SunTrust Racing Rolex 24 At Daytona Preview
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Storylines abound in the SunTrust Racing camp as it heads to Florida for this weekend’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series traditional season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.
A year ago, the bright, blue No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley, which dominated the 2005 Rolex 24 en route to that season’s Rolex Series championship, hit the track for the first time campaigned by newly formed Wayne Taylor Racing and with none other than four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon as part of its all-star driver lineup. This year, the familiar faces of Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor will be joined in the SunTrust Racing machine by newly named full-time co-driver Michael Valiante and, for the first time, by none other than Taylor’s 18-year-old son Ricky, who will be making his Rolex Series debut after testing for most of the past year in the No. 10 SunTrust Daytona Prototype.
Adding to the Taylors’ father-son story – the latest edition in a long history of father-son stories at the Rolex 24 which over the years has featured famous racing family names like Andretti, Unser, Gurney, Allison and Pearson – is the added presence of Taylor’s 16-year-old son Jordan in the No. 17 Terra Firma Motorsports GT-class Porsche.
With not one, but two sons in the race, Taylor also for the first time has not one, but two stout race cars entered in the 67-car field thanks to an offseason alliance formed with Roger Penske, the American sports car racing pioneer who returns to the Rolex 24 after a 35-year absence.
The No. 9 Toshiba Pontiac Riley of Penske-Taylor Racing features Penske’s 2008 Indy Racing League (IRL) tandem of Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, and Penske’s NASCAR Cup Series driver Kurt Busch. Like the No. 10 SunTrust Racing machine, the No. 9 Toshiba Pontiac has been prepped in the Wayne Taylor Racing shop in Indianapolis. The technical staff and crew comprised mainly of Penske’s IRL team have taken charge of the No. 9 effort, which also carries SunTrust as an associate sponsor.
Starting the new season with two sons and two cars in the same, grueling 24-hour marathon run, Taylor and SunTrust Racing remain as focused as ever on one goal for 2008 – another Rolex Series championship to go with the one Taylor and Angelelli co-drove to in 2005.
That almost came to be each of the past two seasons as Angelelli and the SunTrust Pontiac went to the year’s final event at Miller Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City in contention for the series title. Last September’s championship hopes came to a shocking end in the final hours of the 1,000-mile event when, while moving into the race lead as the other contenders encountered problems, a punctured tire on the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac led to significant body damage and, ultimately, a major oil fire that sent Angelelli and the race car to the garage for the rest of the day.
This year, Taylor, Angelelli, Valiante and the rest of the SunTrust team are banking on a much happier ending to the 14-race season, which begins with the stiffest test man and machine undergo each year – the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Practice and qualifying for the Rolex 24 begins Thursday. Race time for Saturday’s twice-around-the-clock event is 1:30 p.m. EDT with the FOX network’s live, high-definition coverage beginning at 1 p.m. SPEED-TV picks up the coverage from 2:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday, and again through the race’s conclusion from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. The detailed event schedule, as well as live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions, can be found at www.grand-am.com.
Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
Another new season is upon us, and your SunTrust Racing effort – with a second car in the mix for the first time -- is looking pretty stout. How do you rate your chances of bringing home another victory for SunTrust this weekend?
“This is the race everybody has been looking at since we finished last season contending for the championship once again in Utah. It’s a huge challenge. There are a lot of drivers, good drivers, famous drivers, fast drivers. It’s definitely the No. 1 race on our schedule. I rate our chances very high because I definitely feel we have the best team, the best organization. Now we have two cars so we can help each other. And the sister car is also fast. So it’s going to give us an advantage we haven’t had before.”
You mention the organization. How much more of a factor is the team in this race than the other races on the schedule?
“We have a great team. Travis (Jacobson), our race car engineer and strategist, and Simon (Hodgson, team manager) and all the guys, they see the big picture and help us to do things like we did in this race last year, when we fell five laps down because of an electrical problem and they eventually helped us get our five laps back. They know when to call us in and how to run the race. It was like that all year long. I don’t remember any other team that I’ve driven for that was managed so well. A lot of teams go out and try to run a sprint race at Daytona. We know not to do that. When I’m in the car, I might get pulled into that because that’s just the way I am, but I’m trying to improve on that. And that is where having Travis and Simon manage me and the entire race is very, very important.”
This is a milestone event for you and the team in that it’ll be the last time you run the Riley chassis. Any special thoughts there?
“We won a lot of races with the Riley. And we want to win more races in the future, so this is the reason that we switched. It is a window that is about to be closed, but I have no regrets. I’m looking forward to the change.”
Quote from Michael Valiante, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You’ve had a couple of successful tests with the SunTrust team and now it’s time to finally go racing. How has the experience been for you?
“Wayne Taylor and SunTrust Racing have been just great. They invited me for my first test at Daytona in November and, before I was even selected to be Max’s co-driver for the season, they really welcomed me with open arms. I think it was very easy for me to settle in with the car and the crew. I think a big part of why they’ve been so successful is the special relationships that have been formed within the team, and they work really well together. So, for me, it’s been great because it’s helped me adapt very quickly. Max is a great teammate to have. I’m really looking forward to this new experience. I’m with an intense group whose goal it is to win races. I’m looking forward to driving with Max. It’ll be my third full season in the Rolex Series and I think what I’ve learned driving open-wheel cars and the Daytona Prototypes prior to this season, and now moving to this team, has taught me what it takes to win championships.”
Quotes from Ricky Taylor, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
After testing the No. 10 SunTrust car during the last year, and after a couple of open tests with the other Rolex Series competitors at Daytona in November and earlier this month, do you feel you are ready for this next, big step in your racing career?
“Yeah, I feel ready. There’s definitely pressure to go out and do well, and I’ll probably be nervous before I finally get my chance to drive. But once I get strapped into the race car I think that will all go away. I’ll just focus on doing my job. Everyone’s kept telling me to just bring the car home in one piece and hand it over to Max, Michael or my dad. I’ve gotten used to the traffic during our Daytona tests, and I’ve gotten faster and faster every session. Now, I’ve just got to go out and do it. There should be no surprises. I know the track. Doing it with all the GT cars out there is something I’ll keep getting more and more used to. That’s something you have to learn by doing it. That’s the one thing you really don’t get a feel for watching from the pit lane or on TV. You pass two, three or four cars every lap when you settle into your groove.”
It’s probably a good thing that your first race is a 24-hour race, where you should end up with plenty of seat time by the time it ends on Sunday afternoon, and the pace of the race isn’t that of an all-out sprint. Do you agree?
“The pace of 24-hour race is definitely different from a regular sprint race. They tell me the Rolex Series runs 67 percent of the laps run all season in this one race, or something like that. So, by Sunday afternoon, I should feel like I’ve got a whole lot more experience than I have right now. Dad and Max and the whole team have been very supportive. They’re telling me a lot of things about what to do, and they don’t talk about some things just to not put too much in my head. Some things I’ll just have to see for myself in the race situation. It will be very cool to drive this great race car in this great race after watching Dad race there pretty much all my life.”
Quote from Wayne Taylor, co-driver and owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:
For the first time, you’ve got not one, but two chances to bring home a win at the Rolex 24. Any special thoughts on that?
“There are definitely a lot of things to think about, but I think everybody’s worked really hard. We have done everything possible to provide us with the tools to go out and compete for the race win with both cars. Obviously, I think the No. 9 and No. 10 cars are going to be strong. The driver lineup is really good in both cars. You need a lot of luck, as you always do in these kinds of events. But I feel pretty positive at the moment. You don’t want to get caught out and get into a massive pace at the beginning of the race and make a mistake somewhere and lose laps in the pits. Last year, we went down five laps because of an electronics problem, but we got back onto the lead lap by the end of the race. We don’t want to do that again because that makes it incredibly hard. But I do have a good feeling about the fact we have two cars, the relationships with SunTrust, Toshiba, Miracle Sealants, Pontiac, Penske, Pirelli. Those are some of the best partners in the industry. Of course, it’s also the first time I’ll be driving with Ricky, so from that standpoint it’s going to be special. But, at the same time I know he’s pretty stressed about it at the moment, So we’re trying to go there and have fun with it, because if you don’t have fun, it’s really not worth doing. I really want to thank SunTrust again for all the support they’ve given me for both cars and their support in running Ricky. With Max and Michael, we’re going to be really strong. On top of that, I’ve got my other son, Jordan, in a GT-class Porsche, but he’s in a totally different frame of mind because he’s not under the pressure that Ricky’s under. We’re sort of in the mode of ‘let’s go and race, now.’ Forget about all the pressure and all of the other stuff because there’s really not much we can do about it, anymore”