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SunTrust Closes Out Best Rolex Series Season Since 2005

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Taylor, Angelelli Totally Dominate First Half of 2010 Finale in Utah

Before Clutch Problem on Final Pit Stop Forces Them to Settle for Third-Place Finish

Looking at the bottom line, Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor clinched SunTrust Racing’s best finish since 2005 in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series championship by co-driving the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing to a solid third-place finish in Saturday’s season-ending Utah 250 at Miller Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City.

This year’s second-place finish in the point standings, in itself, is cause for celebration in the SunTrust Racing camp, which claimed the 2005 Rolex Series title at the hands of Angelelli and then-co-driver Wayne Taylor and, in the years since, went on to place third in the 2006, 2007 and 2009 championship chases.

To think that Angelelli and his 21-year-old co-driver Ricky Taylor – the team owner’s son – appeared to be well on their way to putting a huge exclamation point on the season’s second-place finish in the championship with a dominating race win, however, adds just a measure of disappointment to the celebration for the SunTrust team – at least for now.

Taylor, the third-year Rolex Series driver who has enjoyed a thoroughly successful first season with the SunTrust team, wasted little time moving into the lead from his third starting position. He slipped past front-row starter Jon Fogarty in the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley in the first turn of the race. He then dogged polesitter Memo Rojas in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley the rest of that opening tour of the 3.048-mile, 15-turn road course before snatching away first place in turn one of lap two with a bold pass around the outside of Rojas.

From there, Taylor simply drove away from the rest of the field, opening up a 16-second lead before pitting 41 minutes into the race for tires, fuel and to hand the SunTrust car over to Angelelli under green on lap 23.

“I knew we were really strong,” said Taylor, a sophomore in mechanical engineering at the University of Central Florida, about his lap-two pass for the lead. “Once the race got going, I just fell into a rhythm. I knew that if we were going to get the lead, we were going to have make a move on a restart or when the race started. I could see that he (Rojas) was really struggling with a lot of oversteer, and he was also struggling a little bit under braking. Normally, I would never try an outside move like that but, under the circumstances, it was an option.”

Like Taylor, Angelelli was able to open up a hefty cushion over the rest of the field with relative ease during his opening stint. He, too, was up by as many as 18 to 20 seconds over the No. 01 Ganassi car, now driven by Scott Pruett.

But the turning point in the race came during the race’s first of three caution periods on lap 47, just less than 90 minutes into the two-hour, 45-minute timed event. Angelelli led the field down pit lane for the day’s final fuel-and-tire stops with Pruett in the No. 01 car and Alex Gurney in the No. 99 car behind him in second and third, respectively. He exited the pits, however, behind Pruett and Gurney after the SunTrust car stalled ever-so-briefly during the stop due to a clutch problem.

The running order at the front of the pack never changed thereafter, despite a pair of restarts to follow at the two-hour, 21-minute mark, and at the two-hour, 39-minute mark. Pruett went on to win for the Ganassi team’s ninth victory on the season, clinching both the team and driver championships for himself and Rojas by a hefty 40-point margin over the SunTrust team, Angelelli and Taylor. Gurney crossed the finish line in the runner-up spot, 1.9 seconds behind Pruett, while Angelelli was another second behind for the final spot on the podium. The Gainsco team finished third in the championship, seven points behind the SunTrust team.

“I did not have anything for the 01, but I did for the 99, for sure,” Angelelli said. “If it wasn’t for the problem we had on the pit stop – unfortunately, the engine stalled – I believe that I could have maintained my position in front of the 99, but probably not the 01. I don’t think we could have done anything about him (Pruett).”

The SunTrust car led the most laps on the day, pacing the field for 44 of the opening 47 tours of the circuit out of 86 laps total completed – 22 each by Taylor and Angelelli. The No. 01 car led the remaining 42 laps all – the final 39 by Pruett and three in the early going by Rojas.

“The SunTrust car was really good again today,” Taylor said. “I think we got a little unlucky when that yellow came out when it did. Max was safely in the lead at that point and it gave the others an opportunity to get by us. But, all in all, it was a good day and a good season.”

Today’s podium finish was the SunTrust team’s fourth in a row, seventh of the season, and 47th in 90 Rolex Series races since joining the circuit in 2004. Today also marked the fourth consecutive race in which the SunTrust team, the Ganassi team and the Gainsco team occupied the top-three spots on the podium.

“I really just wanted to walk away from here with a win and I really thought, given what happened this morning, with Max being fastest in the warm-up session, and during Ricky and Max’s opening stints during the race, I just didn’t think it would turn out like this,” said team-owner Wayne Taylor, who has now seen SunTrust finish in the top-three in the season-ending points six times in seven seasons. “That’s how small the margin for error in this series is. It’s so competitive. We got here this morning, Max ran the warm-up and was quickest all morning. We started in third and Ricky went around the outside of Rojas in turn one and drove away. It really appeared we had the race in-hand. He seemed to be able to pull away if he needed to. He seemed to get through traffic as well as anybody else. After we pitted under green and he gave the car to Max, Max went out to an 18- to 20-second lead. Pruett definitely started putting down a lot faster laps and got the lead down to about eight seconds, but we were managing it. With the caution, in pit lane it appeared we had a problem with the clutch – perhaps it was dragging – and caused the car to stall. Track position is everything. Both Ricky and Max ran a really good race. We finished third today and second in the championship. That’s continues SunTrust’s consistency of finishing in the top-three in the championship. The Ganassi guys just don’t make any mistakes. They do everything right, and they deserve to win this championship.

“The big thing for us this year is what Max has done to help Ricky. Nobody knows about that side of it – how much he’s put into helping Ricky and bringing Ricky to this point. And, clearly, it’s been a big year for me, personally, with Ricky doing what he’s done. We really didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect just this much speed out of him, and the calmness. And my other son, Jordan, winning more poles that anyone else has in the GT class in his first year, personally, it’s been an unbelievable year family-wise. Team-wise, Simon (Hodgson, general manager) and Travis (Jacobson, technical director), every one of the guys on this team are just so incredible. There’s always so much emotion, so much energy. And, at the end of the day, SunTrust has never wavered in its support of this team and this program. We have to thank them, and Toshiba and Dallara for all their support. It’s been a fantastic year. And I can tell you, next year, we are going out to beat everybody, every single session, every single race.”

The 2011 Rolex Series season kicks off Jan. 29-30 with the traditional Rolex 24 At Daytona on the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway road circuit.