LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 19, 2007) -- Safe to say the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team has figured out a way to win at just about every track it has visited in just three-plus seasons competing in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. At Saturday...
LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 19, 2007) -- Safe to say the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team has figured out a way to win at just about every track it has visited in just three-plus seasons competing in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. At Saturday night's EMCO Gears Classic, drivers Max Angelelli and Jonathan Cochet and the first-year Wayne Taylor Racing outfit that now flies the SunTrust Racing banner hopes to add the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to its list of Rolex Series conquests.
The scenic 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio circuit, nestled in the green, rolling countryside between Columbus and Cleveland, is one of only two tracks on the 2007 Rolex Series schedule that the SunTrust team has visited on multiple occasions but has yet to come away from with a victory. The only other one is Mexico City's former Formula 1 circuit, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, where the SunTrust team has scored a pair of podium finishes in three events at that track.
Though victory has been elusive in three previous visits to Mid-Ohio, the SunTrust Pontiac scored a moral victory, of sorts, with perhaps the most improbable podium finish in its relatively brief history during the 2005 EMCO Gears Classic. Having "burned to the ground" during Friday qualifying, in the words of team owner and three-time championship sports car racer Wayne Taylor, the SunTrust crew worked through the night to rebuild its racing machine in time to start from the back of the grid on Saturday. Then, in truly methodical fashion, a determined Taylor and Angelelli worked their way toward the front of the field and took the checkered flag in third place. It helped maintain the team's hefty lead in the point standings en route to that years Rolex Series championship.
A repeat of that 2005 championship run continues to be the object of the SunTrust team's relentless focus in 2007. With Angelelli just seven points behind Scott Pruett in the driver standings and the SunTrust Pontiac 12 points behind Pruett's No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry in the team standings, its goal is entirely within reach.
Angelelli, with his French co-driver Cochet joining him for only the second time this weekend, is more focused and motivated than ever to score his 11th career Rolex Series win at Mid-Ohio. He, Cochet and Taylor collaborated for a third-place finish at the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen two weekends ago. Even though it was the team's fifth podium finish in six events this season, it left everyone in the SunTrust camp feeling nothing less than snake-bit. Angelelli twice was black-flagged for restart violations during the fifth hour of the race -- the second a stunning blow that plucked him clean out of the race lead with 70 minutes remaining. Then, in the post-race technical inspection, series officials judged the SunTrust Pontiac's fuel cell to be larger than the allowable maximum and levied penalties that included a deduction of five team championship points. That opened the No. 01 team's lead to 12 points over the second-place SunTrust unit. But, with eight races remaining, 12 points is not anywhere near an insurmountable deficit to overcome.
The first step to cutting into that lead comes during Saturday's late-afternoon 400-kilometer (or 2½-hour, whichever comes first) race for the Daytona Prototypes. Recent history is on the SunTrust team's side. A year ago this weekend at Mid-Ohio, the SunTrust Pontiac arrived at Mid-Ohio trailing the first-place No. 01 team by 21 points in the standings and left trailing by only three. Angelelli and this season's regular co-driver Jan Magnussen finished only fourth, but the top two teams in the standings encountered major problems during the race to enable the huge jump in the standings for the SunTrust camp.
Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
How do you feel about your and the team's chances of scoring your first Grand-Am win at Mid-Ohio this weekend?
"This could be a great weekend for us if everything goes well (in practice and qualifying) on Friday. The last few race weekends, we struggled during practice and qualifying. All of a sudden, we were good on race day, especially at Virginia, where we got our first victory for Wayne Taylor Racing. We had a problem during the race at Laguna Seca that really hurt us in the points, and then we looked like we had the car to win the race at Watkins Glen before they penalized us two times. But we can't look back. We have to look ahead. At Mid-Ohio, we will have to perform better in practice than we have recently so we can build up the perfect car for qualifying and for the race. It will be very important to start on the front row at Mid-Ohio because the track is extremely narrow, and without the GT cars racing with us, I would not expect there to be very much passing on the race track."
You come to Mid-Ohio trailing by just seven points in the driver championship and 12 points in the team championship. That seems to be a far cry from your situation a year ago. How do you feel about the season so far, and the championship chase that lies ahead?
"Like I said, the stop-and-go penalties during the race, and the penalty (of five team championship points) at Watkins Glen really hurt us. But we can only look forward, not backward. Even considering what happened at Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen, we have five podiums in the first six races, and we won the race at VIR, which is about the best we could have imagined since we only started this new team in September. The championship is definitely getting more and more interesting, because not only are we racing against the 01 team. The 99 team, for one, has been fast in qualifying every weekend and they are now finishing races, too, and they won for the second time at Watkins Glen. One thing for sure, those are the teams it will be important to finish ahead of every weekend. And there are many other teams that are continuing to get better and better. We must start at Mid-Ohio by qualifying on the front row and winning the race. The team that does that is the one that is going to make the fewest mistakes and has perfect pit stops because it is going to be extremely difficult to pass. That is going to be the case at a lot of races the rest of the season because there will be no GT cars on the track with us. Look at the racing at The Glen with all of the GT cars. There was a lot of overtaking. Racing with GTs is a fundamental part of sports car racing that adds excitement and opportunities to overtake. I think it's much better for everybody. But since it is not that way anymore, practice and qualifying are going to determine probably 90 percent of the outcome on race day. So that is where more of our focus needs to be when we arrive at the track -- practice and qualifying."
Jonathan Cochet, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
Unlike your debut with the SunTrust team two weeks ago at Watkins Glen, where you had never raced before, you will get a chance to race at a track in Mid-Ohio where you have driven the past two seasons. Does that improve your outlook for this weekend?
"Mid-Ohio is a track I already know. The good thing is I will not lose one session, or even 10 minutes, to learn the track. I like it. There are some elevation changes in the track, and that makes it quite cool. It has a lot of tight corners. It's a good track."
Now that you have a weekend under your belt with the SunTrust team, do you feel that will make a big difference in your chances for success at Mid-Ohio?
"Watkins Glen, I think, was quite positive. We were not lucky because we were hit with two stop-and-go penalties during the race. But we finished on the podium. This week, we have to get a podium or, better yet, a victory. We were very close to a victory at The Glen. So if we can have it at Mid-Ohio, it will be very good for the championship. I had a good time at Watkins Glen with the team. Now I know everybody and the way to work with everybody. Everything will be more simple. It was already okay at Watkins Glen. Everything and everybody is very professional. It's easy to succeed when that is the situation. Max (Angelelli) is a good teammate. He is very fast. It's easy for me to improve when I have a very fast teammate. It's easy to work with Max, to discuss with him about the setup of the car, about the feeling about the car and the track. It's good that we have the same feeling about the car. Sometimes you have a teammate with another style of driving and that is not as good."
You've had a very busy month of June, already, starting with the Le Mans open test (June 2-3), the Watkins Glen race with the SunTrust team (June 9) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend (June 16-17). Is it starting to wear on you a bit?
"When you are really enjoying what you are doing, you are very motivated and you have a lot of energy. I really enjoyed driving at Le Mans because it is a very special race. And I really enjoy driving with the SunTrust team. It's a very special team, and the Grand-Am racing is very fast-paced and competitive. At Mid-Ohio, I will qualify the car and start the race, which will be very exciting for me. The race is only for the Daytona Prototype cars, and only 2 hours, 30 minutes, so it will be a sprint race. I have a very fast teammate, so we will be able to push hard every lap. That is the best situation for me to drive and I am really looking forward to it. When you are motivated like that, you really don't feel tired from all the travel back and forth."
Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:
You're coming off of perhaps your craziest weekend in years. What is the mood of the team heading to Mid-Ohio?
"With everything that happened to us at Watkins Glen, we still came away with a podium finish and that says a lot for our team and the entire SunTrust Racing family. It was very frustrating, to say the least, to get hit with the stop-and-go penalties during the race. And the five-point penalty for the technical violation set us back in the championship, but it's certainly not something we can't overcome with eight races to go. All of that only made us more determined than ever to focus on winning some races and winning the championship. Max and Jonathan will be really quick at Mid-Ohio. Jonathan was in a tough position at Watkins Glen, having to drive in our car and never having seen the track before. He did a good job in the race. He seemed to get more and more comfortable as he went along. He will qualify and start the race at Mid-Ohio. Based on what I saw at The Glen, he will be pretty good. With our good engine package with Pontiac, a good car, a good team and two good drivers, we're obviously looking to win, as we always are."