Solid Start but No Happy Ending at The Glen SunTrust Team Leads 12 Laps Early, Battles with Fellow Title Contenders Late, But Sees It All Disappear with Blown Tire as the Result of an Earlier Incident For being the shortest race on the 2009 ...
Solid Start but No Happy Ending at The Glen SunTrust Team Leads 12 Laps Early, Battles with Fellow Title Contenders Late, But Sees It All Disappear with Blown Tire as the Result of an Earlier Incident
For being the shortest race on the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series calendar, Friday night's Crown Royal 200 at The Glen was packed with a season's worth of drama from beginning to end. But one of the teams that appeared destined for a happy ending during the two-hour event -- the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing -- was only left wondering what might have been, through no fault of its own, as it had to settle for a 12th-place finish.
SunTrust Racing co-drivers Brian Frisselle and Max Angelelli, who started the day just one point behind the championship co-leaders from Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing, did their absolute best to keep the Rolex Series title chase a three-team battle with a valiant driving effort tonight.
Frisselle led 12 laps and turned several of the fastest tours of the 2.45-mile, 11-turn Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International NASCAR road circuit in the early part of the race. He and the SunTrust team stuck to their strategy, deciding to stay on course during the second and third of three early caution periods that came in rapid succession from laps 24 to 35 while the Ganassi and Gainsco teams decided to gamble on fuel and topped off their tanks on the third yellow hoping it would get them to the finish. Frisselle then gave up the lead when he pitted under green on lap 45 to turn the SunTrust Racing machine over to Angelelli and for tires and fuel enough to go the distance. Two laps later, the Ganassi and Gainsco teams also rolled onto pit road for more fuel, having thought the better of gambling with the championship on the line.
And the championship chase was on with just less than an hour to go as the three contenders were running in close quarters in the seventh, eighth and ninth positions with most, if not all, of the cars in front of them having to pit for fuel before the checkered flag flew.
But the beginning of the end for the SunTrust team came on lap 71, with roughly 30 minutes remaining, when Angelelli was swept across the track by Christophe Bouchut in the No. 55 Supercar Life BMW Riley and then was slammed from behind by a GT-class competitor who had nowhere else to go coming out of the high-speed, right-hand turn 7. Bouchut and Angelelli continued, albeit with visible damage to the right-rear of the SunTrust racecar.
Despite the damage, Angelelli was still able to turn solid race laps and, over the next 14 laps, was able to work his way into the top-five along with the No. 01 Ganassi and No. 99 Gainsco cars of Scott Pruett and Alex Gurney, respectively. Angelelli even made a brilliant pass of Gurney on a lap-75 restart to take fifth place, and then set his sights on catching the second-place car of Pruett over the final 10 minutes.
Just two laps later, however, the right-rear tire on the SunTrust car blew while approaching the same right-left-right combination of turns where the altercation with Bouchut and the GT car occurred on lap 71. Angelelli was forced to pit for a new tire, continued in 13th, and could pick up no more than one position over the final eight minutes to finish 12th.
"How can I describe what happened (in the incident with Bouchut)? He just hit me," Angelelli said. "And then the GT car hit me from behind and created the problem in the right rear. I don't know if we had a winning car today, but we definitely were better than the (No.) 99, the (No.) 55, the (No.) 12 (Penske Racing Porsche). I don't think we could keep the pace of the (No.) 01. They were definitely strong today. I'm just really, really disappointed because we should have definitely been in the top-five. It's going to be difficult to win the championship, but we have three races to continue the fight. Whatever team can be perfect for the next three races is going to have the best chance to win it. We know we are capable of doing that. We can only hope for the best."
"It was very unfortunate," added Frisselle, who won this race a year ago in the No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford Riley. "The SunTrust car today was really good. The strategy wasn't perfect, but we were still in contention for a great result. Bouchut went off course, and when he came back on, he came on recklessly and pushed Max into the GT car and that's what led to our losing our tire. It's really unfortunate that happened. But we'll put our heads down and see what we can do. It's not over until it's over."
Pruett, co-driver Memo Rojas and the Ganassi team went on to finish second behind the No. 76 Krohn Racing Ford Lola of Ricardo Zonta and Nic Jonsson, which scored its second victory of the season. The Gainsco Pontiac, with Gurney and Jon Fogarty behind the wheel, finished fourth, behind the third-place No. 55 car of Bouchut and Scott Tucker. With the runner-up finish, the Ganassi team moved into sole possession of first place in the standings, four points ahead of the Gainsco team and 14 points ahead of the third-place SunTrust team. Three races remain on the 2009 schedule.
"Another tough day," said team owner Wayne Taylor. "I don't know what to say. We're leading. We're on a perfect strategy. The yellows put us back a bit. Then the incident with Bouchut -- I don't know what happened but, unfortunately, Max looked like he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and it hurt the right-rear of the car. And then, of course, we lost the right-rear tire and had to come in. I just feel bad. All these guys have worked really hard. The car was fast, yet again. We just have to put it all together. Now we go to Canada."
Next up is Round 10 on the 2009 Rolex Series schedule at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal on Saturday, Aug. 29.