Birmingham: SunTrust Racing preview

The Other Chase ATLANTA (July 25, 2006) - The chase for the championship is on. Not in NASCAR, but in the Daytona Prototype division of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series. As the series rolls into Barber Motorsports Park in...

The Other Chase

ATLANTA (July 25, 2006) - The chase for the championship is on. Not in NASCAR, but in the Daytona Prototype division of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series.

As the series rolls into Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., for the July 30 Porsche 250 presented by Bradley Arant, a mere 10 points separate the top-three teams with just four races remaining.

In third, just 10 points behind the series leading Krohn Racing Team and five points behind the second-place Ganassi outfit, are the defending series champions - the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Team.

While competitive this year, 2006 has been an upward climb compared to the bottle-rocket season the SunTrust Racing Team enjoyed in 2005.

Last year, driver/owner Wayne Taylor, along with co-drivers Max Angelelli and Emmanuel Collard, piloted their No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley to victory in the season-opening Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona (Fla.). Four more wins followed - including a victory in last year's race on Barber's 2.3-mile road course - to clinch the championship for SunTrust Racing.

Buoyed by their status of reigning champions in the Daytona Prototype division and in last year's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Team had high expectations in defending their crowns.

But shortly after taking the lead 113 laps into this year's 24 Hours at Daytona, an accident not of the team's making badly damaged the front end of their Pontiac Riley. Before the six-hour mark, Taylor and Co. were out of the race and credited with a 29th place result.

Finishes of ninth at Mexico City, 11th at Miami and eighth at Long Beach (Calif.) left the SunTrust Racing Team 13th in points, 44 out of first, and badly in need of some good fortune.

The team's season turned around April 23 at Virginia International Raceway, where Taylor and Angelelli combined to finish second. The runner-up finish led to a much needed win May 7 at Monterrey (Calif.). Up-front consistency followed, with a third at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) and fourth-place efforts at Phoenix, Mid-Ohio and Daytona to put the SunTrust Racing Team back into championship contention.

In a move to better the team's title chances, Taylor has tabbed this year's 24 Hours of LeMans winner - Jan Magnussen - to co-drive with Angelelli at Barber. Taylor will sit out the 109-lap race, opting to dedicate his time to team management and race strategy.

And with four races to go and a 10-point deficit to overcome, the strategy for the SunTrust Racing Team is simple. Win.

Quotes from Wayne Taylor, driver/owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley:

Why are you stepping out of the car at Barber to pair Jan Magnussen with Max Angelelli?

"Basically, the original decision came because at the beginning of the season we started off having a pretty bad start to the season with some big accidents. We had a problem and we were like 10th in the championship. I felt that I needed to do something to get us back to the top of the grid, and the easiest thing to do was to sub somebody in like Jan Magnussen with Max. It would give me more time to do more of the management and ownership stuff. So we were lucky with Jan because he's a GM (General Motors) driver as well. And so far it's worked really well."

In terms of being both driver and owner, how busy are you? What goes into that? How much time do you have to spend preparing to drive and how much time do you need to spend overseeing the operation of the team?

"Come spend a week with me. One of the main reasons for getting out of the car is simply because there is too much going on and too much stuff that I'm involved in now. It's very, very difficult to be at a race track with all of the outside pressures coming in from a competitor's standpoint. And then there's all of the requirements and everything we need to do to promote all of our partners. It's pretty tough. It wasn't that bad in '04 and '05 because it wasn't as competitive as it is now. It's so competitive and you have to be focused 100 percent, and if you're not, you just don't give your best."

Was it a relatively easy decision to get out of the car, or is it kind of hard, because at the end of the day, that's why you got involved with sports car racing in the first place?

"Was it an easy decision? No. It wasn't an easy decision at all. You think it's easy and then building up to a race weekend, I'm excited while I think about it. The moment I get there and I get in the car and I leave I think, 'This is not good.' But that's what it is. I don't have the time. To build these businesses and build these programs, it just requires more and more attention. The driving I've got to give to someone else now."

You won at Barber last year. But in winning last year's race, you came in as the point leader. Did you have to balance being aggressive with being conservative to maintain your point lead?

"When we got to Barber last year, I think we'd had two races that didn't go that well, but we were still leading the championship. But we knew that in order for us to really try to ensure winning the championship, we had to win at Barber, so we did. We went in with a very aggressive strategy and also an understanding that you have to finish and gain points to win championships. There's a bit of a balancing act. Max really loves Barber, and so we did a strategy there that we didn't do anywhere else to be able to try and win the race, and we won it. This year, where we are now, we need to try to win every race."

Is the strategy as simple as that? Win every race and hope the teams in front of you have some problems?

"Yeah, that's the strategy, because we haven't led the championship. We were trailing in 10th and now we've brought it up to third, so now the strategy is to take one race at a time and try and win each one."

It seems like the breaks went your way last year, but you haven't been able to catch a break this year. Is that accurate?

"The last two races (at Mid-Ohio and Daytona) we should have won, but we finished fourth. We got unlucky with pit stops. We got unlucky with yellow cautions. It's funny. The year before, I can't remember which race that we just made it to the line and someone said, 'That's what happens when you win a championship.'"

Is it somewhat less stressful being the underdog and chasing the point leader, or would you rather be the point leader, even though you're constantly looking over your shoulder to see who's chasing you?

"The series is so competitive now. When you're leading a championship, you are in sort of a defensive mode, which is a little bit stressful, but then if you're trailing, you can afford to take a little more risk than the guy that's leading. So, I don't know. I guess it depends on the day and the outcome."

Only 10 points separate the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team from the first-place Krohn Racing Team, but only 12 points separate you from the fourth-place team. Are you in attack mode, or do you still have to be somewhat conservative?

"Well, I think you do need to be somewhat conservative, because the last race of the year is nine hours (at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah). A nine-hour long distance race . . . there's just so many things that can happen. So, you could go down to the last race and still only be third or whatever, but cars break down because it's such a long race. There is the thought that you could be aggressive, but you can't factor in crashing."

What do you like about racing at Barber?

"It's a great facility, but a very demanding track. Max is really the better person to ask, because it's his most favorite track. He loves it."

Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley:

What do you like about racing at Barber?

"I've liked the track since the first time I went testing there. I like it because it's very challenging and it allows for nice, high G-force corners. It's very physical and you have a lot of elevation changes, so it's pretty nice. I really like it. It has everything I want in a track.

"That track for us has been very lucky and suits our driving style perfectly. We won the race last year. We finished second the year before that, so it's really nice. I'm looking forward to the two of us going on the podium. I think I have a good car to do so, so we'll see."

In terms of where you are in the championship, how aggressive can you be at Barber?

"You have to be aggressive. It doesn't matter at this stage doing a not-so-aggressive race, because we are not leading (the points) and we have to push and we need to take risks, otherwise we will never get to the lead."

Quotes from Jan Magnussen, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley at Barber Motorsports Park:

Have you raced at Barber before? What do you like about it?

"I raced there last year in the GT class with the Pontiac GTO, and that was my first time to Barber, but I really enjoy the layout of the track. It's so different from what the European tracks have become like. All of the new tracks are - I won't say boring - but they've got the same type of corners at every track, and well, Barber has everything else. It's a lot of tight corners, fast corners. You go over hills and the car gets light, and light tracks suit me."

In terms of where the SunTrust Racing Team is in the championship, how aggressive can you be at Barber?

"Well, we have to be aggressive enough to try to move up. I don't think that the strategy is to not be fourth when we come out of this weekend. I think the strategy is to be closer toward the front."

How does your driving style compliment Max Angelelli's driving style?

"I think in terms of what we want from the car, we agree on what we want. We don't have to do major set-up changes from one driver to the other. We can be fast with the same car serving us both. That's a really good thing. The way it's gone so far is that I've been qualifying the car and then I run the first stint. Then Max will jump in and run the last half of the race. I don't know what the plan is for this weekend, but last year they won here, so it'd be nice to do the same again."

This isn't your first drive with the SunTrust Racing Team, as you've been with them at Long Beach, Monterrey, Phoenix and Mid-Ohio. How important is it to have some experience with the team, as opposed to just jumping in for the first time at Barber?

"It's good. Many of the guys on the team from I've known from before, so even at my first race I just came in and jumped in and drove. I knew most of the people, so it wasn't completely new to me. It was only a matter of learning a car and a track. The more we get to know each other, the more they'll get to know what I can do and what I want from the car - it just gets easier. It's always hard the first time, but now that we've had some experience with each other it's getting easier all the time."

- SunTrust Racing -

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Jan Magnussen , Emmanuel Collard , Wayne Taylor , Max Angelelli
Teams Krohn Racing