Grand Am Prototype - SunTrust Duo Looks To Resume Rolex Series Season On Right Foot In Alabama
BIRMINGHAM, March 28, 2012: It’s doubtful there ever was a racetrack that looked as good to the SunTrust Racing duo of Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor as Barber Motorsports Park on the outskirts of Birmingham, Ala., the setting for Saturday’s GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Porsche 250.
The 2.3-mile, 17-turn road circuit at Barber is situated at the foot of some of the greenest, most immaculately manicured grassy berms and wooded walking trails this side of Augusta National. There are numerous, eye-catching sculptures throughout the property depicting oversized insects, along with various other pieces of modern art, which have become quite popular over the years among the Rolex Series competitors and fans. And, along the backstretch, there is the most amazing vintage motorsports museum, which features some 1,200 classic motorcycles and racecars, many of which date back more than a century.But this weekend, it’s not these unique features of Barber Motorsports Park that are on the minds of Angelelli, Taylor and the No. 10 SunTrust Corvette Dallara DP team of Wayne Taylor Racing. It’s just the plain fact they’re finally able to hit the racetrack once again after an eight-week hiatus in the schedule.
Last we saw of the SunTrust Racing team in January at the 50th Rolex 24 At Daytona that kicked off the 2012 season – and if you would’ve blinked, you probably would’ve missed it – a mechanical issue just 30 minutes into the 24-hour endurance classic plucked it right out of the race and sent the team packing all too prematurely in shock and disbelief.
What made it particularly disheartening was that winter testing showed the all-new Corvette DP body, packaged with the tried-and-true Dallara chassis and Earnhardt Childress Racing power under the engine cover, proved time and again to be one of the fastest Daytona Prototype entries in the entire field. Meticulous preparation by the SunTrust team, which certainly knows first-hand how to win such a 24-hour marathon after pulling off the feat at the outset of its 2005 Rolex Series championship season, had Angelelli and Taylor feeling fully confident that this would finally be the year for a repeat.
But, despite Angelelli’s front-row qualifying effort and solid start to the race at the front of the field, the team’s Rolex 24 weekend was over … just ... like … that.
Like all championship-caliber racers, Angelelli, Taylor and the SunTrust team would have liked nothing more than to be back at it the very next weekend. But the eight-week gap in the schedule between rounds one and two have felt like an eternity, in light of the circumstances.
Welcome, once again, to Barber Motorsports Park, where Angelelli and three-time sports car racing champion Wayne Taylor scored a resounding victory for SunTrust back in that 2005 title-winning season, and where the SunTrust team has felt so much at home at the front of the starting grid, at the very least, with a pair of pole positions and top-four qualifying efforts in each of its previous eight outings.
This is where Ricky Taylor scored his first career Rolex Series pole two seasons ago for the SunTrust team, and where he qualified on the front row once again last year. This is where Angelelli co-drove to podium finishes in his first four starts for the SunTrust team from 2004 through 2007. But this is also where the SunTrust team has run into race-day troubles of one form or another each of the last three seasons that led to incredibly rare finishes outside the top-10.
As they return to the outskirts of Birmingham this weekend, Angelelli and Taylor are primed and ready to pick up where they left off at the end of 2011– a dominating stretch during which they won three times, started on the front row for eight consecutive races (including a near-series-record six consecutive poles by Taylor), finished on the podium seven consecutive times, and led almost 60 percent of all laps contested (514 of 897) over that span.
After all, if ever a pair of co-drivers was justified in feeling the racing gods owed them one, that time is now for Angelelli and Taylor.
Practice for Saturday’s 2-hour, 45-minute Porsche 250 – part of the weekend’s featured Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama – begins Thursday afternoon with qualifying set for Friday at 11:45 a.m. EDT. Race time Saturday is 1:15 p.m. EDT with SPEED’s same-day-delayed television coverage beginning at 4 p.m. Live radio by the Motor Racing Network (MRN) and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90 begins with a 30-minute pre-race show at 12:45 p.m. EDT. Live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions can be found at www.grand-am.com, and on mobile devices at m.grand-am.com/laptrax.
Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Corvette Dallara DP:
You’ve had eight weekends without racing since the Rolex 24 At Daytona. What is your level of anticipation heading into Saturday’s race at Barber Motorsports Park?
“I’m very hungry to get back out there and race but, at the same time, I am very cautious because of where we are in the championship after what happened at the Daytona 24-hour. So, we have to have a clean race at Barber. Barber is a racetrack where, if you’re not leading, it is very difficult to overtake. If you’re leading, it’s another story, so this is what we need to focus on. Fortunately, Barber is a track where we have qualified very well ever since we started going there, and I think we can expect to start at or near the front again this year.”
It had to be quite a shock to see your Rolex 24 bid come to a sudden halt the way it did this year. During these last eight weeks off, have you had a chance to get over it?
“It’s going to take another year to get over Daytona because it’s such a big deal, especially this year with the new car and testing with it and all the preparation we did. We felt pretty sure that we could win the race. That is the way we work, and what we were thinking, and this is why it was so painful. The good news is we are not too far out in the points and we have 12 races left to get to the championship. So we just need to get back to business the way we know how to do it and we should be OK.”
Ricky Taylor, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Corvette Dallara DP:
Barber has been a good track for you, personally, as you’ve qualified well – including getting your first career Rolex Series pole in 2010 – and you’ve had good, solid opening stints. What is your outlook for this weekend?
“It’s funny, actually, because every single race, we come up with key points about what we need to do and, every race, it seems to be all about track position. Barber is definitely one of those tracks where that is true. The way the Rolex Series is, if you need to make passes, there are so many opportunities with the GT cars out there that it can make for some really exciting racing. Even at a small track like Barber, where it is difficult to pass, there’s still a lot of passing. Somehow, the way the GRAND-AM formula is, it’s really exciting for the fans, and you can create opportunities to make up positions, if the situation is right. But, if we can start up front like we always seem to do, here, that’ll just be another positive for the weekend. Our new Corvette DP is definitely very good. It’s come a long way from when it first debuted. We did a lot of testing before Daytona. We did a high-downforce test at NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana earlier this month and we learned a lot that will definitely come into play at Barber because it is certainly a high-downforce track. I’m anxious to see how we are going to do there after what we learned.”
Your Rolex Series-record personal streak of 17 consecutive races led came to an unfortunate end at Daytona. How do you feel about having had that kind of a run?
“It was really a cool statistic to have. That’s really hats off to the team and everything they do because we had such a good qualifying car the last year or so. When you have a strong car in qualifying and you have a good starting position, it makes leading laps a lot easier and you can control the race from the front. We worked on that a lot last year and found out what makes for a good car over a single lap. In addition to qualifying well and having a good starting position, it helped us save tires because many times we started the race on our qualifying tire, and getting it done in qualifying on one or two laps was really crucial. We missed out another race to lead at Daytona but, hopefully, we can pick it back up again at Barber.”
Wayne Taylor, team owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Corvette Dallara DP:
Your overall thoughts heading back to Barber, which has posed quite a challenge the last few years in terms of results?
“It was a real shocking start to the season the way we did, given our preparation and the new car and being so competitive through winter testing and on into the race weekend. It’s racing, though. I just can’t believe it happened at Daytona. It feels like it’s been a year with everything going on since then. Now I’m looking at Barber as the first of our 12-race season. We can’t keep thinking about Daytona. We have to get over it because there’s nothing we can do about it, and move on. The situation we’re in is not all that bad. The way we’re looking at it, we’re always racing the Ganassi guys. They didn’t have the best of weekends, either, so we’re not starting out with such a big deficit to them. Hopefully, we’ll have a good race at Barber. I see no reason why we shouldn’t get back into that groove we were in last season because everybody’s continued to working hard, and they’re more determined than ever before.”