Hard-Fought Sixth for SunTrust at Barber; Despite Starting from the Pole, Early Race Traction Issues; Just Too Much to Overcome for Angelelli, Valiante On a typically hot and sweltering July afternoon at Barber Motorsports Park, Max Angelelli...
Hard-Fought Sixth for SunTrust at Barber; Despite Starting from the Pole, Early Race Traction Issues; Just Too Much to Overcome for Angelelli, Valiante
On a typically hot and sweltering July afternoon at Barber Motorsports Park, Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante survived two hours and 45 minutes of the ever-so-typical bumps and grinds this 2.3-mile road circuit outside Birmingham, Ala., is known for and co-drove the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing to a sixth-place finish in Sunday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Porsche 250.
Just surviving today's race of attrition for the SunTrust team was an accomplishment itself in a year already filled with a racing lifetime of setbacks. Having blistered the track qualifying record on Saturday, Valiante put SunTrust on the pole for the third time in nine races this season, tying the team for the series lead. When the green flag waved for today's 103-lap race, Valiante dropped back to second in the first sequence of turns and settled in behind the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac of Ricardo Zonta at the front of the 35-car pack for the first 19 laps.
Then came the first strategy decision of the day. Valiante pitted for fuel only under green on lap 19, dropping back to 10th place but setting off a flurry of early pit stops by the rest of the lead pack over the next several laps. He was back up to third by lap 27 as the pit stop cycle ran its course, but found himself struggling with traction issues.
Still, Valiante managed to keep the SunTrust Racing machine at or within a couple of positions of the top-three until bringing the car in to hand it over to Angelelli, four new tires and a full load of fuel on lap 49. Angelelli resumed in 11th, but temporarily fell off the lead lap during the green-flag stop. Nonetheless, he was back in the top-10 and back on the lead lap by lap 58.
It took every bit of effort over the final 45 laps for Angelelli to pick up four positions on a tight, twisty, technical circuit notoriously difficult to pass on, as he worked his way up to the final finishing position of sixth.
"It was a difficult result after having such a fast car and starting on the pole but, overall, I think it's really clear we have a fast car," Angelelli said after co-driving to SunTrust's third-best result of the season. "We look like we are still trying to put together that complete, trouble-free race. We made some strategy decisions regarding tires, but I met with my guys and assured them I believe there was absolutely no strategy issue or a wrong decision. We know how to improve what happened and, overall, we all need to be better, including myself. Then, we can start winning again."
"That was the decision we made, but with the heat, the track conditions, I found it really tough, as it turned out," Valiante said in reference to the fuel-only stop on lap 19. "It's no one's fault. That's just want we decided to do and I'll stick by it 100 percent. It just didn't play out the way we wanted it to. I couldn't keep up with Zonta during the early laps. Meanwhile, behind me at that point, I had no problems staying ahead of the 99 and the 01. But after the first round of stops, they came out on new tires and I stayed on the same set, so I found myself struggling a bit. At the very start of the race, Zonta just jumped the start a bit. He got alongside of me and I just let him go because there was no point in fighting on the very first lap, especially with the way thing have been going for us this year."
Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, the series point leaders who started alongside the polesitting SunTrust team on the front row today, took advantage of mechanical failures by late-race leaders Alex Gurney in the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac and Brian Friselle in the No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford to win for the sixth time this year. Darren Law and David Donohue came home second in the No. 58 Brumos Porsche, while John Pew and Ian James were third in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford.
"We had a fast car all weekend -- that's the best news of all," Taylor said. "We won the pole yesterday in track-record time, and that was a tribute to the tremendous effort by everyone on this SunTrust team. In the race, we had some issues regarding tire wear that we need to take a close look at and fight our way through. It set us back in the early to middle part of the race and it was difficult to make up the lost ground. Max was feeling good and running laps as fast as the leaders at the end of the race. So that, too, was very encouraging. We fought our way through an entire race weekend with no major issues. It's onward and upward from here."