Birmingham: SunTrust Racing preview

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 17, 2007) -- Two weeks ago, Max Angelelli and the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing kicked off the current three-race Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series stretch with a stellar drive from the back of the...

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 17, 2007) -- Two weeks ago, Max Angelelli and the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing kicked off the current three-race Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series stretch with a stellar drive from the back of the pack to a second-place finish at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

After a heartbreaking seventh-place run at Iowa Speedway last weekend, Angelelli and the rest of the SunTrust Racing camp would like nothing better than to finish this three-week run on top of the podium once again at Sunday's Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park.

Historically speaking, the scenic 2.3-mile, 16-turn road circuit that, at first glance looks more like the 18th fairway at Augusta National than a world-class motorsports facility, has been the SunTrust team's most successful venue in terms of average finishing position. In its three previous outings, the team came home no worse than second each time, a run that includes a victory by Angelelli and team owner Wayne Taylor enroute to the 2005 series championship.

As was the case at Daytona two weeks ago, the SunTrust team is very much in need of a top finish. Angelelli and last week's co-driver, Jan Magnussen, saw their seventh-place finish at Iowa, coupled with the season's second victory by Scott Pruett and the championship-leading No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley team, stretch a nine-point gap in the team standings to 20 points. Meanwhile, Pruett's four-point lead over Angelelli in the driver championship heading into Iowa is now 15 points. And -- don't look now -- the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley team of Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney, four-time winners already this season, climbed to within two points of the second-place SunTrust car in the team championship. Fogarty and Gurney are seven points behind second-place Angelelli in the driver championship.

All of that fuels the fire inside Angelelli, this week's co-driver Jonathan Cochet of France, and the entire cast and crew at SunTrust to do what they know how to do best. All through their three-plus seasons in the Rolex Series, it seems Angelelli and the SunTrust team perform at their best when their backs are against the wall. Their improbable second-place finish at Daytona, after a dead battery in qualifying relegated them to the very back of the Daytona Prototype starting grid, is a case in point.

Cochet, the sports car racing veteran and former Formula 1 test driver, is back for his fourth appearance co-driving with Angelelli this weekend. They collaborated for a third-place finish at the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen with Taylor in early June, followed that up with a fourth-place finish at Mid-Ohio, and brought home that memorable runner-up finish at Daytona. Unlike Daytona, which he saw for the first time in his career on race morning, Cochet is no stranger to the Barber facility. He co-drove at Barber with Brian Tuttle in the No. 7 Tuttle Racing Pontiac Riley in 2005 and 2006, securing a top-12 finish in the 2005 race in his Rolex Series debut.

With five races to go and a gap of 20 championship points to overcome, safe to say it will take a trouble-free run through the season finale in Utah to get the job done. It's a tall order, but one team that has proven to be entirely capable of doing just that, in the increasingly competitive Rolex Series ranks, is the SunTrust team.

Practice for Sunday's Porsche 250 begins Friday with qualifying set for Saturday at 11:25 a.m. EDT. Race time Sunday is 3 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by SPEED-TV. Live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions can be found at www.grand-am.com.

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

Having seen the gap widen once again in the chase for the championship, how are you approaching this weekend's race at Barber Motorsports Park?

"Our goal at Iowa was to have another good finish and maintain a reasonable gap in the championship. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way and we must move on. Now we have to push even harder. For whatever reason, personally, I receive such a motivation when I jump in the car and I'm in the pack, when I have to push. I'm much more motivated when the situation is against us and we have to recover. It's much easier, I think, than protecting a lead. For me, at least. The down side when you have to push harder than maybe you would like is that it's easier to make mistakes. Obviously, we have used up all the mistakes we will be allowed to make this season if we are going to win the championship. I am very confident that we can do what it takes to finish the season. We are all very familiar with what it takes to win championships. We will have to remember that in everything we do from now until the final race is over. I think it's very possible. We will just go out and try to take the first step in that direction this Sunday in Birmingham."

What is it about the track at Barber that has suited the SunTrust car so well over the years?

"We have always been good there. It's difficult to put your finger on just one thing. I know I like that track a lot. I know Jonathan likes that track a lot. I have total faith in him that he can help us get the job done this weekend. If you like a track, you have a tendency to do better there. I like the elevation changes and the blind corners. Once again, without the GT cars racing with us, it's going to make it difficult to pass. It won't be as difficult as it was at Mid-Ohio, but it will take a very good race car to be able to make up positions on the race track. This year when we race without the GT cars, basically pit stops and strategy are probably 80 percent of the outcome. It will be important to concentrate on pit stop strategy and driver changes. We will be ready because we know what is at stake."

Quotes from Jonathan Cochet, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:

You're back in the SunTrust car for the fourth time this weekend and you're coming to a track where you have not one, but two Rolex Series races under your belt. Do you feel this might be your best weekend, yet, with the SunTrust team?

"Birmingham is one of the tracks that I like the best in the series. It is quite special for me because my first race in the Rolex Series in 2005 was at Birmingham. It's a really cool circuit. Different parts of it remind me of different circuits that I like in Europe. It's not fast, but it's quite technical. It's quite smooth, and there are elevation changes. It's very clean. It's not a very big circuit. I remember in 2005, the car I was driving (No. 7 Tuttle Racing Pontiac Riley) was quite good and I was able to pass. Another track I like is Mid-Ohio, which is a longer, faster circuit but it is tough to overtake there. On this circuit, you can overtake if you have a good car. It is good that we have a day of testing on Thursday, a day of practice on Friday, and more practice before we qualify on Saturday. I would have preferred that sort of a schedule at Daytona rather than do everything in one day because it was my first time at Daytona. But we had a good result, anyway."

You had a good run at Daytona to cap a three-race stretch with the SunTrust team. Was it difficult to have to sit out the next race after a strong three-race run?

"I know my job with the SunTrust team is to be there when they need me. I followed the last race (at Iowa) on the Internet. I saw that at the beginning of the race was really good for them, but then I saw they were not lucky in the middle part of the race and they finished seventh. But what is positive is that they showed the team is still strong on the new circuit. It was a new circuit for everybody. Unfortunately, they were not lucky. For me, it will be important to come back on the podium or to have a victory this weekend. We have to push a lot harder. Sometimes when you push, there is a risk of making a mistake. Everybody can make a mistake. What happened in Iowa was unfortunate because the tam and the car were really strong. That kind of thing can happen to other teams, too. The season is not finished at all. It's still very open. I have been concentrating on Barber since I came home from Daytona, so I will do my best to help the team again."

Quote from Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:

Coming to Birmingham, and looking at what needs to happen in the last five races of the season, there seems to be quite a challenge ahead for the SunTrust team. Do you feel this first-year team of yours is ready to take it on?

"The team is definitely up for the challenge, and it knows exactly what needs to be done. We just need to go out and do what we know how to do, and take it one lap, one pit stop, one driver change, and one race at a time. We can't get too far ahead of ourselves. The gap in the championship may look like a lot right now, but it could be right back down to a few points really quickly if things turn out a certain way on Sunday. We lost some valuable points this last race, so we know we need to go win some races and see if we can narrow the gap. It's disappointing to lose points like that. I know that this is a track Jonathan really likes. I know it's one of Max's favorites. We've done it before so we can do it again. It's really hard to say until we run (in testing at Barber) on Thursday. This year, things are so different at the races. We always seemed to feel like we had an edge. I don't think that's the case any more because the playing field has become so level. All the usual things will have to happen. We'll have to qualify well. We'll have to race well and strategize well. We'll have to have good pit stops and a fast driver change. We'll have to get everything right, and then it's on to the next one."

-credit: -- www.SunTrustRacing.com --

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Jonathan Cochet , Alex Gurney , Jon Fogarty , Scott Pruett , Wayne Taylor , Max Angelelli , Chip Ganassi , Bob Stallings , Brian Tuttle , Felix Sabates
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Wayne Taylor Racing