Watkins Glen: SunTrust Racing preview

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (June 3, 2008) -- Before the race cars even take to the track for Friday morning's first practice session, SunTrust and the entire Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) organization already know that Saturday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car ...

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (June 3, 2008) -- Before the race cars even take to the track for Friday morning's first practice session, SunTrust and the entire Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) organization already know that Saturday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen will be a race they will never forget.

Just making it to the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International circuit for this weekend's renewal of the annual six-hour endurance marathon represents the mother of all victories, and SunTrust and WTR know that it could not have been done without a tremendous outpouring of support from the entire Rolex Series community.

Fifteen days ago, the WTR transporter carrying the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara race car and basically everything the organization carries with it to the races burned to the ground on I-40 in Texas while traveling back to its Indianapolis headquarters from the last Rolex Series event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, Calif.

No one was hurt in the incident, and truck drivers Larry Harmon and Buddy Johnson were able to save the tractor that pulls the trailer that was destroyed, but that was it. Now, the second-year team that has been called upon to perform above and beyond the everyday call of racing duty for most of the last year was faced with having to assemble, piece-by-meticulous-piece, its entire traveling road show.

Within hours after the transporter fire, sponsors, suppliers, and even the team's fiercest competitors on the race track began to step forward with offers of equipment and support to help get the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac back on track in time for Watkins Glen. Sitting on the shop floor all along -- prepped for sale -- was the old, familiar blue Riley chassis that Max Angelelli, Michael Valiante, team owner Wayne Taylor and Taylor's 18-year-old son Ricky drove to a fifth-place finish at this season's opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. While the team works with Dallara to replace the chassis that was lost in the fire, the tried-and-true Riley will be temporarily pressed into service beginning this weekend.

As for the temporary and permanent replacement of the numerous other items lost in the fire, WTR would like to thank the following organizations for enabling the team to make it to this weekend's event after such a devastating incident: SunTrust, Toshiba, Pontiac and GM Racing, Miracle Sealants, Dallara, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Penske Racing, Cronin Racing Development, Pirelli, Bosch, Brembo, Beta, OMP, BBS, Arai, Riley Technologies, and Performance Graphix. The team would like to add that, obviously, there are many, many others who played a role in the team's recovery effort -- too many to be able to thank as of this writing -- but WTR would like them to know that they are very thankful for all of their many contributions and offers of support.

Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:

How have the last few weeks been for you after the fire that destroyed the team transporter and all of its contents en route to the race shop in Indy after the race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca?

"It's been busier than you can imagine, and very, very difficult to understand. It's been a lot of work, to say the least, talking to people, arranging everything that needs to be arranged for us to go racing again. We all had our areas of responsibility. I had my stuff to do, like contacting our technical support people, our international sponsors, and all of our suppliers outside the U.S. I'll tell you something, everybody has been so amazing. And I thought I knew about our guys and how good they are at what they do, but I now have a whole, new feeling about how good they are. They're like gold."

Are you amazed at all of the offers from so many people to help get you back on track?

"It brings out the best in everybody, for sure. I know if anything ever happens to somebody in our community, I will be jumping at the chance to help them. This is the great thing about America. I think it's the American culture. This is why the European drivers who come over here to race don't ever want to leave. It's a relaxing, family atmosphere. Everybody is completely open. Political games don't really exist. This makes it so good to be a part of it, when people offer to help so much, unconditionally. This is what we have seen the last couple of weeks. I'm very happy to be part of this Grand-Am community. Unfortunately, good things like this are never breaking news. So I hope this time the world will listen when we tell them how great of a community we are part of."

Michael Valiante, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:

Are you looking forward to getting to Watkins Glen and getting on with the business of racing?

"Definitely. I honestly think we should have a shot at winning. It's a six-hour race where speed isn't everything. We've proven that we're quick in the Riley at Daytona, so I'm sure we'll be competitive. The team doesn't go to races just to participate. The Dallara was quick and we were getting familiar with that, but I'm not too worried about switching chassis. It's the least of my worries, to be honest. The toughest part of it is it doesn't affect me as much as it affects the guys on the team who have already been working so hard for so long. So I feel bad for them more than anything. I made it a point to head to Watkins Glen by way of the shop in Indy just to make sure I could be there to help with everything I could and to make sure to get everything that has to do with me in order."

Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:

Since we last saw you at Laguna Seca, the last few weeks must have been just a roller coaster of emotions. How can you describe what you and the team have been through?

"We lost absolutely everything in the fire, which was quite a shock to all of us. The most amazing thing in the aftermath of the fire has been the outpouring of support from the entire Grand-Am community. It's been simply incredible. First and foremost is our longtime sponsor SunTrust. We're thankful for their support in every possible way to help us get this thing back on the road. We're also thankful to Toshiba and Pontiac and GM Racing. While it would be impossible to thank everybody who has come forward to help us right here and now, a very special thanks needs to go out to Chip Ganassi, Mike Hull and Tim Keene at (Chip) Ganassi Racing (with Felix Sabates). They were immediately in touch with us after the incident and they've basically loaned us their trailer and all of the support equipment that they've used to run their second Daytona Prototype in the past. They went so far as to have their guys go through everything to make sure it was working. It's just amazing how everybody has come forward, wanting to help us -- Penske Racing, CRD Engines, Riley, Shank, RumBum, Gene Sigal, Brumos, everybody. We are so very thankful."

How have the members of your organization been holding up with the incredible task of pulling everything together in time to go racing at Watkins Glen?

"Every single person on the team has already gone through a difficult year, but they're all still smiling and they're still pushing to get us ready to win at Watkins Glen. I don't know what I would do in this situation without Simon Hodgson, our general manager, and all of the things he's doing to pull this monumental effort together. And we had Travis Jacobson, our technical director, in Italy for quite some time, working with Dallara to get another chassis built that we can run before the end of the season. Luckily, the Rileys we ran at Daytona haven't been sold. Obviously, it's been a lot of work because the car was really prepped to be sold after the 24-hour. Now, we've had to do a complete rebuild of the car as anyone would do before they go and race it. We're going to the six-hour, so it's not like we're going to a short race. It's a big race. It's a lot of work. There's an enormous amount of preparation. And then getting all of the support equipment up and running and making sure everything looks right. We've also had to get our drivers ready, everything."

Has the magnitude of a six-hour endurance race at a place like Watkins Glen been a particular concern under these circumstances?

"When Max and I won the championship in 2005, we ran at Watkins Glen three times that year and we won two out of the three races in the Riley. The only one that we didn't win was the six-hour. We know the Riley really well. It's a well-developed, competitive car. If you remember, at Daytona, we were one of the fastest cars in the race. So we have no worries about speed. It's a six-hour. It's a tough race. I still think we have the two best drivers in the car with Michael and Max and I still think we have one of the strongest teams out there. So we're going to this race like we go to every other race. The only difference is it won't be with the Dallara. It would've been nice to run the Dallara because then we'd know what we're in for next year. But, you know, we don't have that luxury anymore. Still, everybody is smiling and ready to go racing. This is an incredible group of guys and I can't say enough about them."

-credit: str

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Wayne Taylor , Michael Valiante , Max Angelelli , Chip Ganassi , Gene Sigal , Mike Hull , Felix Sabates
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Team Penske , Wayne Taylor Racing