Birmingham: SunTrust Racing qualifying report

The No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley of Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) will start on the pole for the third time this season after Michael Valiante eclipsed the Barber Motorsports Park track record Saturday in qualifying for Sunday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports...

The No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley of Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) will start on the pole for the third time this season after Michael Valiante eclipsed the Barber Motorsports Park track record Saturday in qualifying for Sunday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Porsche 250 presented by Bradley Arant.

Valiante, co-driving with Max Angelelli Sunday in the SunTrust Racing machine, scorched the 2.3-mile, 16-turn road circuit just outside Birmingham, Ala., with a fast lap of 1 minute, 20.521 seconds (102.830 mph) to put SunTrust on the pole for the ninth time in series history. He beat the previous track record of 1:20.613 (102.713 mph) set by Max Papis for Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in October of 2004.

It will be SunTrust's fifth consecutive top-four start at Barber after qualifying efforts of third in 2005 and 2006, and fourth in 2004 and 2007. SunTrust has finished on the podium in each of its last four outings at the track, including a victory by Angelelli and then co-driver Wayne Taylor in 2005 enroute to that year's Rolex Series championship. Angelelli finished second with Taylor in 2004 and with Jan Magnussen in 2006, and was third here last year with Memo Gidley.

"Like I've said all year, the guys and the crew have done such a phenomenal job to provide me and Max such a great car. It's a big event for SunTrust and I was able to go quickly right away for them after the guys made the car handle so well today," said Valiante, who with Angelelli has led seven of the eight races run thus far in 2008. "We've been working really hard all weekend long to continue to improve the car, and we hit it just right in qualifying. My laps were pretty clear. I didn't hit any traffic. Maybe there was a tenth or two left but, other than that, I was really pleased in qualifying and the car handled really well. You know, this year's been so tough for the whole SunTrust team that I'm just keeping my head down and pushing as hard as I can every session. We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing and hopefully we'll have a trouble-free race tomorrow and come away with a win if everything goes well."

"I'm so incredibly proud of all of these guys. Michael, Max, Travis (Jacobson, technical director), Simon (Hodgson, general manager), just everybody," Taylor said. "To go through what this team has gone through and to come here with a brand new car and get the pole on a very technical circuit under very difficult conditions, and in track-record time, you know, they deserve it. Every one of these guys has worked his tail off. They've never given up. They've always had positive attitudes. And really, that drives us all."

Today's pole qualifying effort gives the SunTrust team six starts of second row or better in nine events this season. Its average starting position this season is now 3.44. Yet, the team, which has worked hard to overcome a devastating transporter fire in May and a rash of on-track incidents not of its own doing, is still seeking its first victory of the year. The approach here Sunday, according to Valiante, Angelelli and Taylor, is to continue its race-day business as usual and the ultimate payoff is bound to present itself.

"I think, always in the race, you have to take a calmer approach than you do in qualifying because qualifying is always an all-out attack to try to get the quickest lap time," Valiante said. "Here, from what I've found, traffic is unbelievable with the GT cars. It's like they don't even see you. It's going to be a huge challenge just getting by them all race long. That's going to be the most important thing, in my opinion."

"One thing: tomorrow is the real deal," Taylor said. "We've got a fast car. We need to control the race. We do not need to put ourselves in any compromising position, and we'll be okay at the end."

-credit: str

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Memo Gidley , Max Papis , Wayne Taylor , Michael Valiante , Max Angelelli , Felix Sabates
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Wayne Taylor Racing