MONTEREY, Calif. – A two-point lead in the championship with two races left this season. Two days this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, Calif., culminating in a two-hour, 45-minute shootout to try and break away from the huge logjam atop the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series standings.
It certainly appears two is the operative number for two drivers in particular – Italian veteran Max Angelelli and his first-year co-driver Jordan Taylor of the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette Dallara DP team of Wayne Taylor Racing – as they head to the West Coast for Sunday’s Continental Tire Sports Car Festival and the penultimate round of the 2013 Rolex Series schedule.
Angelelli and Taylor hold a two-point advantage over Christian Fittipaldi of the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, a three-point advantage over Ryan Dalziel and Alex Popow of the No. 2 Starworks BMW Riley, a four-point advantage over Fittipaldi’s co-driver Joao Barbosa, as well as the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP duo of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, and a five-point advantage over three-time-defending series champs Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley.
The way things have been going this topsy-turvy season, it would seem to be anybody’s ballgame these last two events. But 2005 Rolex Series co-champion Angelelli and the No. 10 team look to earn Rolex Series title number two (there’s that number again) while he and his co-driver Taylor – appropriately enough for this story, age 22 – look to recreate the magic from their convincing wins at Kansas last month, Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., in April, and the Streets of Belle Isle in downtown Detroit in June, as well as their flawless effort that resulted in a runner-up finish at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Key to the championship for Angelelli and Taylor will be a solid podium finish or better at Laguna Seca, where Angelelli and Jan Magnussen co-drove to victory in 2006, but where the team has had less-than-desirable results more often than not with an average start of 4.43 and average finish of 5.86 in seven previous visits dating back to 2005.
Should they have another solid points day Sunday, their championship outlook is very good as the final stop on the tour is Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., where the team has won every Rolex Series DP race ever contested – 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Practice for Sunday’s two-hour, 45-minute Continental Tire Sports Car Festival begins Saturday morning with qualifying set for 8:45 p.m. EDT. Race time Sunday is 5 p.m. with live television provided by FOX Sports 1. Live radio coverage by the Motor Racing Network (MRN) and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90 begins with pre-race festivities at 4:45 p.m.
Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette Dallara DP for Wayne Taylor Racing:
You and your co-driver Jordan are atop the list that shows 10 drivers within five points of the championship with two races remaining. How incredible is that at this point in the season? “The way the season has gone, it almost looks like nobody wants to win the championship because of all the crazy incidents that stir up the championship at just about every race.
It looks like nobody wants to win it. Seriously, it’s incredible how GRAND-AM has changed the last three or four years. If you look back, anyone with as many as three wins by this point in the season, like we have, would probably have clinched the championship by now.
This year, it’s nowhere near enough. So, that says a lot as far as how tough the GRAND-AM championship is and how important it is to be consistent. It’s all or nothing, win the race, or else. And it’s not like it’s just one incident here or there. There seem to be many incidents all through the race, lately, that change the complexion of the championship as it goes along.
Whoever can do the best job of not getting caught up in these incidents these last two races, that’s who will win the championship. I think that’s great for the fans. For me, it’s not stressful like you might think. I actually enjoy this situation because I know we will have fans watching and fans wondering who’s going to win the race, who’s going to win the championship, it’s impossible to say, right now.
Actually, it’s very hard to say any weekend in this series because anybody can win. Think about the last race in Kansas, where the 01 and the 9 were running first and second. Who would ever have thought they would crash each other out within 20 minutes of the start of the race. It’s GRAND-AM. This is how a championship should be.”
You won at Laguna Seca in 2006, but have only two other podium finishes over the years. Would you consider it one of your most challenging tracks? “I think last year was the only year where we really did not perform. That was the only race where we were far off. And we were far off the entire weekend. We believe that our car is going to be a lot better this year. Some of the other tracks where we were out of it last year, we won this year or we were leading the race this year.
This is a sign we have improved our car a lot. The Velocity Worldwide Corvette should be very good at Laguna Seca this weekend, so I’m not too worried. I always enjoy driving at Laguna Seca. I always enjoy everything about the Laguna Seca weekend. Enjoy flying into San Francisco and enjoying the city a little before we get to the track.
I enjoy having breakfast at Laguna Seca. I enjoy having dinner at Laguna Seca. So, the fun does not stop when you leave the racetrack each day. I enjoy that weekend all around the clock.”
Jordan Taylor, co-driver of the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette Dallara DP for Wayne Taylor Racing:
You head to Laguna Seca leading the driver championship after things looked pretty bleak before the last few races. What are your thoughts about the rest of the season?
“It has been a crazy season. We were kind of out of it at the beginning, had a good lead in the middle of the season, then it all went away. We went to Kansas not thinking we were running for the championship, anymore, but thinking we were just racing for wins. I think all the competitors had those kinds of ups and downs at one point or another this year, if not at several points.
But we managed to slingshot right back into contention and into the lead. I don’t think I’ve seen a championship like this in any series, anywhere. So many drivers and teams with a really good shot at it. These final two races are going to be exciting. The winner will be the one who can salvage tiny points advantages here and there.
That will make the difference. It’s hard to get nervous for it because so much happens every race, we’re almost used to it. You never know what to expect. If you go into it nervous, you’re going to stress yourself out. We’ll just have to do what we have all year. We’ll go in with an open mind, roll off with a good car, do our usual excellent pit stops and strategy, and make sure.”
This is only your third race ever at Laguna Seca and only the second in a Daytona Prototype. How do you like the layout? “Everyone likes Laguna. It’s one of the most famous tracks in America, probably around the world. Everyone knows it from the Corkscrew. It’s a fun track, made more fun this weekend by the fact we’re in the championship hunt. It’s a tight and technical track, difficult to pass, so I’m certain there will be rubbing.
Whoever has the best track position and tires is going to win. With our guys and how good pit stops and strategy have been this year, I like our chances. Another thing about Laguna is that the GTs aren’t as much slower than the DPs as a lot of other tracks, so they’ll actually be able to race us a little harder and make things a lot more interesting.
They’ll be making optimistic moves in traffic at a lot of places around the track, so inevitably there will be more contact than we normally see involving GT cars. We’ll just have to be sure to keep the effects of that to an absolute minimum.”
Any special thoughts looking back on your victory at Kansas Speedway three weekends ago and how you closed the deal? “It was stressful, to say the least. I knew when we went green with just over an hour left that it was going to be between us and the 01 (Scott Pruett). We were in the lead. When made final stop and came out in second, I was able to get him because he was on cold tires, but then I knew I had to hold him off for 40 minutes or he was going to just blow on by me.
To hold him off for 40 minutes, a guy like Scott Pruett, probably one of the most successful American sports car drivers in history, that felt pretty incredible. Most people, I’m sure, were probably waiting for me to make a mistake under all that pressure. The main thing going through my head the whole time was not making a mistake. I didn’t make any mistakes that cost us, we won the race, so, naturally, I’m pretty happy with how it all came out.”
Wayne Taylor, team owner of the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette Dallara DP for Wayne Taylor Racing:
There’s quite a logjam at the top of the standings with five teams within five points of the driver championship lead that you hold by two points. Is that nerve-wracking with just two races to go? “For the fans, it’s absolutely great and the way it should be. For the teams involved, it’s tough. It’s come down to the fact that it’s all about winning in this series and, in that respect, we’ve had a good year. We’ve won three races, led laps at most every race.
On the other hand, mistakes and stupid things have kept the points race as tight as it is now – not just for us, but for the other teams, too. That’s the nerve-wracking part. I can think of at least two if not more races where, if we wouldn’t have had incidents, we would have a healthy points lead. But that’s all in the past. We can only go into this race the way we went into the last one, and that’s to try and win. There’s no benefit to just getting points, anymore.”
Laguna Seca hasn’t been one of your team’s better tracks over the years. What is your outlook heading into this weekend? “Laguna’s not been very good to us, but Brian (Pillar) our engineer says he has a magic setup he’s feeling pretty confident about – something we missed last year. We’ll go there with a narrow margin in the driver points, where it’s very, very close. I still think the balance of performance is out of whack.
I still feel our most realistic opportunity is racing the Corvettes because the BMWs are still in a different class. We’ll have to do it our way, do what we’ve tried to do every race, which is maximize track position because track position is everything. We’ll have to have another good qualifying effort, good work in the pits. It’s going to be a tough weekend. The Ganassi team is in the hunt, the Gainsco team is right there, the Starworks and Action Express teams are right there. Anything can happen.”
You’ve had a few weeks to digest that amazing win at Kansas. Any special thoughts on that, looking back? “The team just did an amazing job. The strategy they used was really, really good. I questioned it even during the course of the race. But they’re the guys who did the calculating and it worked. It was all about where Max and Jordan came out on track – it was definitely all about track position.
One time we were behind Gustavo (Yacaman) and couldn’t do anything. One time we were behind (Joao) Barbosa. At the end, we just had a better strategy, and Jordan was on it like never before. It certainly ranks right up there among my favorite races of all time.”
Wayne Taylor Racing