Max “The Ax” Angelelli and Jordan Taylor had to go all the way to Kansas to overcome the “Wizard of Odds” and miraculously vault themselves back into the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series driver championship lead after an epic victory by the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette Dallara DP of Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) Saturday night at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
It was the inaugural Rolex Series race at the 1.5-mile tri-oval that has been hosting NASCAR and IZOD IndyCar Series races since it opened its doors in 2002, but with a twist – a challenging .8-of-a-mile, six-turn excursion through its infield between NASCAR turns one and two.
And it was far from an ordinary closing stint for Taylor, who with Angelelli moved back into the driver championship lead they held through the middle part of the season with their third victory of 2013.
It was Taylor’s first opportunity to finish a race since joining his three-time-champion father’s team this season, and he had a drive for the ages, holding off five-time Rolex Series champion Scott Pruett lap after lap during a nail-biting final 40 minutes of tonight’s two-hour, 45-minute race.
When all was said and done, Taylor crossed the finish line .568 of a second ahead of Pruett and the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley he shares with Memo Rojas. It was Taylor’s fifth Rolex Series victory overall and Angelelli’s 24th since joining the series in 2004. And it gave the WTR duo a two-point lead over Action Express Racing driver Christian Fittipaldi atop the driver standings with two events remaining.
“Obviously, (Pruett) was in my mirror the whole time and the guys were telling me who it was,” Taylor said. “It was a stressful two hours, I’d say. It was my first time finishing the race in the prototype class and Max was obviously great at the start. He gave me a great car.
The guys had a perfect strategy. I think we were the only ones who did what we did and it worked out in the end. Everyone in this series is good – Pruett, Fittipaldi, (Joao) Barbosa, Max – all these guys can win races. To have people like that behind me for basically an hour and a half was stressful, but I knew I had a good car under me and I had all these guys supporting me. I wasn’t fazed at all. I’m just glad to beat one of the best.”
The stage was set for the thrilling closing stretch when Taylor slipped past Pruett on lap 88 in the road course section as the field was completing a cycle of green-flag pit stops with just 40 minutes remaining on the race clock. Taylor inherited the lead three laps later when Will Nonnamaker in the No. 43 Team Sahlen BMW Riley was the last to pit.
From there, Taylor made nary a misstep over the final 33 tours of the 2.37-mile circuit and drove like a seasoned veteran in keeping Pruett, 30 years his senior, behind him all the way to the checkered flag.
“I think this race was all about strategy and keeping the car up front,” Taylor said. “The guys had the perfect strategy. We short-filled at the beginning and wanted to be the first ones to make the last stop. Max was flawless, the guys were flawless. It was just a great job for Velocity Worldwide. I think we went into the race thinking we had a third- or fourth-place car.
But Brian (Pillar) and Adam (Banet) and the rest of the engineering department really did their homework and it paid off. The car was solid for the whole stint. We usually have tire-wear issues where it drops off a little bit. But the Continental tires were perfect and we could push for the entire two hours and 45 minutes and came away with the victory.”
Taylor, typically the qualifying driver and sprint-race starter this season, took over from Angelelli at the 32-minute mark during the race’s first full-course caution. Angelelli, who started fifth, made his way up to third when the polesitting Rojas in the No. 01 Ganassi BMW was penalized for spinning race-leader Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP at the 15-minute mark.
Taylor resumed in second after a typically quick pit stop by the Velocity Worldwide crew and he stayed there until inheriting the lead for the first time when Barbosa pitted under caution in the No. 5 Action Express Corvette DP at the one-hour, 37-minute mark. He led the next 21 laps before pitting for a final time with 44 minutes to go, and was back in the lead for the final time just six laps later, shortly after his nifty pass of Pruett.
“It’s a great win. I’m very happy, pleased and honored,” Angelelli said. “Jordan did something unbelievable by beating Pruett for the last hour, which is really something. It’s great that we won. We’re back in the championship lead. There are only two races to go, so, maybe.”
While Angelelli and Taylor beat Pruett and Rojas on the racetrack, they also benefitted from a second consecutive race full of misfortunes for the No. 2 Starworks BMW Riley of Ryan Dalziel and Alex Popow, who spun on the opening lap, then smacked a concrete barrier at the 29-minute mark and finished 13th. The Starworks duo led Angelelli and Taylor by 12 points at the start of the day.
The No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP duo of Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney, who started the day eight points ahead of Angelelli and Taylor, also suffered from late-race misfortunes and finished eighth.
In the team championship, the No. 01 Ganassi BMW still holds a 14-point lead over the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette DP.
“It’s fantastic,” said team owner Wayne Taylor. “The team did awesome, yet again. Max did a brilliant stint at the beginning. Jordan was absolutely spectacular. Clearly, we won this as a team. There’s no way that we could’ve won this any other way, especially with the engine rules the way they are. The team did the best on pit stops and we had the best drivers in the car and I am absolutely ecstatic.”
After taking the next two weekends off, the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series competitors will be back in action Sunday, Sept. 8, for the 12-race season’s penultimate round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. FOX Sports 1 will provide the live television broadcast beginning at 5 p.m. EDT. Live radio by the Motor Racing Network begins Saturday with pre-race festivities at 4:45.
Wayne Taylor Racing