ALTON, Va. (April 21, 2010) -- Eyjafjallajokull. It's a tongue-twister of a name SunTrust Racing driver Max Angelelli will never forget. The recently erupted volcano in Iceland, pronounced EY-ya-fyat-lah-YOH-kuht (or, "Hey, you forgot La Yogurt,"...
ALTON, Va. (April 21, 2010) -- Eyjafjallajokull. It's a tongue-twister of a name SunTrust Racing driver Max Angelelli will never forget. The recently erupted volcano in Iceland, pronounced EY-ya-fyat-lah-YOH-kuht (or, "Hey, you forgot La Yogurt," as recommended by The New York Times), has managed to snarl airline travel worldwide after blanketing the skies over Europe for more than a week with ash clouds and debris.
Like the hundreds of thousands of air travelers affected, Angelelli, who co-drives the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing, felt utterly helpless as he was working frantically to find a way to get from his home in Italy to Saturday's GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Bosch Engineering 250 at Virginia International Raceway in Alton.
For five solid days and nights, Angelelli was on the phone and on the Internet, watching the weather and piecing together flight scenarios that would hopefully get him to the Virginia circuit on time. He ended up with loads of options -- eight confirmed itineraries, to be exact -- the first of which had him scheduled to leave Bologna, Italy, bound for Munich, Germany, at 6 a.m. local time Wednesday. The skies cleared sufficiently for the first leg of Angelelli's journey to take to the air, but a secondary wave of ash clouds and debris threatened to arrive in Germany about the time he was scheduled to depart for Chicago. It was a nervous wait.
As fate would have it, Angelelli's flight was cleared to leave Munich late Wednesday afternoon, local time, and he was on his way to his U.S. destination, bringing a huge sigh of relief to his SunTrust Racing teammates, sponsors and followers.
Of all the tracks on the Rolex Series schedule, VIR is certainly one that Angelelli would work day and night to get to. He and co-driver Ricky Taylor, the 20-year-old mechanical engineering major at the University of Central Florida, will be looking to put the SunTrust car in victory lane at VIR for the third time. It's one of only four tracks where the SunTrust car has scored multiple victories. It has started on the pole twice, there, and has led a total of 102 laps around the 3.27-mile, 17-turn circuit the last six seasons.
Taylor is also understandably eager to get back behind the wheel after qualifying on the pole two weekends ago at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., and thoroughly dominating the first 15 laps of the race. He gave up the lead only on an early round of pit stops for fuel and tires before resuming in seventh place behind three cars that did not pit and three that took fuel only. Taylor raced his way back to second place before turning the car over to Angelelli 46 laps later. Unfortunately for the SunTrust team, late-race contact with another competitor resulted in suspension damage that led to the No. 10 car's retirement 28 laps from the checkered flag. The 12th-place finish dropped the team from fifth to seventh in the standings, 33 points behind the series-leading No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, but only 12 points out of second.
With nine races remaining on the 2010 Rolex Series calendar, Angelelli and Taylor are looking to turn things around at VIR and fight their way back in to the championship hunt. For Angelelli, at least, it may seem like the most difficult part was simply getting there.
Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:
It has been a stressful week for you, simply trying to get to this weekend's race at VIR. How did it all unfold, for you?
"Yes, it has been stressful. I learned a lot. I think I can officially say that I know everything there is to know about being a travel agent. You can ask me anything about booking flights, now, and I'll have the answer for you. I was working on my flights and watching the weather for five days, 24 hours a day, and I can tell you that I personally know every Lufthansa customer service agent by name. By Wednesday, I was pretty confident I could get from Italy to Germany. But then they were talking about the second wave (of ash clouds) that was supposed to hit south of England mid-day (Wednesday). Still, I believed that if I could reach Germany, 80 percent of the deal was done. Thankfully, it worked out. Now, I can get back to thinking about the race on Saturday. I don't think I've ever felt more thankful to reach the racetrack than I will on Friday morning when it's time to start practice."
Looking back on the opening three events, how do you feel about how things have been going on the racetrack?
"I'm really looking for this weekend to be a turning point. Actually, we have been waiting for that turning point to happen for a few races, now. As you can see, we have a very competitive car. We have an exceptional team. I have a great co-driver. There is going to be a turning point, and I really hope this is going to be our turning point. Ricky was perfect in qualifying at Barber. He was perfect at the start of the race. We never had any doubt that he could do what he did. But, still, we left Barber with empty hands and I'm still feeling very bad about that. I never give up. We, as a team, will never give up. We will keep pushing and try to turn things right-side up because we are a little upside-down in the championship right now. But we have time to change that, and the team to do it."
VIR is one of the tracks that have been very good to the SunTrust team over the years. How big of a factor do you believe that will be this weekend?
"We are always talking about being good at that track. It's great to go back because we have good history there. But, lately, I'm starting to wonder if we perform better on the racetracks where we've had bad history, rather than the racetracks where we've had good history. So, I hesitate to say we are going to do well there. This championship is so tight, just because a track has been good to you doesn't guarantee you anything. Every weekend, it's like starting from zero. This is exactly what Grand-Am is -- very close, very competitive, unpredictable racing. It's not as easy as it used to be to look good out there, and it's very easy to look bad. One team is really hot right now -- the Ganassi team -- and everybody else is fighting for second place. They deserve their wins because they're winning with speed and strategy, they keep a cool head, and they don't give anything to anybody. I will tell you that I believe we are absolutely capable of performing like that, too. We just need to hit our stride, and I hope we can start this weekend."
Ricky Taylor, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara:
It was a major milestone weekend for you at Barber, winning your first Rolex Series pole in only your second attempt with the SunTrust team, and dominating the first part of the race. How do you feel about heading to VIR this weekend?
"I'm really excited. Out of all the tracks we go to, except for Daytona, I've driven more laps at VIR than any other track. I feel very comfortable there. The SunTrust car has been working very well, lately, and if we can just rid ourselves of those unlucky things that have been happening to us, I know we can piece together a bunch of winning weekends.
What was it like to win your first pole for the SunTrust team?
"It was definitely the highlight of my career. I knew what lap time we could do and I knew we could be on pole -- definitely in the top-three. The only thing I didn't know at the time was if somebody else wasn't going to pull something out that they weren't showing. The Dallara is good there, at Barber, where you can pack a lot of downforce on the car. When you're the qualifying driver, that's the highlight of your weekend because that's when you can really push your hardest and show what you can do. In the race, you're just trying to stay clean and hand the car over to your closing driver in good shape. It's so difficult to get poles these days with the Ganassi car and the Gainsco car seemingly unbeatable in qualifying the last few years. When (team manager) Simon (Hodgson) told me on the radio that I was on pole, it was just unbelievable."
Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara team:
Sitting in seventh place in the championship after three races is not familiar territory for you. What is your outlook?
"Obviously, we're not incredibly happy with the big picture, right now, so it's time to refocus on what is right in front of us. If you look at the individual elements that make up a successful team, we most certainly have the pieces in place. We just haven't had the results to show for it. We have the best team, the best partners anyone can ask for. We have Max, who has won many races and championships. And we have Ricky, who has really shown he can be put up against the best. Ricky winning the pole at Barber, and the way he drove in the race, makes me really feel we have the best driver lineup. The goal for the SunTrust program has always been to win the championship. But, being so far out of the lead, already, the smart thing to do right now is to simply focus on qualifying well, leading laps and winning races. I really don't want to use the word 'championship' for a while because I feel like every time I do, it haunts me. If we just keep our heads focused on the here-and-now, get everything right that we have in our control, then the championship will take care of itself."