The timing couldn't have been better for co-drivers Max Angelelli and Memo Gidley to bring their No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley of Wayne Taylor Racing to one of the fastest circuits on the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series schedule. Last...
The timing couldn't have been better for co-drivers Max Angelelli and Memo Gidley to bring their No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley of Wayne Taylor Racing to one of the fastest circuits on the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series schedule.
Last Friday, the SunTrust team's season-long search for speed -- an oftentimes excruciating experience as it has challenged the minds of its drivers, engineers and team owner, alike -- finally paid off in the form of a first-place trophy and champagne in victory lane at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
It was a magical experience north of the border at the first-ever Rolex Series event on Montreal's legendary Formula 1 circuit as Angelelli and co-driver Jan Magnussen were fastest in two of the three practice sessions, qualified on the front row, and led a race-high 45 of 68 laps enroute to their second victory of the season.
This Friday's Crown Royal 200 at The Glen gives Angelelli, Gidley and the rest of the SunTrust team the chance to verify what they found at Montreal was truly the formula for speed they've been looking for since the season kicked off in January. If it is, safe to say they'll be feeling extremely good about their chances of regaining the lead in the driver and team championships, which they haven't seen since capturing their first win of the season at Alton, Va., the last weekend in April.
Unlike the annual June running of the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, which utilizes the 3.4-mile long course at Watkins Glen International Raceway, Friday's 200-mile Rolex Series "sprint" race takes place on the lightning-fast 2.45-mile short course that also will showcase NASCAR's Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series competitors on Saturday and Sunday.
Angelelli already has tasted "sprint-race" victories at The Glen in the SunTrust Racing machine, co-driving with team owner Wayne Taylor to both wins in 2005 enroute to the series championship. In this past June's six-hour event at The Glen, Angelelli, Taylor and Jonathan Cochet brought home SunTrust's seventh podium finish in eight outings at the historic track, dating back to 2004.
With Gidley sharing the cockpit alongside Angelelli this time around, hopes are once again high in the SunTrust camp as the familiar blue No. 10 finds itself just two points behind the No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley atop the team championship chase, while Angelelli is also just two points behind the No. 01 team's Scott Pruett in the driver championship. Seven points behind the SunTrust team and Angelelli are the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley and its drivers, Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, who have won five races, earned eight pole positions, and have started on the front row at all 11 races, thus far.
Gidley was solid in his debut with the SunTrust team two races ago at Barber Motorsports Park outside Birmingham, Ala. He qualified fourth and helped lead the way to the team's seventh podium finish in the season's first 10 events. Gidley, whose brother-in-law and veteran character actor Chris McDonald, an upstate New York native, will give the command "Gentlemen, start your engines" on Friday night, has some unfinished business of his own to take care of. Gidley's bid for a podium finish in the No. 77 Doran Racing entry in June was foiled late in the race by a flat tire.
Practice and qualifying for Friday's Crown Royal 200 at The Glen all take place Thursday, with qualifying set for 4:30 p.m. EDT. Race time for Friday's 200-mile (or 2½-hour, whichever comes first) Rolex Series race is 6:30 p.m. with SPEED-TV providing same-day-delayed coverage beginning at 8 p.m.
Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You're heading to Watkins Glen after a highly satisfying victory at Montreal last Friday. Is it safe to assume the team is feeling confident as it prepares to do battle Friday evening at The Glen?
"Watkins Glen has been a track where we've always been pretty good. We left Montreal with the feeling that we might have found something, but we need at least another race to double-check whether what we found is what we've been looking for in our search for speed. Going to Watkins Glen, we know that we were already fast in the June race. There is a question mark of rain, which is typical at Watkins Glen, but I'm not too concerned about it. Now that the championship race is so close, we are all so packed, the rest of the season becomes very delicate in that no one can make any mistakes. All three of us -- the 01, the 99 and the No. 10 -- are the three that are going down to the wire. If all goes well this weekend, I will be much more relieved."
With the championship so tight among the three teams at the top, do you feel you are right where you want to be, which is pretty much in control of your own destiny?
"Obviously, everybody would rather be way out in front in the points race. But this is not the case. It is a very tight race. I feel much better now than a week ago because being behind by two points is better than being behind by 11. We always knew that we were competitive with the 01. But now, after what we found at Montreal, we really are looking more competitive against the 99, too. And being two points behind the 01 actually puts us in a much better position because we can focus on just finishing ahead of the 01 instead of having to beat them by several positions each race. Anything can happen in the final three races. The race that will probably be the most important will be (the season finale at) Salt Lake City because it's a long-distance race. There are a lot of variables at that race, like last year when we lost the championship because of a little electrical issue. But it all starts this weekend at Watkins Glen."
Quotes from Memo Gidley, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You're back with the SunTrust team after a relatively successful debut at Birmingham. What's on your mind as you head to Watkins Glen this weekend?
"I'm very excited. For me, it's great to get an opportunity to be with the SunTrust team, which has a lot of experience and a lot of good results to go with it. For me, Birmingham was about how well I jelled with the team and how well I got along and enjoyed working with everybody on the team, including Max, my co-driver. It's very important when you're sharing a car with someone that you are able to work together. And it was really satisfying at the end of each day to have that feeling. As a first weekend, it was great. I felt like I'd been with SunTrust a long time, already. So I'm really looking forward to this second race weekend to build on what we did the first time and to have the good experience again. I love Watkins Glen and I really look forward to being with the team again."
Where does Watkins Glen rate among the many tracks you've raced on in your career?
"I love racing at Watkins Glen. I'm a big fan of high-speed corners. If I'm going to have a choice, I prefer fast corners like they have at Watkins Glen. The last time I raced at Watkins Glen with Kevin Doran (last June), even though we weren't able to qualify because of a technical deal, we had an awesome weekend. We were running third in the race, but ended up having a flat tire that dropped us down at the end. But it was a great weekend. I love that track. It has a lot of history. And it's just fast. I love fast tracks. I'm just going to go out there and have some fun, drive fast, and help Max and the team get closer to the championship. The SunTrust car ran really well there the last time. I'm looking forward to it. The car was great to drive at Barber. I'm sure it's going to be great to drive at Watkins Glen, too, so it'll make the experience that much more enjoyable."
Quotes from Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:
The feeling at Montreal was that all the hard work and focus on trying to find the formula for speed came together for the SunTrust team. Does that make you particularly confident heading into Watkins Glen?
"I think that's the case, for certain. And I think Watkins Glen is a track where we always seem to have a good car. It's always been one of our favorite tracks. And we have every reason to believe we will show up there with a competitive car again this weekend, just like at Montreal. We found the little things that made the car better, and we need to keep improving on that. As always, we need to be ahead of the 99 and the 01 again. We're coming to Watkins Glen with all of the same ingredients, the only difference being that we're replacing Jan with Memo. Hopefully that all adds up to another winning recipe."
With three races to go, the points race, with nine points separating the top three teams, is certainly shaping up to be a good one. Who would you think is in the driver's seat, at this point?
"To be honest, I think we're in the best position because we're not under the kind of pressure the 01 is, trying to hold onto its lead. We can go to Watkins Glen with less pressure than they can. It's all good for the series. We still need to see if the 99 returns to their good form. They had some bad luck during their pit stop at Montreal. But it's clear who the three quickest cars are, and in all likelihood it will come down to the very last race."