MILLVILLE, N.J. (July 14, 2010) -- Max Angelelli's love for airplanes and the fact he grew up longing to be a fighter pilot are well-known in GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series circles. Perhaps that explains why he's taken so incredibly well to the...
MILLVILLE, N.J. (July 14, 2010) -- Max Angelelli's love for airplanes and the fact he grew up longing to be a fighter pilot are well-known in GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series circles. Perhaps that explains why he's taken so incredibly well to the still relatively new road circuit at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, site of Sunday's Rolex Series NJMP 250. It sits on property surrounded by Millville Airport, which once was home to one of the U.S. Air Force's top fighter pilot training facilities.
Perhaps it's the vintage airplane hangar and military barracks motif accenting the 2.25-mile, 14-turn road course that has inspired the veteran Italian driving ace, who co-pilots the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing with 20-year-old Ricky Taylor.
Adjacent Millville Airport is no ordinary airport. Rich in aviation history, it was dedicated in 1941 as "America's First Defense Airport," and it was where the Air Force conducted gunnery training with Curtiss P-40 Warhawk aircraft. The 361st Fighter Group trained at Millville during the summer of 1943 prior to its deployment to Ninth Air Force duty in England. The legendary Republic P-47 Thunderbolt based there once ruled the skies over surrounding Cumberland County. And thousands of soldiers and civilians served there, with some 1,500 pilots receiving advanced fighter training in the Thunderbolt.
Thunderbolt Raceway, quite appropriately, is the nickname given the very road circuit the Rolex Series competitors will be doing battle on in Sunday's 2-hour, 45-minute affair, and it is where Angelelli scored back-to-back runner-up finishes in the SunTrust Racing machine in 2008 and 2009.
Sunday, he'll look to shake that trend of being a New Jersey bridesmaid -- or damigella d'onore in his native Italian -- by taking the "Solid Is Lightning Fast" SunTrust racecar all the way to the top of the podium, and generating a little thunder of his own.
Practice for Sunday's NJMP 250 begins Friday morning with qualifying set for 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday. Live streaming video of Saturday's qualifying session will be available at SPEEDTV.com beginning at 12:25 p.m. Race time Sunday is 1 p.m., with live television coverage on SPEED, as well as live radio coverage on the Motor Racing Network (MRN) and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128 beginning at 12:45 p.m. 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:
Your overall thoughts heading to New Jersey this weekend?
"I'm definitely looking forward to the race and I'm hoping for good weather this year. Last year was very bad, raining the whole time, and it was a very difficult race. I can't imagine it will be like that in the middle of the summer this time. The last two years have been very good finishes for us, and we need to do that kind of a job once again this year. It is definitely a good track for us. It will be our third time there with the Dallara, so I am feeling very good, very positive about the weekend."
You had a golden opportunity to capitalize on the championship points situation at Daytona two weeks ago, but the SunTrust car was taken out of contention by the time you had a chance to drive. How frustrating is that kind of situation for you?
"I can't waste my time worrying about things like that. Of course, I was very frustrated about what happened at Daytona because it really hurt us in the championship. We are 25 points out with four races to go. But it's not over, even though it might look impossible. Just look at what happened at Daytona. We went three laps down after that incident with the 99 but I never gave up. The team never gave up. This is how I am, and this is how we are. I don't care about the points when I am in the car. Whether we are last or first, I'm trying to get 110 percent out of the car and out of me. If it's a race, I'm racing to win it, and the points will take care of themselves when it is all over."
Ricky Taylor, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:
You're heading to one of the SunTrust team's most successful venues in recent years. How do you feel about the race at New Jersey Motorsports Park this weekend?
"Max has been saying all year that the SunTrust car really suits that track very well. I can see why after we've gone to some of the other high-downforce tracks. I remember watching the first year how strong it was, and even last year in the rain it was strong. I have to say that I'm more excited for this race than quite a few others this year."
Last year, driving for the Beyer Racing team, you had a little bit of bad luck at the beginning of the race that pretty much ruined your day. How was that experience?
"It was really hard to see, and I think I might have been a little too cautious. I felt this huge hit from behind, and I didn't really know what happened. I thought the race was over, but the car wasn't too badly damaged -- pretty much just bodywork. We kept going. It was a good learning experience the rest of the race, driving in the rain and everything. I think, the whole season last year I was able to focus on myself as a driver and improving. That race, in particular, was in bad conditions and I got to drive a lot. There was a lot of driving and learning in the rain. It was my first full race in the wet. We fell laps down right away, so there was no pressure. I hated being the first guy to go laps down, but it did pay off in a lot of other ways."
How does the New Jersey track compare to some of the others you've driven?
"I'd say it's probably between Barber (Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.) and Mid-Ohio (Sports Car Course in Lexington). Turn one is actually a pretty good passing spot with a good, long front straight coming into it. It's a little difficult to pass GT cars, but it's not impossible to pass DP cars. There's a good possibility of having a 10-car train of DPs, which always makes it exciting. When you get in a train like that, on a fast track with that much momentum, it's comparable to Mid-Ohio, speedwise, and it's a lot of fun."
Has the disappointment of what happened at Daytona subsided, yet?
"It's still the same disappointment, but the biggest part of it is that we lost all those points, and the Ganassi team went on and won another race. If anybody else would've won that race, it wouldn't have been quite so bad, but they won, and we finished all the way back in ninth, which opened the point differential back up to 25. That's a lot with only four races to go."
You had a chance to do something pretty neat earlier this week -- coaching younger drivers. You're only 20 and you're already out there coaching like a seasoned veteran?
"Yeah, my brother Jordan and I have been doing it off and on this year. We were up at Autobahn Country Club in Chicago coaching Patrick McKenna and two new Chilean drivers. I've been around Skip Barber for a long time, and knowing just what works for yourself and knowing how you improve yourself, I can put that knowledge to work in coaching people and using the Skip Barber lingo that I've become familiar with. Skip Barber gave me that skill, I guess, and now I'm applying it to others. Anything I do for myself, like looking at data and stuff like that, I share everything I would do with the younger guys. Patrick McKenna is an Irish driver who's second in the Formula 2000 championship. He won the last race and has a lot of momentum going. He's quick. The Chilean guys are managed by Eliseo Salazar, who used to drive with my dad."
Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara team:
You've had back-to-back ninth-place finishes to set you back in the championship. What are your thoughts heading into New Jersey this weekend?
"The big thing is, Daytona started out so well with Ricky getting the pole, leading the race, and then what happened with the 99 car was ridiculous. While they apologized and everything, it doesn't help us in the championship, and that sort of behavior continues on. That hit makes the championship all the more difficult. But at the same time, we've still retained second in the team points. My hat's off to Ganassi for winning again. All we can do is what we always do, and that is to prepare the best car, run the best strategy, have great pit stops like we've done all year, and see how it all pans out. Max and Ricky both feel the SunTrust car will be good at New Jersey. We just need a good result. I'm so tired of these ninth-place finishes. They wear me out."
The Ganassi team has now won six of the eight races this season. What are your thoughts on that?
"Well, I'd like to think we have the best team out there, but they're the ones getting all the results. One team winning six out of eight races is quite a lot. They know how to win races. When a team has everything that they've got, they go and win with it. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out they have a very strong package. So, at the end of the day, we are all playing with the cards we are dealt. You can't take anything away from the Ganassi team. They're doing a good job. They are a good team with good drivers, good partners -- the complete package. I'd obviously be happy to win every race. But if it's not us, I'm glad it's them. They're a top-shelf organization and we have always aspired to be like that. We are like that, as far as I'm concerned. But if we can't do it, I'm happy to see them do it."