Daytona24: SunTrust Racing preview

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 26, 2009) -- The SunTrust Racing team returns to its winningest track on the fifth anniversary of its milestone victory in America's premier endurance race as the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series kicks off its second...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 26, 2009) -- The SunTrust Racing team returns to its winningest track on the fifth anniversary of its milestone victory in America's premier endurance race as the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series kicks off its second decade of existence with the 48th Rolex 24 At Daytona on Saturday and Sunday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

The last a race-day crowd at Daytona saw of Max Angelelli and his No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara team of Wayne Taylor Racing, the Italian driving ace was finishing off a dramatic, Fourth of July afternoon victory last summer in the annual Brumos Porsche 250. It was the third win on the classic 3.56-mile, 14-turn superspeedway road circuit for SunTrust -- most of any Rolex Series circuit -- and helped propel the sponsor to its fifth top-three finish in the championship standings in its six Rolex Series seasons since debuting in 2004.

SunTrust's previous win at Daytona came in the 2005 renewal of the Rolex 24 as Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and Emmanuel Collard thoroughly dominated by leading a race-high 282 of 710 laps en route to victory lane. Angelelli and Taylor rode the momentum from that milestone win all the way to that season's Rolex Series title with four more wins and a remarkable 10 podium finishes in 14 events.

A new year and a new decade mean it's a fresh start for the SunTrust team and its Rolex Series competitors this weekend. And, for the SunTrust team, there may be another new lineup in the driver's seat, but it's made up of familiar faces and looks to recreate the magic of its memorable Rolex 24 win in 2005.

Angelelli welcomes a new full-time co-driver this weekend in Ricky Taylor, son of team owner, two-time Rolex 24 winner and three-time sports car racing champion Wayne Taylor, who is pursuing his record-tying third Rolex 24 victory in his third different decade. Meanwhile, Angelelli, Taylor and Taylor also will share driving duties with former Formula 1 competitor and current Peugeot factory driver Pedro Lamy of Portugal, who's back for his second consecutive Rolex 24 with the SunTrust team. Angelelli, Lamy and Wayne Taylor co-drove with Brian Frisselle to a fourth-place finish in last year's event, while Ricky Taylor made his Rolex Series debut in the 2008 Rolex 24, co-droving the SunTrust team to a fifth-place finish -- and even leading the race in the early going -- as an 18-year-old.

Since his maiden Rolex Series voyage in 2008, the now-20-year-old Ricky Taylor went on to earn his SunTrust racing stripes driving another 19 races the past two seasons for Cincinnati-based Doran Racing and Texas-based Beyer Racing, making a habit of showing flashes of his father's road course brilliance in accumulating three top-five finishes, 12 top-10s and 33 laps led. He joined the SunTrust team just prior to the annual Roar Before the 24 three-day test earlier this month, strapped into the No. 10 racing machine and joined Angelelli, Lamy and his dad in consistently turning some of the fastest laps of the weekend.

Angelelli claimed the honor of turning the fastest lap of the Rolex 24 test in track-record time (1 minute, 40.466 seconds at 127.566 mph). It came in the opening session of the weekend in unseasonably cold but clear and sunny conditions, before the weather truly deteriorated the rest of the weekend into record cold temperatures and even snow flurries and freezing rain on the second day.

Thus, as the SunTrust team returns to its favorite track -- favorite for good reason -- the weather outlook is considerably better, as is the outlook for the team's best Rolex 24 finish since its victory five short years ago. After all, what a better way to celebrate an anniversary than with a little champagne -- in victory lane, of course, come Sunday afternoon.

Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:

You left Daytona on a good note after clocking the fastest lap in track-record time during the three-day test earlier this month. How do you believe it will translate to a top effort for this weekend's race and in your chase for the championship in 2010?

"The test was good. We had a good test and we are very happy. All the drivers did a great job. We're all fast. The car is good. You know, we were the only Dallara there at the test, so it was nice to be the fastest. All I can say is I'm sure it's going to be a great race. Remember last year -- four cars finished on the lead lap within tenths of a second of each other. I'm sure it will be the same this year. The Rolex is like a championship within a race. At the same time, it counts for the final standings. We definitely want to win the race, so we would take a risk to do that because winning the Rolex is really special. Then, after the Rolex, everything changes, like a new chapter in the book, and the rest of the season feels like a completely different season in itself."

How do you typically prepare yourself for this 24-hour race in the time between the January test and race weekend?

"When I'm back home, I do not think about the race, I do not do anything related to the race. Otherwise, I will come to the race completely worn out. This is a race that you really have to think about only about two days before the event because, it's so intense the way I approach the race, I will be completely worn out. This is my philosophy. This is what I do. This is how it fits me."

You posted some excellent finishes in your first full year with the Dallara Ford package in 2009. How much has the package evolved since it debuted at last year's Rolex 24?

"We have momentum from last year. We made a lot of changes on the car during the year and now is the time to get the profit out of it. I feel the car is really ready to go. We don't need to develop new stuff, new things. The car is pretty much developed and it is really fast, so I am really looking forward to the season. The Roush Yates Engines package is a big plus. When SunTrust Racing decided to switch last year, I thought it was a good call. We have a good package with Roush Yates Engines. It's powerful. That's a very big word, but it is quite powerful and very reliable. It's a good engine for 24 hours, and also for all the sprint races. We have all the combinations possible to fight with any other engine unit on level ground."

You have a new full-time teammate for 2010 in Ricky Taylor, with whom you co-drove at the Rolex 24 in 2008, and Wayne, of course, and you also have veteran Pedro Lamy back from last year. How do you feel about the driver lineup this year?

"This is not the first time for Ricky at the Rolex, and it's not his first season. He knows what he is doing and he knows what he has to do, so I'm sure he will deliver. I'm really looking forward to driving the whole season with him. With Pedro, we raced together in Formula 3 about 15 years ago. Then we went up to Formula 3000 and that was where we split. I went to sports car racing and he went to Formula 1. He did a couple of seasons in Formula 1 and then he went to race in Europe in the sports car championship. We called Pedro last year to race with us at the Rolex and he's a great driver. He's very experienced in single-seaters, sports cars, long-distance races, sprint races. He's a complete driver, which is very good for us. We will form a very strong lineup for Daytona."

With four drivers sharing the SunTrust car, and each having his own, distinct style, how do you keep everyone happy?

"It's a challenge, for sure. It is very difficult to have everybody happy, so it's a compromise. It's a compromise with the seat, it's a compromise with the position in the car, it's a compromise with the setup of the car. We're all different, so the challenge is to find the best compromise for everybody. I think we have done that. We pretty much know each other quite well. I've driven with Wayne since 1999, so that's no problem at all. With Ricky, we did race at the Rolex two years ago, and Pedro was with us last year. So it was a coming together at the test and we were on the same page from the start."

What did you think about the record cold temperatures and the snow and freezing rain that went with it at the test?

"We had everything -- rain, ice, snow, sun -- we did it all. I really hope the weather is going to be warmer for the race. I'm coming back for the race from Italy, where it's snowy. Everything is white where I live. When I jump on the plane to come to the Rolex, I'm thinking about Florida and how it's supposed to be sunny and warm, even in January. So at the test, it was snowing. I couldn't believe it. I told everybody at home and nobody believed me. It was like a dream, like a nightmare. We couldn't believe it."

Ricky Taylor, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:

You joined the SunTrust team just prior to the three-day Rolex 24 test earlier this month, then had yourself a very successful weekend behind the wheel. What's your outlook for this weekend and for the rest of the season?

"From all indications, I believe we definitely have a shot at the championship. We showed at the test that we definitely have one of the strongest cars out there, so everything seems to be in place and we just have to go out and do what we know how to do."

How steep is the learning curve as you get acclimated and get settled in with the SunTrust team?

"I think I take after my dad a lot. We're both methodical in the way we get up to speed in the car. I take time to adapt to a new car, focus on not making mistakes, get up to speed, and before too long it's comfortable to do that quick pace that we need to. That's what my dad has taught me. Max, on the other hand, is a whole different story. His second lap of the weekend could be the best lap of anybody at the track. That turned out to be the case at the test and it's definitely a difference between him and me. Oddly enough, when we studied our data traces at the test and compared mine with my dad's and Max's, our engineers kept telling me that Dad and I were definitely related. The data traces were identical -- steering input, where we got on and off the throttle, braking. It was freaky, but very special."

You're in your second year at the University of Central Florida pursuing a Mechanical Engineer degree. Why did you choose that as your major?

"It started out because Dad made me (laughter). Actually, I think it's good to have a background and knowledge of a car and how technical everything is getting. It can't hurt to have that extra advantage of knowing the data and the mechanical side of the car. I've seen how Max and (technical director) Travis (Jacobson) deal with the Dallara every day. The knowledge will definitely help me speak more intelligently and, ultimately, help make me a better racecar driver."

What are your goals this season?

"I think what I'm focusing on is doing as well as possible in qualifying after Daytona, push for poles and front-row starts, get off to a clean start on race day, and then hand the car over to Max in one piece. The 24-hour is going to help me get used to the car quite a bit with the amount of seat time I'm going to get. As I get used to the car, I already know all the tracks, now, so at future races it will be easy to do that flying lap earlier and earlier just because of the comfort level. When I'm working up to it, like when I'm learning a new track or a new car, I'm not taking such big steps. But with the tracks I already know, it'll be a matter of just going back and remembering my references in the Dallara."

Pedro Lamy, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:

Your overall thoughts as you return to the SunTrust team for the second year in a row for the Rolex 24?

"It's very nice to be back with the SunTrust team. I was very happy last year, so it's nice to be back. The Rolex 24 is a very good event. So far, after the test we did, the car seems to be fast and this is a good thing. I'm happy and looking forward it. Hopefully, I can do better than last year. It all depends on the car. Coming back for the second time, I have more experience on the circuit, overtaking, and all of that hopefully helps. Last year, I drove quite well during the race and the weather was good. Hopefully, it will be good this year, as well. But every race is different. I think we have a very strong package -- a fast car, good drivers and very strong team. We are there to fight with the others. But we know that there are a lot of good teams out there and a lot of good drivers. It will be very difficult, but we will work very hard and we will do our best, and when we do our best, anything is possible."

Did you notice much of a difference in the SunTrust racecar at the test compared with your experience at last year's race?

"I could definitely feel the difference in the car from last year. The series changed to a new tire, as well. So the car feels a lot different. It's nice to drive. I will see how it goes and, compared to the other teams, see how fast we can go."

How do you feel about the Daytona layout, with its combination of banked superspeedway and infield road course?

"Daytona is definitely a different style of track for the racers from Europe. The banking is amazing and it's quite fun. The banking is a very high-speed part of the track. The speeds get quite high. It was a strange feeling, at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly last year. Overall, it's a good track with plenty of chances to pass, but not always without losing time. So, sometimes it's difficult. Daytona, for most of the drivers from Europe, is a very, very big event. It's one of the biggest 24-hour races. Together with Le Mans and, I think maybe the Nurbergring 24-hour, they are the biggest. Daytona has a very good reputation."

You're a veteran of 24-hour races. Do you do anything special to prepare?

"I do everything I can to eat well and stay in top shape no matter what race I am getting ready for, so I won't say I do anything differently for a 24-hour race. But, last week, I happened to be part of a 24-hour simulation with Peugeot (at the brand new Motorland Aragon road circuit) in Spain. We are preparing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I'm still a little sore, but I'll be just fine by the time we start practice for the Rolex. It's the best exercise and was great preparation for me. Other than that, I just try to keep on my normal fitness program, which is quite normal for me."

Wayne Taylor, co-driver and owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara team:

Last we saw of you and the SunTrust team at Daytona, you had a smile on your face. Is it because you left with the fastest car in the three-day test?

"That's part of it but, quite simply, this is the one time of year that I get to do what I really love to do, and that is to drive in the Rolex 24. So, to be able to get back in the car and enjoy what I've always loved to do the most, it brings a smile to my face. It's probably the most special race to me for a number of reasons. I've won it twice, and it's really become my home race. I live in Orlando, 45 minutes away. All the races at Daytona, not only the 24-hour but also the Brumos, we've had a lot of success there. It's really my home race, that's all there is to it. There's no place like home, and I love everything about it. It's the event for me."

How much has the Dallara changed since last season?

"There's really not much more we can do in terms of development because of the rules. But, obviously, we had time to develop the car over the course of last year. I think, basically, what we've done is learn a lot about the car after what happened to us two years ago, where we lost the transporter and a car in the fire. Because of that, we were very limited in our technical time because we basically had to build things back from the ground up. Since then, we've had time to test the car thoroughly, and the new Pirelli tires seem to be doing a great job working with the car. It's basically been just a matter of making little tweaks here and there that have been ironed out. If you think about how the Riley chassis has been around for so many years, now, our car is still very new and, relatively speaking, the Dallara has been around a very, very short time."

Your son Ricky is now driving for you full-time. How special is that?

"We actually ran with Ricky two years ago, so there was always a plan, and it was always going to be a long-term plan. I just didn't realize back then that it would come as fast as it did. It's funny because he told me the other day that he realizes now just how much he didn't know when he drove with us the first time two years ago. And he did absolutely great, leading the race and all that in the early going. He stayed clean and he was competitive. Now, after two years of learning the tracks, learning different cars and refining his skills, he comes back to the SunTrust team and will be working with Max to win races and, ultimately, the championship."

From all indications, this might be your best chance, yet, as a team owner to leave with another Rolex on your wrist. What are your thoughts about winning the Rolex 24 for the third time -- in a record-tying third different decade?

"I don't like to talk about that because, obviously, I'd like it. But at the same time, we've surrounded ourselves with the best and we make sure the team has all the right ingredients to make it possible to win the race. Obviously, winning the race is a big deal for me. But, at the end of the day, having Pedro is also a big deal. He's a Formula 1 driver and a Peugeot factory driver. Max is my best friend and business partner. And we have Ricky driving with us again. After winning the first one (in 1996), I thought I didn't really need to do this again. But then, coming back with the SunTrust program (in 2004), somebody asked what I'd like to do, and I said winning a 24-hour would be really great. We did that (in 2005), but now it feels unbalanced. One leads to two, two leads to three. So, I think I really need to get that third win and that second win for SunTrust."

-source: suntrust racing

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Emmanuel Collard , Wayne Taylor , Pedro Lamy , Max Angelelli , Brian Frisselle , Ricky Taylor
Teams Doran Racing , Wayne Taylor Racing