Puncture Lets Air Out of New SunTrust Car's Debut After Leading for Seventh Time in Eight Races, Angelelli, Valiante Out Early; Still, New Dallara Shows Its Potential at Daytona's Brumos Porsche 250 On a day when SunTrust announced to the...
Puncture Lets Air Out of New SunTrust Car's Debut
After Leading for Seventh Time in Eight Races, Angelelli, Valiante Out Early; Still, New Dallara Shows Its Potential at Daytona's Brumos Porsche 250
On a day when SunTrust announced to the racing world that it is proud to extend sponsorship agreements with Grand-Am and Wayne Taylor Racing for many years to come, Thursday night's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Brumos Porsche 250 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway started with a flourish but ended rather unceremoniously for Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante in the brand new No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara.
The new Dallara, which replaces the original model that burned to the ground in a transporter fire May 19, picked up right where its predecessor left off by qualifying at the front of the grid, getting off to a strong start in the race, and putting SunTrust in the lead for the vseventh time in eight races this season.
After the SunTrust Racing driving duo reeled off solid practice results to start the day -- recording top-six lap times in all three sessions -- Valiante qualified the new Dallara third behind the polesitting No. 61 AIM Autosport entry, and its fellow front-row-starting No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing entry, which won last year's series championship and the most recent race on the schedule at Mid-Ohio.
Valiante made short work of getting by Jon Fogarty in the No. 99 on the very first lap of tonight's 70-lap event around the 3.56-mile, 12-turn superspeedway road course. He then was in close pursuit of Mark Wilkins in the race-leading No. 61 Ford for the first seven tours of the circuit before the team's first strategic move of the night -- a fuel-only stop that also allowed the SunTrust crew to reset the on-board computer in an effort to repair a power steering problem Valiante was reporting. That stop dropped Valiante back to 15th, but over the next 13 laps, Valiante passed several cars in front of him while others gradually peeled off one-by-one to top off fuel tanks in strategy moves of their own.
By lap 20, Valiante was in the lead and pulling away from the field with what he later told the SunTrust crew just might be the best race car he had ever driven. Six laps later, however, Valiante's right-rear tire blew as the result of a puncture just past the start-finish line. From there, he had to limp around the entire road circuit before making his way down pit road for a fresh set of Pirellis and a driver change on lap 27. The slow roll back to the pits put the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac a lap down, in 17th position, when Angelelli took control with 43 laps to go.
"I had a really bad vibration about 20 laps before the tire blew up," Valiante said. "I slowed down because it was so loud that I couldn't even hear the engine. And then, when I was headed into turn 1, it just blew up and I almost went off. It's tough for this SunTrust team because it's been working so hard. We lost the power steering, but the car was still quick enough to win."
Angelelli was back up to speed in no time, clicking off lap times consistent with the fastest laps of the race. But his efforts to unlap himself and move up in the finishing order came to an abrupt end some 30 laps later when, entering the chicane on the back-straight known as the "Bus Stop," he and a number of other cars bunched up, and a GT-class Porsche forced him off the track and spinning into a tire barrier. That was the end of the new Dallara's once-promising debut on the Rolex Series' most high-profile track, and one where SunTrust had enjoyed numerous shining moments in its four-plus seasons on the circuit.
"It happened in the 'Bus Stop,'" Angelelli said of the incident that put him out of the race. "A Porsche came down. I don't think it saw me. It came down, I was right there, and I spun. There were times the car was really, really good. It's just a shame what happened. Everything started to go bad with the tire puncture. But I was very excited about how good the car felt, so I wanted to have a strong finish. Michael qualified well and put the car in the lead, so we had a very strong day at the beginning. He said the car felt good, too. The car definitely is fast. It's just disappointing to not get the good result tonight."
Scott Pruett, in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley, passed Alex Gurney in the No. 99 on a last-lap restart to win tonight's Brumos Porsche 250. It was the fifth win of the season for Pruett and co-driver Memo Rojas.
After taking next weekend off, the second half of the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series kicks off July 20 with the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.