LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 17, 2008) -- Coming off of one of the most improbable podium finishes in Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series history, the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac team of Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) heads to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington...
LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 17, 2008) -- Coming off of one of the most improbable podium finishes in Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series history, the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac team of Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) heads to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington for Saturday's EMCO Gears Classic, site of yet another highly improbable podium finish in the history of SunTrust Racing.
Just 19 days before taking to the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International circuit two weekends ago for the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, the WTR transporter and all of its contents, including its new Dallara chassis that had just four races under its five-point belts, burned to the ground. It was thanks to a tremendous outpouring of support from the Rolex Series community -- which included a borrowed trailer, pit equipment, tools and all the other hardware necessary to operate at the race track -- that the team was able to make it to Watkins Glen at all, much less qualify on the pole, lead the race on multiple occasions, and bring home its first podium finish in 10 months.
Back in 2005, when Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor were co-driving the SunTrust Racing machine to the Rolex Series championship, the most serious threat to their title hopes came right here on the lush, 2.258-mile, 13-turn road circuit between Columbus and Cleveland. As Taylor was in the midst of a qualifying run on the eve of that year's EMCO Gears Classic, the SunTrust Pontiac caught fire and suffered heavy damage. The story then was sheer grit and determination as the team worked through the night to rebuild the charred race car and finished its work just in time for the race.
Starting from the back of the grid, Taylor and Angelelli mounted a stellar driving effort and rallied for a third-place finish that kept their championship run rolling merrily along with their seventh of an incredible 10 podium results that year, which included five wins and four second-place finishes.
This weekend, Angelelli and co-driver Michael Valiante will again be behind the wheel of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley that finished third at The Glen and fifth -- with Taylor and his 18-year-old son Ricky also co-driving -- at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. The chassis had been put up for sale immediately after the Rolex 24 and sat idly on the WTR shop floor in Indianapolis for the next four months before being temporarily pressed back into service following the transporter fire. A second Dallara chassis arrived at WTR headquarters this week, and plans are to have it ready to race by the July 3 Brumos Porsche 250 at Daytona.
In the meantime, Angelelli and Valiante would like nothing better than to keep the momentum going from their Watkins Glen podium run at a track where SunTrust has finished fourth each of the last two years. While the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driving duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas have dominated the opening half of the season with four wins through six events, Angelelli and Valiante have enjoyed their share of shining moments despite a series of setbacks that has left them sitting 10th in the current point standings, 79 points behind the Ganassi team. Angelelli and Valiante have started three of the first six events on the front row, including from the pole at Virginia International Raceway near Alton and at Watkins Glen. Their average starting position has been 3.5, and they've led laps in all but one race thus far (Mexico City) for a total of 54.
Hoping their worst luck is behind them, Angelelli, Valiante and the SunTrust team look to close out the first half of the season in style at Mid-Ohio and then, in the second half, rally their way back to their fifth-consecutive top-three finish in the season-ending points.
Practice for Saturday's EMCO Gears Classic, Round Seven of the 2008 Rolex Series tour, begins Friday morning with qualifying set for 4:55 p.m. EDT. Race time Saturday is 5 p.m. with live coverage provided by SPEED-TV. The detailed event schedule, as well as 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 Pontiac Riley:
You're coming off of your best finish of the season and running at a track where you've enjoyed modest success the past three years. What is your outlook for this weekend at Mid-Ohio?
"It seems like, finally, we are back to where we should be. There were no major catastrophes at the last race or since then. We're back to more of a normal routine, for a change. We will race the Riley again at Mid-Ohio while we continue to prepare our new Dallara for hopefully the next race at Daytona. So we are going back to Mid-Ohio with the Riley and we will do everything we can to get back on the podium, like we did at Watkins Glen. Looking at the rest of the season, we think it is very possible to finish in the top-three in the championship if we go out and do what we are capable of doing."
Are you glad to have the GT cars racing with the Daytona Prototypes after last year's standalone race?
"It is not a mystery that I've always been in favor of the combined races. I always thought everybody should be out there all the time. I am very happy with the GTs out there. I really want them out there racing with us. It is a big help for everybody. Definitely, it will be a much more exciting race."
Michael Valiante, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
Looking back to two weekends ago at Watkins Glen, how in the world did you pull off a podium finish after such a catastrophic turn of events?
"The team really did a phenomenal job in providing us with a car that was capable of finishing on the podium. It was quite an accomplishment just to make the race considering the transporter fire we had. The team really simplified its approach to that race. They knew we had a good race car that would survive the six-hour race. And they thought they should just go out and try and have some fun. But even though that was the approach, everyone wanted to be on the podium. Everyone else's expectations might have been a little lower. But SunTrust Racing is one of the best teams I've driven with, so I feel we should always be on the podium."
Is it safe to say Mid-Ohio is a special place for you since you won a race there in 2003?
"I won the Toyota Atlantic race there in 2003. I've always loved that track. But 2003 was very special. The Atlantic series was very competitive. Jon Fogarty, A.J. Allmendinger, Ryan Dalziel, Danica Patrick, Joey Hand and Luis Diaz were all out there that year. At Mid-Ohio, it was a great weekend for my team. I dominated the weekend and led nearly every session. That's quite an accomplishment in that kind of company."
Last year's Mid-Ohio Rolex Series race was a Daytona Prototype-only affair and there seemed to be very little passing going on. Do you think it will be good to have the GT cars running with you again this year?
"It's a good thing no matter how you look at it. If you can run up front and drive away, having the GT cars out there works in your favor. If you get behind because of a bad pit stop or something, it can hinder your ability to catch back up. So it works both ways."
Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:
You're back to the Riley one more time this weekend at Mid-Ohio after a podium finish at Watkins Glen. What is your feeling about what's in store for the team at this point?
"We just received our new Dallara on Monday, which obviously we won't have ready for this race. The plan after the fire was always to run the Riley through the race at Mid-Ohio, and then debut the new car at Daytona. From what we saw at Watkins Glen, the Pontiac Riley is still a really strong package. We hadn't driven that car or run that car since Daytona, and we basically put it back on the track because of what happened. So, for this weekend, once again we know the package is good. Mid-Ohio has been an okay track for us over the years, although we've had some bad times there. The intent is to go there and try and do what we did at Watkins Glen, to try and gain some more points. We made a big step points-wise at Watkins Glen. Really we want to try and have another trouble-free weekend, then come back and continue preparing the new car."
Max feels, after all that has happened this season, that a good string of results could well put the team back in the top-three in the championship by the end of the year. Do you feel you can take another step in that direction this weekend?
"We've finished in the top-three in the championship each year we've been doing this. Obviously, we'd like to do that again. We're excited about the new car coming. In the meantime, if we can come out with another podium at Mid-Ohio, that would be really great. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We know it's a good engine-car combination. We've got two of the best drivers in the series. We've got a great team. We'll be just fine. At Mid-Ohio, we're back to DPs and GTs racing together, so strategy will be really important. It's an incredibly technical circuit. You can lose a lot of time in traffic. We'll just have to put ourselves in a good position to go racing for the win at the end."