officials deemed the contact "avoidable," however, and black-flagged Pruett, penalizing him with a drive-through penalty that ended his championship bid. Pruett came back to finish ninth, one spot behind the Gainsco car, but it was not enough. Angelelli and the SunTrust team ended up third in the championship, 13 points behind the Gainsco team, after placing 18th today.
"We pushed, we sacrificed, we made a lot of sacrifices this year," Angelelli said. "We had to fight for everything. We never had it easy. We never had a lucky race. The mechanics, the guys, they were tremendous all year long. I feel devastated for them, as well, because they deserved this championship more than me. The way they worked at the beginning of the season setting up this team, all the late nights. It's not right for all of them for this to end this way."
The SunTrust team closes out the 2007 season with two wins, nine podium finishes, 11 top-fives and 12 top-10s. Today's DNF was the first-year Wayne Taylor Racing operation's first and only one of the season. The team led 172 laps on the season, completed 98.6% of all possible laps (2,024 of 2,052), had an average start position of 4.85, and an average finishing position of 4.85.
"It's all well and good for everybody to congratulate us for such an awesome year, but for this group of guys, and us, only winning counts," said Taylor, who co-drove with Angelelli to the 2005 series championship in the SunTrust Racing machine. "The team did just outstanding on the strategy today. Jan and Max were the quickest guys on the track. The strategy was perfect. It's just very unfortunate that a championship can end like this. We had the race won. There was no question that we had the speed, and we got the strategy right. The only thing that was going to keep us from winning was something unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary to happen, and it did. How do you explain having an incident between two cars that scatters debris all over the track, the caution never comes out, and then we have to run across it and damage our car to the point where we're out of the race, out of the championship, and we leave here with $200,000 damage to our car? It just doesn't make sense."
After scheduled off-season tests at Homestead, Fla., and Daytona Beach, Fla., the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series gets underway Jan. 26-27 with the traditional, twice-around-the-clock Rolex 24 At Daytona. Announcements regarding SunTrust's 2008 racing program will be forthcoming.
-credit: suntrust racing