LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 16, 2009) -- First place: two of the sweetest sounding words in the history of all things competitive. Coming off a stellar team effort at the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen two weekends ago that netted a third consecutive...
LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 16, 2009) -- First place: two of the sweetest sounding words in the history of all things competitive.
Coming off a stellar team effort at the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen two weekends ago that netted a third consecutive podium finish for the SunTrust Racing team, co-drivers Max Angelelli and Brian Frisselle head to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Saturday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series EMCO Gears Classic with a share of the lead in the championship standings.
But as satisfying as it may feel to be deadlocked in a first-place tie with the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, Angelelli and Frisselle know full well that, with seven races yet to be contested in the incredibly competitive Rolex Series, it all could disappear in a fleeting moment. After all, there have been three different sets of point leaders after each of the last three races.
As it heads to the 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio road circuit for round five of the 2009 Rolex Series campaign, the SunTrust team rides a wave of momentum that has thrust it smack in the middle of the championship chase after getting temporarily derailed by way of a late-race multi-car incident while fighting for a podium finish in the season's second race at Virginia International Raceway in Alton. Runner-up finishes at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International have sandwiched a third-place run for the SunTrust team at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, Calif. The team opened the season with a solid fourth-place finish in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Turn the calendar back just a bit further to reveal finishes of first, second and second in the final three events of 2008 and, safe to say, the SunTrust team has been the most consistent performer in the series dating back to last August.
When they strap themselves behind the wheel of the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing this weekend, Angelelli and Frisselle will be looking to score SunTrust's first victory in its sixth appearance at Mid-Ohio since joining the Rolex Series in 2004. Angelelli and team owner Wayne Taylor finished third en route to the 2005 series championship for SunTrust's best finish at the track to date. But even that was considered a moral victory, of sorts, after their car caught fire during qualifying and the crew had to work through the night just to get it to the back of the starting grid by race time. It was a case study in perseverance, to say the least.
This weekend, Angelelli, Frisselle and the SunTrust team would be more than happy to do without such high drama, as well as the kind of drama they had to overcome at Watkins Glen two weekends ago, which put their podium streak in serious jeopardy. First, Frisselle was run off the track at 140-plus mph by a wayward GT-class driver on the second lap of practice on Thursday. That sent the car to the garage for extensive repairs that cost valuable track time. Then, an oil line repair cost all but two laps in the final practice session before qualifying Friday. Nonetheless, Angelelli's gutsy qualifying effort put the SunTrust car third on the grid. And a virtually flawless effort during the six-hour race by the SunTrust driving duo and pit crew netted a solid second-place finish that is now history.
Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:
You come to Mid-Ohio on a streak of three consecutive podium finishes and with a share of the championship point lead. Are you feeling particularly optimistic about your prospects for the weekend?
"I'm feeling pretty good, yes. I'm very happy to be leading the championship together with Ganassi. We've had a lot of good battles with them since 2004. I'm very comfortable fighting on the track with Scott (Pruett) because he races clean, so I'm looking forward to continuing the battle with him at Mid-Ohio. Of course, there are many more drivers and teams we will be fighting with because the series is so competitive. We will have to be ready when it's time to go, and we have to keep working hard."
This will be your first race at Mid-Ohio with the Dallara chassis. Do you feel the track suits the Dallara well?
"To be honest, it's difficult to predict how the Dallara will be until we get it on the track. You always want to have good feelings about what to expect, but it's impossible to really anticipate any specific result. To a certain degree, the racetrack is one of our best racetracks, but we have gone to other racetracks where we thought we would have something more and that did not happen. So, I'm not going to say how we're going to do because I really don't know. The good thing is, our team is the best and, eventually, we will figure it out."
You certainly figured out Watkins Glen two weekends ago with very minimal track time in practice. Is that what you are talking about when you refer to the SunTrust team being the best at figuring things out?
"Yes, they definitely performed some magic at Watkins Glen. I was very proud of everybody, but it was a very difficult weekend for us and we had a really good result. But those things you can't take for granted. Most of the time, when you have things happen to us like they did in practice, you don't come out with a good result in the race. We have incredible engineers on this team, but what they were able to accomplish at Watkins Glen was more like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I would hate to have to do that every weekend."
Brian Frisselle, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:
Here you are, just five races into your first season with the SunTrust Racing team, and you're in first place in the standings. Are you at least pleasantly surprised?
"To be honest, it's exactly what I imagined when I signed up with the team. I knew all along that this organization offered a really great chance to run up front every week and to be fighting for the championship at the end of the season. So far, the team chemistry has been really good. That always helps in racing. The team's done a pretty stellar job all year. To win a championship, you can't make mistakes. You can't crash the car. You have to bring it back every time. You have to have good strategy and good pit stops. As I review all of those areas in my mind, I'd give the team an absolute A-plus so far this year. The only big hiccup we had all year was that incident at the end of the race at VIR. It'd sure be nice to have that back. But we're still at the top of standings. From here, we need to keep having smart, consistent performances because anything can happen to anybody on any given weekend. Look at the (No.) 99 at the last race. They had a very healthy lead in the championship and it evaporated all in one weekend. We've just got to focus on our thing, try to win races, and the points will take care of themselves."
You've got a good deal of experience at Mid-Ohio. How do you like the track?
"I really enjoy Mid-Ohio. It's a great track -- I'd say one of the best in America. It should suit our car very well. It's a high-downforce track, and that's our strong point with the Dallara. Track position is always key there because it's so difficult to pass, so we'll have to qualify up front and keep it there."
Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara team:
You come to Mid-Ohio with a share of the lead in the championship point standings. After all you and the team have been through over the last year or so, does that make you feel especially proud?
"I really like the roll we're currently on. Three podiums in a row. Four top-four finishes in the first five races. That's all well and good, but with seven races to go to determine the champion, we're not looking back. We know we've got a lot more work to do in every respect to keep things rolling. On the car, on the engine, on the chassis, everybody's working. Everybody loves what they're doing more than ever when we get the results we work so hard for. To be leading this championship at any point in the season is really something. Nobody understands how competitive the Rolex Series is. It's so incredibly competitive. Anything can happen to anybody on any given week, good and bad, so the road to the championship can certainly be a roller-coaster ride. Look at what happened to us at VIR. We had that bad result where we should have had a third and we got taken out. It's times like those, among others, that really keep everyone working, and working hard."
Something people may not realize about your second-place finish in the Watkins Glen six-hour race is that the team overcame problems in practice that gave you just a small handful of practice laps before qualifying. How did they pull it off?
"Some people might call it great guesswork? I don't. This is a very structured race team with really unbelievable technical leadership by Travis Jacobson, and it's an organization run perfectly by Simon Hodgson. Travis from a technical standpoint, and Simon organizing everything and making sure everything runs right, leads to a situation where everyone responsible for a particular aspect of the operation is more likely to make good decisions. We have a plan as far as what we want do every time we go to a race. We run through that plan over and over. When we have problems, like we did that weekend, we work around it and get to where we need to be. That's how it's supposed to work, and that's precisely how it worked for us at The Glen. Great teams are the ones that are best at overcoming problems. That's what we showed at The Glen, and I'm really proud of these guys."