ALTON, Va. -- A year ago this weekend at Virginia International Raceway, Max Angelelli and his No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley found themselves smack in the middle of a breathtaking, five-car, 20-lap sprint to the finish worthy of racing ...
ALTON, Va. -- A year ago this weekend at Virginia International Raceway, Max Angelelli and his No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley found themselves smack in the middle of a breathtaking, five-car, 20-lap sprint to the finish worthy of racing highlight reels the world over. Oh, his eventual runner-up finish wasn't exactly to Angelelli's liking, particularly in light of the fact he was the first to take the white flag as he and the four competitors behind him continued running nose-to-tail and swapping positions at a dizzying pace. Nonetheless, it was a finish for the ages, and the second-place run was a breakthrough result that initiated a remarkable nine-race streak of top-five finishes that vaulted the SunTrust team from 11th to second in the 2006 championship heading into the season finale.
Now, back at the scenic 3.27-mile, 17-turn road circuit just a stone's throw from the Virginia-North Carolina state line, Angelelli, co-driver Jan Magnussen and the rest of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing are looking to continue their solid start to the 2007 campaign during Sunday afternoon's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series VIR 400.
Consecutive third-place finishes at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City followed by a pole qualifying effort and second-place run at Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway late last month have the SunTrust team situated just one point behind the championship-leading No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates entry of drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. A year ago, the SunTrust team struggled through finishes of 29th, 9th, 11th and 8th at the season's first four events heading into the VIR 400, where Angelelli, co-driving with now-team owner Wayne Taylor, began to turn things around for the better.
Angelelli led twice for a total of 12 laps during last year's memorable finishing sprint at VIR, including the penultimate lap. But then, at the end of VIR's long backstraight and just three turns from the finish line, he had to let off the throttle while quickly approaching a slower GT-class competitor. Pruett, in the No. 01 behind him, tried to take advantage and pulled up alongside for a pass, which Angelelli successfully held off. But out of nowhere came the No. 23 car of Mike Rockenfeller, who boldly completed a slingshot move past both Pruett and Angelelli and went on to score his second career victory. The sequence of events has remained a fixture in racing highlight reels ever since.
This weekend, Angelelli and Magnussen hope to add to something of a remarkable streak of their own. As co-drivers, they have finished fourth or better at eight consecutive Rolex Series main events dating back to their victory together in the SunTrust Racing machine at Laguna Seca Raceway near Monterey, Calif., last May. History is certainly on their side at VIR. While Magnussen has only one career start at VIR to his credit -- which resulted in a sixth-place GT-class finish in a TRG Pontiac GTO.R in 2005 -- Angelelli will be making his fourth career start at VIR in the team's efforts to bring SunTrust its 10th Rolex Series victory since joining the circuit in 2004. Angelelli co-drove with Taylor to victory in the very first Rolex Series race at the track in 2004. Angelelli and Taylor added a pole qualifying effort and fourth-place finish at VIR in 2005 before last year's eventful second-place run.
For the first time this season, the No. 10 Pontiac and its fellow Daytona Prototype-class competitors will be battling it out on their own at VIR as the GT-class cars will have a separate feature race late Saturday afternoon. Also, for the first time this season, the two-wheel excitement of the SunTrust MOTO-ST Series is part of the weekend schedule. The "Super Twin" motorcycles will take to the track for a 500-kilometer race beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday.
Practice for this Sunday's VIR 400 -- Round 4 of 14 on the 2007 Rolex Series calendar -- opens Saturday morning, followed by Daytona Prototype qualifying at 2:40 p.m. EDT. Race time Sunday is 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by SPEED-TV.
Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You're returning to the scene of one of the most memorable finishes in sports car racing history at last year's VIR 400, and you were right in the middle of it. How do you feel about coming back to VIR with the SunTrust team?
"I have an open bill and I really want to close it. I really want to get that win that I thought we had last year. I guess in America you call it 'unfinished business.' That finish has never left my mind since last year, actually. It was very surprising. (Mike) Rockenfeller definitely surprised me at that (third-to-last) corner. I couldn't believe it. I was defending my position from Scott (Pruett) and he took advantage of that. He put the move on me on the inside when I wasn't even thinking he could do it. (Slowing for the) GT car was the beginning of everything and I never recovered from that. Rockenfeller was able to put his nose inside my car and it was too late to close the door. The rest is history. That will be one of the things motivating us this weekend -- the great car that we had last year and the way we were not able to finish our business by winning the race."
As frustrating as it might have been to not win the race last year, how significant was the mere fact you finished on the podium for the first time in 2006?
"It was really exciting, even from where I was sitting and even though we did not get the win. We had a very difficult start to the season last year and we were desperately looking for a strong finish at VIR. Looking back, we got a strong finish and it really broke the ice for the rest of the season. If you remember, we were not even in the top 10 in the points when we came to VIR after four races. But by the time we got to the last race at Miller (Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City), we were in second place in the championship and in position to win it again. Even though we did not win the race last year, VIR is definitely one of the best tracks for the SunTrust team. We had a win there in 2004, and we started on the pole in 2005."
What are your goals and expectations this weekend?
"We've been quite good every year at Virginia, and this weekend I'm expecting us to be as good as in the past. We really need a win after being on the podium three times in a row this year. We want to leave Virginia with a win, for sure, but our goal is to be in front of the (No. 01) Ganassi car in the championship. How we do that really doesn't matter. But I think we will need at least a podium finish because they are usually on the podium, too."
How will the complexion of this year's race be different with the Daytona Prototypes and GT cars running their own, separate races?
"It will be very different than it ever has been for us. VIR is a very long track, and with the GT cars and Prototypes running together, there are usually cars everywhere on the track at the same time, and that is good for the fans. I'm not sure that will happen this weekend in our race. The GT cars make our races more spectacular. You can take advantage of traffic, just like the Porsche took advantage of the traffic at last year's race and beat both me and Scott (Pruett) at the end. It will definitely be a different experience for us."
Quotes from Jan Magnussen, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You have only one race under your belt at VIR and that was in a GT car. Will that be a problem?
"Actually, I am very familiar with the track. I've done a bunch of testing there, and I raced there with the GTO Pontiac. It's really a cool place, one of my favorites because of the layout of the circuit and the beautiful surroundings. It's different from most places we go. I really like the whole country club theme thing. It's narrow, but a really fun layout. It's got the fast chicanes, the slow section right behind the pits, and a pretty cool long straight. It's really an old-school type of layout."
What are your goals and expectations this weekend?
"I'm really looking forward to the race. The goals this weekend are definitely to come away leading in the championship, whether that means winning the race or not. We definitely have a shot at the win. We've been strong at every place we've been. A win is always in the cards for the SunTrust team, and VIR historically has been a good track for the team. It won't be easy, by any means. We need to keep doing what we've been doing. The series is very competitive. A different team has won at every race so far this year. I'd love for us to be the fourth different winner. It's really great competition, so a win against all the strong teams out there would be really special."
Quotes from Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:
With three podiums in three races so far this year, and VIR being one of your stronger tracks, are you feeling particularly good about this weekend?
"VIR has been really good to us. We won the first time we went there in 2004, and we ran really well there last year. It's been great so far this year to be on the podium each race, especially for our brand new team. But it's gotten to the point where we really want to be in the center of the podium for a change! This is another very important race for SunTrust as it falls right in the middle of their footprint. They will be entertaining a big contingent of guests, so we'll be really focused on winning and doing well."
You didn't win the race last year, but you came away with a solid second-place finish after winning in 2004. What makes VIR so good for the SunTrust team?
"It was really disappointing not to win. You just never know what's going to happen until the car crosses the finish line. VIR is just a track that really suits us. We love going there. Our car is good through high-speed corners, and there are a lot of those at this track. There are also a good variety of medium and slow corners and plenty of long straightaway. That kind of variety is a really good thing, and so far we have been able to find the right balance in our setup. I hope things continue to go well there for us again this weekend. We're racing for the championship, and championship points are really important. While we're focused on winning, as we are every weekend, we've just got to be sure to come away with as many points as we can."