Podium Finish for SunTrust at Homestead
Angelelli, Taylor Lead Race-High 47 of 116 Laps; Move to Second in Point Standings
Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor and the No. 10 SunTrust Chevrolet Dallara team of Wayne Taylor Racing did Saturday what SunTrust Racing hasn’t been able to do since 2007 – finish on the podium in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The veteran Italian and his 21-year-old co-driver combined to lead a race-high 47 of 116 race laps, and Angelelli did his best to stay in front despite fighting rapidly deteriorating tire conditions before yielding the lead to eventual race-winner Scott Pruett in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates with seven laps to go. Angelelli got passed by Darren Law in the No. 5 Action Express Motorsports Porsche Riley for the second spot just two laps later, but was able to hang on for a much-appreciated third-place finish.
“As always in the GRAND-AM series, the final 20 minutes are the most critical ones,” said Angelelli, who finished second here co-driving the SunTrust car with Jan Magnussen in 2007 after co-driving with Wayne Taylor to a 2005 Grand Prix of Miami victory en route to that year’s Rolex Series championship. “Today, that happened again. I think the (No.) 01 really tried to make me believe I could actually win the race. When he decided he wanted to go for it, he just overtook me like I was in second gear. We managed the tires and it was all about managing the tires this race. I thought that I timed everything well, but actually I ran short and ran out of tires too early, about six or seven laps too early. Overall, though, I’m very happy with our result.”
Pruett, the defending series co-champion who with co-driver Rojas won for the second time in two races this season and for the 11th time in the last 13 Rolex Series events, pitted along with Angelelli and several other cars, including the No. 5 Porsche of Law, for a final set of fresh tires on lap 85 with roughly 46 minutes remaining. Angelelli was the race leader at the time but rejoined the race behind Pruett, who needed less fuel in his tank as he had stopped several laps after Angelelli on his previous visit to pit lane. Ten laps later, as the two were trying to get by then-race leader Michael Valiante in the No. 23 United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley, Angelelli slipped past Pruett for second place and was now in hot pursuit of Valiante for the lead.
Angelelli finally caught Valiante on lap 100 and was back in front with 25 minutes of racing left. Pruett followed Angelelli past the No. 23 car and held the second spot – for the time being – looking to be slightly faster than the SunTrust car in the infield portion of the superspeedway road circuit while Angelelli could pull away on the straightaways and NASCAR banking.
Finally, on lap 110, with some seven minutes remaining, Pruett slipped past Angelelli in the infield and pulled away from there. Law caught and passed Angelelli two laps later with less than five minutes remaining, and the Italian cruised to a podium finish with the fourth-place Mark Wilkins in the No. 61 AIM Autosports Ford Riley some 11 seconds behind him.
Taylor, who started the race on the tires he drove seven laps on during Friday afternoon’s qualifying session, did his best to keep pace with the front-runners from his fourth spot on the grid. The team had chosen to save its remaining three of the weekend’s five allotted sets of new tires for the latter stages of the race. But before the race was 10 laps old, Taylor began losing ground and fell back to ninth when the team decided to call him into the pits for a fresh set of tires on lap 17, 23 minutes into the race. Taylor fell back to 13th as a result of the green-flag stop, but good fortune came by way of a full-course caution four laps later that sent the rest of the field into the pits for fuel and tires and gave the lead to Taylor in the SunTrust car.
For the next 27 laps, Taylor did a stellar job of keeping the SunTrust car in front before his tires quickly began to deteriorate – particularly the left-front, from where he began feeling a distinct vibration around lap 50. Taylor dropped back to fifth and, on lap 57, he came into the pits under green for tires, fuel, and to turn the car over to Angelelli.
Angelelli resumed in ninth, but immediately began picking off cars ahead of him that were on older tires. By lap 74, he was in the lead and stayed there before the lap-85 pit stop for a final set of fresh tires under caution when Pruett was able to overtake him in the pits.
“Well, first of all, we’ve had a rough history here at Homestead, so if somebody would’ve told us we were going to finish in the top-six or seven, I’d have been really happy,” Taylor said. “But to be on the podium, and fighting for the win, even, was really, really good. Max did an awesome job, as he always does. He said, ‘My right foot is like a computer,’ and we really thought he saved the tires really well considering how many laps they had on them. So, I’m really excited because this is a good step forward. In the past, here, we’ve had some really rough runs and they put us behind in the points. Now, we’re a bit closer and we can go to tracks like Barber and VIR and all those good tracks and put up a really good fight.”
With the third-place finish, the SunTrust team jumped from fifth to second in the Rolex Series standings, 14 points (70-54) behind the front-running No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team.
“Well, we knew coming here this has always been our most difficult race. But, at the same time, I’m tired of not winning and I really thought we could,” said team owner Wayne Taylor, whose troops recorded finishes of 14th, seventh and sixth at Homestead in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively. “I thought the guys did a great job, given how bad the tire situation was. And it appeared we suffered a little bit more than everybody else on tires. But the drivers did a fantastic job. Ricky led, Max led, Max did a great job at the end. You know, the (No.) 01 was just quicker than us, again. As I always keep saying, we need to keep thinking about the big picture. But if they (Pruett and Rojas) keep winning like this, I don’t know how we or anybody else can do anything about it. In the end, though, we’re all pretty happy coming out of here with a podium because there are a lot of other teams a lot worse off than we are. We led the most laps today, but not the correct one – the last one.”
Round three of the 2011 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series is at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday, April 9. The 3 p.m. EDT race will be broadcast by SPEED on a one-day delay Sunday, April 10, beginning at noon. The Motor Racing Network (MRN) and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128 will carry the race on radio on a 45-minute delay, beginning at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, April 9.