Angelelli, Magnussen victorious at VIR Max Angelelli and Jan Magnussen scored a double-milestone victory in Sunday’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series VIR 400 in the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley of Wayne Taylor Racing. It was the 10th victory for SunTrust Racing in 42 starts since joining the series in 2004, and the very first for the newly formed Wayne Taylor Racing team, which took on the responsibility of carrying the SunTrust Racing banner just this past off-season.
Most importantly, today’s 3.5-second victory over the polesitting No. 75 Krohn Racing Pontiac of Max Papis and 18-year-old driving phenom Colin Braun hoisted SunTrust Racing into the series championship lead after the season’s fourth of 14 events. The SunTrust team, which won the series championship in 2005 with Angelelli and Wayne Taylor sharing the season-long driver’s seat, leapfrogged the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry in the standings and leaves here with a nine-point (127-116) lead after scoring its fourth consecutive podium finish to open the season. The SunTrust team started the day trailing the Ganassi team by one championship point, and the No. 01 finished eighth today. Angelelli, Magnussen and Taylor were joined by four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon in a season-opening third-place finish at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Angelelli and Magnussen followed that up with another third-place finish at Mexico City, a runner-up finish at Homestead, Fla., and today’s landmark victory at Virginia International Raceway.
“We are just ecstatic,” said Taylor, who co-drove to victory here with Angelelli in the very first VIR 400 in 2004. “When you start a new team and when you set a goal of winning a championship, that sometimes means you won’t win any or many races because you’re running in championship mode. But with the work and the effort that this team of guys has done, and the support SunTrust Bank and Pontiac and Toshiba Business Solutions has provided for us, you really need to win at some point because a championship takes a whole year to win and everybody needs to feel relieved and be rewarded for all the hard work and support with the immediate payoff a victory brings. This is absolutely great for all of us. I really feel like Wayne Taylor Racing is on the map.”
Today’s victory, Angelelli and Magnussen’s first since driving the No. 10 SunTrust Racing machine to their first win together last May at Laguna Seca Raceway just outside Monterey, Calif., was particularly sweet in light of the team’s numerous struggles with handling difficulties through practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday. Despite their struggles, Magnussen was able to post the fifth-fastest qualifying lap Saturday afternoon, and the team promptly made major changes on the car after qualifying in its attempt to rectify its various problems on the racetrack. The changes proved to be just what the doctor ordered as the SunTrust Racing machine was almost one-tenth of a second faster in final practice than it was in qualifying.
From the fifth starting position today, Magnussen quickly took advantage of the better-handling race car and moved to fourth by the end of the opening lap around the scenic 3.27-mile, 17-turn VIR circuit. An early yellow, on Lap 7 of today’s 77-lap event, brought Magnussen and most of the rest of the field into the pits for fresh tires and fuel. He resumed in fifth when the race went back to green on Lap 9 but was in the top three just two laps later, trailing the polesitting Krohn Racing entry of Braun and the No. 58 Red Bull/Brumos Racing Porsche of Darren Law. By Lap 26, Magnussen was in second after slipping past Law on the long backstraight, and from there he finished his stint trying to close a 15-second gap to Braun before turning the car over to Angelelli on a Lap-45 green-flag stop for fresh tires and a load of fuel.
The caution flag came out just two laps after Angelelli took over, bunching up the field with the Krohn car now being driven by Papis in first and Angelelli in second, right on his tail. After the Lap-50 restart, Angelelli stayed on Papis’ tail for the next two laps before making his move at the outset of Lap 53. Angelelli carried his momentum from a strong run down the long front straight, made an inside move entering the tight, right-hand Turn 1 hairpin, and made his way past Papis and into the lead for good. He was not challenged the rest of the way.
“This is really a fantastic feeling,” said Angelelli, who in addition to winning this race in 2004 was three turns away from victory here last year before being passed for the lead by the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche in one of the wildest finishes in sports car racing history. “We’ve always been good on this track, but this year is different. This whole team, Travis (Jacobson) our chief engineer, Jan my teammate, Wayne our team owner, and all the guys have done just a great, great job to get us here in such a short time. Up until this morning, we had a terrible car this weekend. But after qualifying, they practically turned the car upside-down and we made a very good car for the race. It’s fantastic because we had a lot of SunTrust guests, the company vice president, it couldn’t be better. At this track we know we always have a lot of SunTrust guests, so we always want to be fast and at least finish on the podium here. Today we got a win, so that is just fantastic.”
As for his race-winning, Lap-53 pass of Papis, his Italian countryman, Angelelli said it came earlier than he had anticipated, but the situation presented itself and he was not going to ignore it.
“I didn’t warm up my tires (during the Lap 47-50 caution period) because I wanted to take care of my tires,” he said. “I wanted to bring my tires up to temperature slowly. When we restarted the race, I saw I had a pretty good pace. I couldn’t wait any longer and I made the pass. So I concentrated on the first corner and I had a pretty good run.”
Angelelli was asked afterward about the absence of the smaller GT-class competitors, who this weekend ran their own race late Saturday and who, last year, played a role in Angelelli’s last-lap loss of the lead in the final turns.
“I do think we need GT cars in the race, absolutely,” he said. “It’s something that works against you sometimes and in your favor sometimes. It keeps the race more exciting for the drivers and all the fans. Today, it was a lot more difficult out there (without the GT cars) because the race was flat out and I had nothing else to think about other than looking at my lap times and looking at the cars behind me. It was pretty bad because it was difficult to maintain concentration.”
Magnussen, the Danish driving veteran with whom Angelelli has now collaborated on nine consecutive main-event finishes of fourth or better dating back to that victory at Laguna Seca last May, now leaves the SunTrust Racing effort temporarily to honor previous driving commitments in the American Le Mans Series and the factory Corvette team, as well as the Danish Touring Car Championship.
“I’m so happy for the whole team,” said Magnussen, who beginning with the next Rolex Series race at Laguna Seca in three weeks hands the co-driver’s seat in the SunTrust Racing machine over to another Formula 1 and sports car racing veteran, Portugal’s Pedro Lamy. “It’s been hard work to set up the team for Wayne and Max and everybody involved. To have a win is just great. I thought we had a shot to get a win earlier this year. We’ve been fighting for it every time. So to get it here was good. I would say yesterday after qualifying I didn’t think we had a race-winning car. We had some problems all through practice and qualifying, which we sorted out this morning, luckily. In warm-up, the car was great. The car was a great race car.
“My stint was fairly uneventful. I was just plodding along, trying not to make any mistakes. It was very, very difficult to pass people around here. Even if I was a little bit faster, I lost a lot of time in traffic. But that’s how it is. It was difficult even against the cars that were a lot slower. It cost me a lot of time to get by. Toward the end of my stint, the tires went pretty bad, but I noticed other cars I was running with had the same problem. It was good when I gave the car to Max. He got on it, straightaway. He did a fantastic job. He got the lead. He pulled away and controlled the race the rest of the way. Now I have to leave, but I will be back later on in the year. So, hopefully I can win some more races with Max.”
Next stop for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series is the Road & Track 250 on May 20, part of the U.S. Sports Car Invitational weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.