LAKEVILLE, Conn. (May 27, 2010) -- Ah, Memorial Day weekend, the annual rite of spring for auto racing purists the world over. The Indy 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park, each a staple on the racing calendar for...
LAKEVILLE, Conn. (May 27, 2010) -- Ah, Memorial Day weekend, the annual rite of spring for auto racing purists the world over. The Indy 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park, each a staple on the racing calendar for all or most of the last century.
Yes, assuming its rightful place in that classic racing trifecta is tiny Lime Rock Park, nestled in the countryside of northwest Connecticut. While it's short in stature for an American road circuit at just 1.5 miles and seven turns, it is as long on history, relatively speaking, as its Memorial Day-weekend counterparts in Indianapolis and Charlotte, N.C.
The Indy 500 might trump all major racing events worldwide, having been born in 1911. But three years before the first World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960, many of the world's most exotic and coveted sports cars began pounding the pavement in the heart of New England each Memorial Day weekend and all through the summer months.
Legendary racers like Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, David Hobbs, Al Holbert, Stirling Moss, Bob Tullius and Sam Posey are just a sampling of the caliber of competitors who have graced the asphalt at Lime Rock. Even legendary actor and self-made racing star Paul Newman called Lime Rock his racing home.
This weekend, history will be made once again at the venerable track as the high-powered and hotly competitive Daytona Prototypes of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series will head to Lime Rock Park for the first time for Monday's Memorial Day Classic.
SunTrust Racing co-drivers Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor are eager to put their No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing to the test. It's been five weeks since we last saw the Rolex Series prototypes on-track at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, where Angelelli and Taylor scored the SunTrust team's first podium finish in four races this season.
Monday's round five of the 2010 Rolex Series slate brings not only the promise of a first-time event for Angelelli, Taylor and their fellow Daytona Prototype competitors, it brings normalcy back to their racing lives as it kicks off a stretch of eight races over the final 16 weeks of the season.
While it's a new venue for the prototypes, Lime Rock is a place where Angelelli, Taylor and team owner Wayne Taylor, the three-time sports car racing champion and the 20-year-old driver's father, have already tasted success. Wayne Taylor drove a Ferrari 333SP to a pole position and IMSA World Sports Car Series race win in record time at Lime Rock in 1995. Angelelli, meanwhile, led all 45 laps of the 2005 SCCA World Challenge race at the track, scoring his third career win in that series while driving for Team Cadillac. And Ricky Taylor competed in a double Skip Barber National Championship weekend at Lime Rock in 2007, scoring a best qualifying effort of second and a best finish of third en route to second place in the championship that summer.
Although some might say all bets are off when visiting a venue for the very first time, the SunTrust team has shown a penchant for excelling under such circumstances, as well. In its previous 17 first-time visits to a racetrack since joining the Rolex Series in 2004, the SunTrust team has finished first or second seven times, with 12 top-fives in all and two pole positions.
That bodes well for Angelelli, Taylor and Company. But no matter how it shakes out on Monday afternoon, it will be historic.
Practice for the Memorial Day Classic begins Monday morning. Qualifying is set for 11:55 a.m. with SPEEDTV.com's live streaming video coverage beginning at 11:50. Race time is 2 p.m., with SPEED providing live television coverage. The Motor Racing Network's (MRN) live radio coverage begins at 1:45 p.m., while Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128 will provide a delayed broadcast beginning at midnight. Live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions can be found at www.grand-am.com.
Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:
You and the SunTrust team had what you called a very successful test at Lime Rock last month. What did you learn about what to expect there this weekend?
"From a facility standpoint, the track is very nice compared to the last time I was there (in the 2005 SCCA World Challenge race with Team Cadillac). They have made a lot of improvements and the SunTrust car's handling all the way around the track is spectacular. But from a racing standpoint, things are going to be very tight all day. There will be a lot of traffic to deal with every single lap, like downtown Milan (Italy). It's very much like rush hour in downtown Milan. In fact, I went to Milan to practice for the Lime Rock race several times. They were very happy to see me practicing my racing moves, for sure. Seriously, I'm expecting to see a lot of spectators at Lime Rock this weekend. They always come out to watch the races, there. And they normally see a good show. I'm sure if they decide to come and see us race for the first time, they will not be disappointed."
Traffic seems to be a common theme on the racetrack so far this season. How do you plan to deal with it come Monday?
"For whatever reason this season, the last three races since Daytona, we have been at racetracks where it's very difficult to pass, and this one will definitely be the fourth. The track at Lime Rock is very narrow. At the test, I could not identify any places where you can count on being able to pass another car. So it will be very important to, first, be very, very patient. Second, you will have to have a very good strategy to make sure you are in position to win at the end of the race. The final thing will be seeing how the GT cars will race because there are a couple of places where they are actually faster than the Daytona Prototypes. So I'm interested to see how they will handle it. Will they pass us, just to get ahead of us for one or two corners? Or, will they look at the big picture and let us run our race? It's anybody's guess, and we will find out on Monday. If it rains, I wouldn't be surprised if a GT car wins the race overall because they will be much faster all the way around the track."
Ricky Taylor, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:
You didn't get to test the SunTrust car at Lime Rock last month because you were in the middle of final exams at the University of Central Florida. But you do have previous experience and success at the track. What is your outlook?
"I didn't get to go because I had finals, but Max said the track was about as smooth as any he had ever driven. Both he and (technical director) Travis (Jacobson) said the surface was just unbelievable. I think the track, compared to when I drove it in 2007 (in the Skip Barber National Championship), has a chicane on the uphill corner that has been resurfaced, so I should know about 80 percent of the layout. I would think being in the Daytona Prototype and the new track surface will change a lot of how I drive it. But I feel I can get quite comfortable pretty quickly because we'll have a decent amount of laps before we go racing."
What would be your biggest concerns heading into the weekend?
"I think it's going to be a really crazy race, just from what I've experienced at the track. It's small even for a Skip Barber car. And listening to Max after the test, the GTs are actually quicker than we are in one or two corners. But when we get to the high-speed corners, we'll be going a lot faster. So in those one or two corners, we'll be going the same speed, if not slower. And there really aren't any straights to get by, either. So I think people are going to be taking risks. I'm mostly concerned with having a really good qualifying effort because it's going to be really difficult to pass the other DP cars. If we can qualify up front, then we should be able to manage the GT traffic a little easier. So, for me, I'll probably be a little on the conservative side. I'll try to lay down a really good qualifying lap, and then just try to hold everybody behind me at the start of the race. Of course, if somebody gets really lucky and rolls off the trailer really fast, it would make it a huge game of catch-up for everybody else. I hope that's us, actually. But, most likely, we'll all have a level playing field, and we'll just have to hope everybody behaves."
Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara team:
You're going from a four-week hiatus in the schedule to two races in five days. Is that more like it?
"Yes, it's time to go racing again. These long breaks are really difficult. But now we're back to more of a normal mode starting with a one-day event at Lime Rock, which I think is going to be incredibly challenging for everybody. Especially since five days later we're back to racing the second-longest event of the year at Watkins Glen. I'm excited to go back to Lime Rock. I've had my own personal success there in the mid-1990s. It should be a good race, certainly for the fans it should be good. Ricky hasn't actually driven there, yet, in these cars, so we'll have to get him up to speed quickly in a fairly minimal amount of practice time on Monday morning. Regardless, the race will be what it will be. I think we had a good test there after the VIR race. It'll all be in the hands of Max and Ricky. Both love the track.
As a team owner, are you overly concerned about racing in such tight quarters at Lime Rock with a huge endurance race just five days later?
"I think everybody racing there on Monday is a professional, and everybody recognizes that we'll be racing five days later in the second-longest race of the year. It'll be incredibly reckless if somebody takes unnecessary risks. It's a challenging track for the field we're putting out there, with the Daytona Prototypes and GT cars running at the same time. Every lap is less than a minute and there will be a lot going on. Every time you come into the pits, you can potentially go down a lap. So, strategy-wise it's going to be a very interesting day, you can count on that."