Max Angelelli and the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac team of Wayne Taylor Racing received an early holiday gift as they prepare for their pursuit of the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series championship. Canadian Michael Valiante, the 28-year-old veteran of open-wheel and sports prototype racing, has been named Angelelli’s full-time co-driver for the entire 14-race campaign, which kicks off Jan. 26-27 with the traditional, season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Valiante, a native of Vancouver, B.C., joins the SunTrust Racing effort with 31 career Rolex Series starts under his belt during the past three seasons. In 2007, as co-driver of the No. 19 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry, Valiante recorded a career-best second-place finish at Iowa Speedway and six top-10 finishes in all over 13 events. Prior to arriving on the Rolex Series scene in 2005, he rose through the open-wheel ranks as a perennial championship contender and multiple race-winner in Champ Car’s Formula Atlantic and Barber Dodge development series. Valiante made his Champ Car debut in 2004 at Mexico City driving for Walker Racing.
“During our first year as a new team, it became evident we needed to secure the services of a single individual who could complement Max’s performance and driving style all season long, and I’m tremendously pleased that we’ve found the right guy for 2008," said team owner Wayne Taylor, the three-time sports car champion who co-drove with Angelelli to the 2005 Rolex Series title before forming Wayne Taylor Racing in November 2006. “I’ve had my eye on Michael Valiante the last couple of years. There were four or five drivers we were looking at, but all of our research kept pointing at him as the best fit for our program. What appeals to us most is Michael’s speed and his technical ability. We’re about trying to win championships, so speed is always crucial. We worked with Michael at the Daytona test (Nov. 14-15) and he and Max were very close. They both seem to be very happy to be teammates."
Angelelli, who scored his 10th and 11th career Rolex Series victories in 2007 to put him second on the all-time series win list, was in position to capture SunTrust’s second series title in three seasons until the closing hours of the season-ending race outside Salt Lake City. And even with the two victories and a series-high nine podium finishes despite sharing the cockpit with no less than five different co-drivers through the course of the season, he understandably likes the notion of having a single co-driver.
“I definitely am happy we have signed Michael because I’m convinced he can deliver what we are asking," said Angelelli, who in 2007 co-drove at one time or another with Taylor, Jan Magnussen, Jeff Gordon, Memo Gidley and Jonathan Cochet. “I have no doubt about Michael’s speed and his ability to provide good feedback, so I think we have the lineup that will put us in position to be a strong challenger for the championship, once again. We had the chance to bring Michael on board with us and we jumped at that that chance. We have always regarded him as a championship-caliber driver."
Valiante, likewise, is eager to begin this new chapter in his racing career for many reasons. “First of all, it’s an honor to drive for a team like SunTrust Racing," he said. “They are consistent front-runners and they know how to win championships. I really enjoyed working with them at the test a few weeks ago at Daytona. They are professional in every way and I got along with everyone – the staff, and Max, as well. They welcomed me to the team. It was an easy transition to fit right in. Definitely, there’s no other team I’d rather be with at the moment in Grand-Am. Coming from Ganassi, it was a great opportunity and I really enjoyed being with them. But when this opportunity presented itself, it was a great one. It’s where I want to be this year and beyond. To be with one of the best teams in a series like Grand-Am with so many professional, quality drivers, I think it’s one of the best places to be in North America right now."
“The calendar says it’s only early December, but we just can’t wait to get on with the 2008 season," said Craig Kelly, Corporate Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, SunTrust Banks, Inc. “The 2007 season was an exciting one, once again, for everyone involved with the SunTrust Racing program. But with the addition of Michael Valiante as our full-time co-driver with Max Angelelli for 2008, we’re already feeling a tremendous sense of anticipation for the coming season. We’d like to welcome Michael to the SunTrust Racing family. He’s a proven competitor who will have the chance to really showcase his talents alongside Max, and we are happy to have him as part of our team."