Another Year, Another Podium Finish for SunTrust Racing Angelelli, Taylor and Hunter-Reay combine to lead a race-high 53 laps in season finale at Miller, but 14th place finish due to electrical problems thwarts championship drive In three years...
Another Year, Another Podium Finish for SunTrust Racing Angelelli, Taylor and Hunter-Reay combine to lead a race-high 53 laps in season finale at Miller, but 14th place finish due to electrical problems thwarts championship drive
In three years of competing in the Daytona Prototype division of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series, the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Team has finished in the top-three each year. Second in 2004, first in 2005, and despite a solid chance at defending their series championship in Saturday's season-ending Discount Tire Sunchaser at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, the SunTrust Racing Team had to settle for third in the championship standings.
With a formidable driver lineup of Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and Champ Car standout Ryan Hunter-Reay, the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley was a force early in the nine-hour race on the 4.485-mile road course. After dominating the first four hours where the trio combined to lead a race-high 53 laps, electrical issues that resulted in numerous pit stops dropped the team to 14th when the checkered flag waved, seven laps down to the winning No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Team of Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson.
The result dropped the SunTrust Racing Team from second to third in the team standings. The championship-winning No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Team of Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz, who had IRL IndyCar Series driver Scott Dixon on board for Miller, brought their Lexus Riley home in fourth-place to capture their second Daytona Prototype title. The No. 76 Krohn Racing trio of Jorg Bergmeister, Colin Braun and Nic Jonsson finished the race in sixth, giving them second-place in the team standings, just five markers ahead of SunTrust Racing.
"It was disappointing," said Taylor, who wears the hats of both driver and owner for SunTrust Racing. "However, three races into the season we were around tenth (in points). Nobody could have predicted that we would finish on the podium at the end of the year, so from that standpoint it's still a great result. It's too bad for SunTrust Racing. We really wanted to win this team championship for them and for Pontiac, who stepped up so much with us.
"The team never gave up," added Taylor. "It's never over until it's over. And in three years with SunTrust and Riley, we finished second the first year, first the second year and third the third year. It can't be that bad. "
After starting Saturday's race in fifth, Angelelli - the defending driver's champion - knifed his way through the field, eventually moving the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley to second following the first pit stop on lap 28, and then to the overall lead on lap 34.
Angelelli stretched his margin to over 15 seconds before pitting for tires and fuel on lap 57 and handing the car over to Hunter-Reay. Upon building a lead of over 18 seconds on the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche Crawford, a series of unfortunate events began to unfold for the SunTrust Racing Team.
First, Hunter-Reay was assessed a 15-second penalty on his next pit stop after he passed another car during a local yellow flag. Hunter-Reay pitted on lap 86 for routine service, and even after serving his penalty, managed to come out of the pits in second to quickly take back the lead on lap 90. But four laps later, Hunter-Reay returned to pit road with a punctured left-front tire.
With four fresh Hoosier tires, the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley returned to the track, but electrical issues that began with a misfiring engine inhibited forward progress.
After pitting several times in an attempt to fix the electrical gremlins, the team found a faulty plug wire as the reason for the engine misfire. On a later stop during the first full-course yellow, the team changed several plug wires, figuring there may have been a leak in the header pipe which could have forced excessive heat into the engine, thus causing several plug wires to burn.
"It's a little bit like 2003," said Angelelli. "We lost the championship because of an electrical problem. Here again, we lost the championship for such a pity thing. It's a little bit of a shame. We were fastest and leading the race and felt comfortable. To lose it for an electrical problem - just a little cable - is such as shame. I feel sorry for SunTrust and Pontiac.
"While disappointing, if I look at say, the fourth or fifth race of the season, I never thought we could finish in the top-three," added Angelelli. "Then getting closer to the end of the championship when we were second, I started dreaming a little bit, but then lost it again."
Hunter-Reay, in his first drive for SunTrust Racing, stood out during his race stint and throughout the practice sessions leading into the event.
"It's disappointing because I think we could have won the championship today," said Hunter-Reay. "That's the heartbreak about racing, because you have to wait a whole other year and spend millions of dollars to end back up in the same place. The most difficult part about it is that we've been so good all weekend. I've gotten along great with Max, Wayne, Bill (Riley, team manager and race strategist) and the whole team. It's just been awesome. Here we are running around in first-place and a plug wire pretty much ends our day and our championship run for SunTrust."
Taylor, while disappointed in the result, couldn't have been happier with the effort put forth by the team.
"Max, as usual, was on a different planet than everyone else," said Taylor. "I don't know how to thank Ryan Hunter-Reay enough for what he did. Such a limited amount of time we gave him in the car. He'd never been here testing before and he was really outstanding and I'm very proud of him. All I can say is that I don't understand how there can be such a talent out there who doesn't have a permanent ride somewhere. I'm hoping out of this that some big team owner saw what he did and will put him in a ride."
In the driver standings, SunTrust driver Angelelli finished fourth, 15 points behind the Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Pruett and Diaz, and 31 points behind first-time Daytona Prototype champion Bergmeister of Krohn Racing.
The SunTrust Racing Team now heads to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas for the Sept. 4 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series banquet.
The Daytona Prototypes of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series return to action in January 2007 for the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona.