SunTrust Racing: 49th Rolex 24 At Daytona Preview
DAYTONA BEACH, Jan. 27, 2011: Another year older, another year wiser, and seemingly more ready than ever, SunTrust Racing heads to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway to open the 2011 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season with this weekend’s 49th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Italian driving ace Max Angelelli, the one constant in the cockpit for the SunTrust Racing program since it joined the Rolex Series in 2004, is joined for the second year in a row by 21-year-old Ricky Taylor as his full-time co-driver after the duo last season brought SunTrust its highest finish in the Rolex Series championship since 2005. They welcome a familiar face to the lineup for this weekend’s twice-around-the-clock marathon in 29-year-old Australian IZOD IndyCar Series star Ryan Briscoe.
Sporting the familiar “Solid Is Lightning Fast” tagline on its sidepods for the third season in a row, the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Dallara Prototype also welcomes another old friend back to the fold this season – General Motors power in the form of Earnhardt Childress Technologies-built Chevrolet engines under the deck lid. The SunTrust effort was powered by General Motors’ Pontiac brand from 2004 through 2008 before switching to Roush Yates Racing Ford engines in 2009 and 2010.
Add it all up and there’s plenty of cause for optimism in the SunTrust Racing camp. The last time Angelelli welcomed back a Taylor as his full-time co-driver for a second-consecutive Rolex Series season, he was hoisting the champion’s trophy at season’s end. That was in 2005, when Angelelli and three-time sports car racing champion Wayne Taylor kicked off the year with a dominating victory at the Rolex 24. Co-driving with Frenchman Emmanuel Collard, they led a race-high 282 of the 710 race laps en route to the top spot on the podium. Angelelli and Wayne Taylor then went on to win four more races, stood on the podium 10 times in all in 14 events, and in the process they never gave up first place in the point standings and set a record that still stands by finishing all 2,056 race laps contested that year.
This year’s switch to Chevrolet engines also puts the SunTrust team back in the company of General Motors power that helped deliver 12 of SunTrust’s 15 Rolex Series wins, 35 of its 48 podium finishes, and 10 of its 13 pole positions to date. Moreover, team owner Wayne Taylor’s first career Rolex 24 win as a driver and his second career International Motor Sports Association championship came with General Motors’ Oldsmobile engines in 1996.
Angelelli and Ricky Taylor look to pick up where they left off last season and certainly hope the bad luck that plagued the SunTrust team at last year’s Rolex 24 remains a thing of the past. Despite Angelelli’s pole qualifying effort and fastest race lap, the SunTrust team had to battle fiercely just to finish sixth last January at Daytona as numerous extended trips to the pit lane and the garage to repair suspension, gearbox and other maladies cost 44 laps. But after leaving Daytona, the Angelelli-Ricky Taylor combo proved to be championship-caliber the rest of the way as they scored seven podium finishes – highlighted by their Memorial Day victory at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn. – two pole qualifying positions by Taylor, and a solid second-place finish in the championship. Any other year, those kinds of results might have been enough to lay claim to the Rolex Series title, but the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates tandem of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas ran away with the top prize behind a previously unthinkable nine victories in 12 races.
Briscoe, whose full-time job is teammate to Helio Castroneves and Will Power on the three-car Team Penske IZOD IndyCar Series entry, will be making his seventh career Rolex Series appearance and his fifth at the Rolex 24. He drove a pair of races with the SunTrust team in 2006, contributing to podium finishes both times at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in the June six-hour event and the August sprint race. He was slated to drive in that year’s Rolex 24 but never got a chance as Collard was involved in an accident that ended the SunTrust team’s weekend early. Briscoe also finished on the podium in the 2008 Rolex 24 when he co-drove the No. 9 Toshiba Pontiac Riley that was a collaborative effort between Team Penske and Wayne Taylor Racing alongside Castroneves and former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch in the driver’s seat.
Practice for the 49th Rolex 24 At Daytona begins Thursday morning with qualifying set for 3:45 p.m. EST. Race time Saturday is 3:30 p.m. with the first seven hours of live television by SPEED beginning at 3 p.m. SPEED’s second seven-hour segment begins at 9 a.m. Sunday. Live radio coverage will be provided by the Motor Racing Network (MRN) and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128 in four segments – Saturday from 3-5 p.m. and 8-8:30 p.m., and Sunday from 7-7:30 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. Live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions can be found at www.grand-am.com, and now on mobile devices at m.grand-am.com/laptrax.
Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Chevrolet Dallara:
You’re back for another new season, your eighth with the SunTrust team. Do you feel anything special about this year’s renewal of the Rolex 24?
“Every year is a special year. Every year, you have something in the mix that makes it different, that makes it nicer. This year, we have Ryan. Second, Ricky and I are now well-established. There is no newcomer or rookie on the team. We’ve been together full-time for more than a year and we’re proven. We’ve shown we are capable of winning a championship together.”
You weren’t the fastest at the Roar Before the 24 test days earlier this month, like you were last year. How do you feel about your chances of winning this year’s Rolex 24?
“At the test, we weren’t the fastest, but we are very much in the mix. We’re right up there with Ganassi and all the big guys. We’ll be competitive. The No. 10 SunTrust Racing car will be one of the cars to beat. It’s a 24-hour race, so you don’t need a superfast car to win. Look at the last two 24-hour events. They weren’t won by the fastest cars, and so this makes us even more positive and optimistic. I don’t know the story behind the lap times the other guys did at the test. But I know what we did. We’re as happy as we can be with where we ended up. The last two years, I ended up being the fastest in the test and we didn’t win the race. I’d much rather exchange those fastest lap times in practice for a victory in the Rolex 24. This year, I think we have our strongest driver lineup, yet. I don’t want to get too excited, but after all the things that happened to us last year, we’re due for a clean race from beginning to end.”
What are your thoughts about the new Earnhardt Childress Chevrolet engine after the test days?
“The new Chevrolet makes the dynamic of the car identical. The changes in weight distribution are minimal. In my opinion, we might need to be allowed to utilize some more horsepower to battle more fairly with the BMW engines. We have it in the GM engine package, but we are not allowed to utilize it per the series engine rules. But, overall, I’m happy with the performance of the engine and the reliability we expect to benefit from at the 24-hour.”
How did you enjoy the new pavement around the superspeedway portion of the racetrack during test days?
“It’s new paving, but the track is still the same, the corners are still the same. It’s slightly easier to get around, especially going into turn one. Everybody will be bunched up heading into there rather than seeing big gaps between the cars because it’s easier to make the transition, now. So you will have more people achieving very similar lap times. That’s the silly thing that happens after you repave a racetrack. The good thing is, it will be tremendously exciting for the fans.”
Ricky Taylor, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Chevrolet Dallara:
You’re only 21 years old, but this will be your fourth Rolex 24 in a Daytona Prototype. Are you starting to feel like a seasoned veteran?
“It’s my fourth 24-hour and, in a lot of ways, I should be feeling like a seasoned veteran, but every year I learn that there are so many things I realize I don’t know. Maybe that’s a good thing. But, really, every year I’m feeling more and more confident, so that’s the best part of all. The SunTrust team is stronger. I really just have to focus on myself, and focus on the best job I can and the results will take care of themselves.”
What have you learned about the Rolex 24 in your first three tries at it?
“It’s a true endurance race. If you think about it, you have to be there at the front for the last few hours. But, in reality, every hour is a challenge because you have to stay on the lead lap. In your typical sprint races, you know what you have to do. You know you have to push 100 percent every lap and take advantage of every opportunity you get. In the 24-hour, you have to maintain that same kind of intensity but you can’t do anything that will lead you to make mistakes – until you get to those last few hours and you have a shot at it.”
How do you like working with the new Chevrolet engine?
“The Chevy engine was very strong at the test, as we expected. We had no issues with it. We just worked on little things for driveability’s sake, which we have sorted out, now, for the race. As for the test, we had a plan and we had a bunch of things to get done and we got it all done with no dramas. When I looked at how we stacked up against everybody else, I just thought how competitive it continues to get. We were 27 hundredths (of a second) off third and, obviously, it’s very competitive. Even though the car counts aren’t as good as they were in maybe ’05 and ’06, the quality of the field is much, much better. I’m confident we’ll be there challenging for the win, if all goes well.”
What do you think of this year’s SunTrust driver lineup for the Rolex 24?
“I think it’s a really good combination. I’ve been a big fan of Ryan’s his whole career. We’re like a big family. With Max and my dad managing Ryan, there’s excellent chemistry all the way around. We all know each other so well. We know what Max can do. He thrives on this race, in particular, and continues to be one of the best drivers this series has ever seen. Ryan is an excellent addition to the lineup. He’s an awesome racecar driver. He doesn’t make mistakes, and he’s honest-to-goodness one of the fastest guys out there.”
Did you enjoy driving on the newly paved superspeedway portion of the track during the test days?
“The new paving, to me, it’s a little sad because the bumps were what gave character to the racetrack at Daytona. But, on the other side, it’s really nice to be part of history by being the first race to run on the new surface. It’s really smooth and will be really easy on the equipment over 24 hours. We’ll have to get used to a couple of things that have changed a little bit. For example, turn one that takes us into the infield road course. The whole appearance of the corner has changed. It’s much more open and much more black with no markings like before. I used to use the dotted lines (lane stripes) for my reference points for braking. It’ll make for really good racing, though. Truly exciting for the fans.”
You and your brother Jordan spent eight days before the holidays at a high-tech medical facility for racecar drivers in Italy called Formula Medicine. How did that go, and what did you learn?
“It’s a place Max has worked with and I wanted to take my usual way of preparing for the race weekend and upgrade it. We went there and got a full evaluation – mental, physical and medical – and we learned how to improve every aspect of our game. Now, I can push through race weekends with much more knowledge and understanding of how to get the most out of myself. You always work to get the most out of the racecar, but you also want to know how to get the most out of yourself. I definitely learned a lot. Before, every weekend I’d get nervous and feel anxiety and stuff, so I learned some techniques on how to relax myself and keep myself in the right mindset for the race. Everything they told me to do, they tested to see how I responded to it. What worked, I’ve kept in the program. Now, I’ll get to try everything out for real at the Rolex 24.”
Ryan Briscoe, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Chevrolet Dallara:
The word “family” came up when all three of your co-drivers were asked about this year’s SunTrust Racing lineup at the Rolex 24. What do you think about that?
“It’s absolutely like family. It’s neat to be teamed up with Max, Ricky and Wayne, and it’s an honor for me to join those guys with what I think is a very competitive car. We’ve really got a shot at winning the 24-hour race, so it’s special because it’s family and I think we’re definitely doing all the right things to make it happen. Max started managing my career in 2002 back when I was a Toyota F1 test driver. We’ve been close ever since. I’ve gotten to know Wayne really well since 2005 when I came to the ’States and, ever since I’ve been here, whenever the 24 hours of Daytona comes around, we talk about what opportunities there can be to do it together. In 2005, I was with Ganassi. In ’06 with SunTrust team. Then, in ’08, we did it together in the Penske-Taylor operation. Now, it’s great to be back with Wayne again in the SunTrust car. Every year, we see if we can work it out. I’m really happy about what we have going on this year.”
This is your seventh Rolex Series event, your fifth Rolex 24, but your first time driving the Chevrolet-Dallara package. What do you think of it?
“I think it’s a great package that is really strong. Dallara and Chevy – they’re definitely two manufacturers who have absolutely one goal and that’s to win, and it’s great to be associated to them. This Dallara program has lot of common ground with what I’m used to on the IndyCar side. We have a great relationship with the Dallara folks. And Chevy is just great. It’s a great addition to Wayne Taylor Racing. For me, it’s pretty special, as well, since the announcement of Chevy joining the IndyCar series in 2012 and Team Penske committed to running Chevrolet engines. It’s funny because Dallara-Chevy for me comes one year before it will for me at Penske. The Dallara is a great car. Obviously, it’s been tuned the last couple of years. For me, it’s the best car I’ve ever driven at Daytona. For me, it’s an awesome car. We didn’t have the outright fastest speed at the test days, but the car felt great and everything was reliable.”
Wayne Taylor, team owner and co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Chevrolet Dallara team:
Your overall thoughts headed into another new season with the Rolex 24?
“As always, this is the race of the year. It’s our home race. What makes this year really great is having Max, Ricky and Ryan together. Looking at all the other teams, I believe we have the strongest driver lineup. I’m obviously glad to be back with General Motors. You always go into the Rolex 24 with everybody wanting to win. But you’ve also got to think about the championship and this being the first race of the season, and being such a big event. It’s no different in points, though. It’s the same amount of points you’d get if you’d win a sprint race, so you have to get through this race with as many points as you can if you want to be in good position to win the championship. I think we’ve made some good improvements over the winter with the SunTrust car. I think that Max, Ricky and Ryan are not only the fastest and most consistent, but all three have great experience in sports car racing. Their lap times were almost identical during the test days, so that kind of consistency goes a long way toward your chances of winning this race.”
Your name is listed on the driver lineup once again this year. How much can we expect to see you in the car?
“I’ll actually be playing more of a role of team owner rather than driver, although I’m listed on the car. Really, the bulk of the driving will be done by Max, Ricky and Ryan. If it becomes necessary, I will be there to jump in.”
What do you think about the new surface on the superspeedway portion of the circuit?
“It’s a lot nicer. It’s very, very smooth and, where in the past, on the oval part of the track, the cars used to jump around a lot with all the bumps and stuff. Now, it’s like a billiard table, so I think it’ll be easier for the drivers and less difficult on the equipment. In the past, you really had to concentrate on the banking because there were so many bumps and the car would be moving around so much. Now, with it being so smooth, you can lower the car, and when you lower the car, it makes it that much easier to drive. And, overall, it’ll be a lot easier on the equipment.”
What’s the key to winning this race, considering you’ve done it twice in your career, already?
“With the series as competitive as it is, the most important part of the 24-hour race is to stay on the lead lap. If you look at the last two years, the race has been won by no more than seconds over the entire 24 hours. The way the race starts and ends later in the afternoon, the nighttime is crucial. The hardest part of the night is if it gets really, really cold and you have difficulty getting heat in the tires. Hopefully, we won’t have any cold weather, we can stay on the lead lap, and be there racing for the win at the end.”