SONOMA, Calif. (Aug. 21, 2007) -- Two races to go, two teams locked in a first-place tie with a third lurking just four points back. Seems like it'll be just another day at the office for Max Angelelli and the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley...
SONOMA, Calif. (Aug. 21, 2007) -- Two races to go, two teams locked in a first-place tie with a third lurking just four points back.
Seems like it'll be just another day at the office for Max Angelelli and the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing when they and their fellow Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series competitors hit the scenic, hillside road circuit at Infineon Raceway for Saturday's Armed Forces Grand-Am 250.
If it's late-August, the SunTrust car must be in the thick of things when it comes to the Rolex Series championship. After all, since joining the series back in 2004, Angelelli and now team owner Wayne Taylor have made a habit of co-driving their way into championship contention by this very point each season.
During their dominant run in 2005, Angelelli and Taylor held a commanding 39-point lead with two races to go and went on to bring home the championship by capping a head-turning 14-race run that included an amazing five wins and 12 top-five finishes.
Angelelli, co-driver Memo Gidley from nearby Novato, Calif., and the rest of the SunTrust Racing family would like nothing better than to move a giant step closer to their second championship in the last three seasons with a solid showing Saturday over the 12-turn, 2.26-mile road course on the outskirts of California's Wine Country. They don't have the luxury of a 39-point cushion over their nearest competitors, but neither are they facing a deficit in the point standings like they did by five points in 2004 and three points last season.
Angelelli and Gidley's runner-up finish at Watkins Glen, N.Y., two weekends ago -- the team's series-high ninth podium finish through 12 events this season -- moved SunTrust into a first-place tie with the No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley atop the team standings. The No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley won at Watkins Glen for the sixth time this season to pull within four points of the SunTrust and Ganassi cars in the championship, setting up a three-car shootout that begins with Saturday's Daytona Prototype-class standalone race at Infineon and concluding with the 1,000-kilometer season finale at Miller Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City on Sept. 15, where the smaller, GT-class competitors will join the fray.
Heading into this weekend's event, the Rolex Series driver championship is a mirror-image of the team championship chase with Angelelli and the No. 01 team's Scott Pruett tied for first in the points with the No. 99's duo of Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney just four markers back in a third-place tie.
A year ago this weekend, Angelelli and co-driver Jan Magnussen started from the pole at Infineon and led a race-high 60 of 99 laps. But even though they came away with a disappointing fourth-place finish in a race that favored those teams who chose to make their driver changes early, the SunTrust team headed to last year's season finale in Utah still with a shot at winning back-to-back titles, trailing the championship-leading No. 01 of Pruett and Luis Diaz by just four points.
Practice for Saturday's Armed Forces Grand-Am 250 -- run in conjunction with Sunday's IRL IndyCar Series main event -- begins Thursday afternoon with qualifying set for 7:20 p.m. EDT Friday. Race time for Saturday's 400-kilometer (or 2½-hour, whichever comes first) Rolex Series race is 5:45 p.m. EDT with SPEED-TV providing same-day-delayed coverage beginning at 8 p.m. The detailed event schedule, as well as live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions, can be found at www.grand-am.com.
Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
The SunTrust team has erased a 15-point deficit to the Ganassi team during the last three races to grab a share of the championship lead. Safe to say you have momentum on your side?
"I feel very good. We are in a good spot. I'm very excited to go to the final two races in such a great position. Infineon is a track where it is very hard to overtake or predict the result because, if you remember last year, we were more or less sure to win the race and we ended up fourth. A slight mistake on the pit stop or the strategy can put you back. At the same time, you can improve your position considerably with a good strategy and a good pit stop. But even though pit stops will not be everything when it comes to the outcome of the race this week, it will be really important. The last three races, race strategy has been very important, and it worked out well for us. We have a good car, and I will have Memo with me driving, so those are all good things in our favor this weekend."
You had a momentary scare on the next-to-last lap of the race at Watkins Glen that, conceivably, could have ended SunTrust's championship run. The offending driver (Colin Braun) has been suspended for this weekend's race as a result. Any thoughts?
"The whole thing was so weird. I'm most pleased to see how fast Grand-Am reacted to the situation, and how strongly they reacted. This is definitely something that I, myself, will learn from, and I am sure that will be the case with the other drivers in the series. Looking at what Grand-Am did and how quickly they reacted and how strongly, this is also a signal to me that they want everybody to be respectful of each other and, especially, those teams and drivers who are fighting for the championship."
Do you feel like any of the three teams and four drivers fighting for the championship have a particular edge?
"Usually, I like to have a clear view of what might happen. I always like to go into a situation with a definite plan. But because of the way the championship is shaping up with two races to go, we have to be ready for anything. What's going to happen at Infineon this weekend is a complete unknown -- a black hole. Anything can happen. It makes me a little bit nervous, but it's the same for everybody. I don't feel any of the teams have a particular advantage. We just need to go out and keep doing what we do best, and then hope we are in the right place at the right time when the checkered flag comes out. I do know one thing for sure -- this is very exciting."
Quotes from Memo Gidley, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
This is your third race co-driving with Max and the SunTrust team and, by far, the most important when you look at the championship situation. There's a lot riding on the outcome. How does that affect how you approach the weekend?
"I think it's going to be business as usual. Our goal, as it has been, is to unload from the truck with a good setup and get off to a good start in practice and qualifying. The SunTrust team has been strong at every track we've gone to. It'll be Max's and my job, once we get there, to work with Travis (Jacobson) the engineer and all the guys and make the car better, to improve it as we go. It's a different track, but the same procedure as always. I feel really fortunate to be in this situation with a team like SunTrust and Wayne Taylor Racing because a bad weekend for them is fighting for third or fourth in the race, and a good one usually ends up with a win. There's a fine line between those two scenarios, as competitive as it is for the championship this year. But I'm confident I'm with a good team and that we can get the job done. We're tied for the lead in the championship. Most people in my position might crack under the pressure. If you let it get to you, this could be as stressful as you can imagine. But I really do treat every race, every lap, the same. I drive as fast as possible and try not to make any mistakes and have a good time at it. For me, racing is a dream, and I really like it. I like every aspect of it, the pressure, the driving, the close racing. I'm really looking forward to this weekend."
Being that this is your home track, does it feel pretty special to be in the situation you're in with friends and family looking on?
"Absolutely. A lot of my family and friends are only into racing because that's what I do, so it's nice to have such a big race locally to give them a chance to come out and see what I'm up to, to see what the guy from the waterfront community down in Sausalito can do. I've had a lot of good races at Infineon, mostly during the early part of my career. When I was in Champ Cars and Atlantics, we never had races there, unfortunately. I've worked as a mechanic there for some of the race teams that are based there. I've worked off and on doing events and teaching with the Jim Russell School. It's a track with a lot of character, a lot of history. I would consider it an old-school track, not the traditional wide and flat variety. It's tight, twisty, narrow, hard and dry. The whole area -- the go-kart track, all the race shops, the people who work there -- it's a really big part of my life. My life would have turned out a lot differently had that track not been there, because I'm not from your typical racing family. So, racing at Infineon for me is like going to Grandma's for Christmas when the whole family's there together."
Quote from Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:
You seemed to leave Watkins Glen two weekends ago with a bounce in your step after having re-claimed a share of the points lead. What is the feeling of the team as it prepares for this final, two-race showdown?
"We just can't wait to get to Infineon. Not only do we love the area, and we love Wine Country, it's Memo's favorite track, and we were pretty good there last year in our first-ever visit to the track. Our goals this weekend are very simple. We need to continue to stay ahead of the 01 and the 99. Short of that, if we can at least beat the 01 and stay within a position of the 99, if we don't happen to finish ahead of them, we can still go to Utah with the lead in the championship and that would be a good thing. That's sort of what I'm giving myself as a little breathing room. Once we get to Utah, it's anybody's ballgame with a 1,000-kilometer race to finish the season. Otherwise, I'm really looking forward to this weekend. We had the pole at Infineon last year, we led the most laps. Everybody is extremely motivated and everybody is very excited. It's going to be great. We'll just need to cover every single aspect of our race preparation to the best of our ability and hope for the best."
-credit: -- www.SunTrustRacing.com --