SunTrust Makes it a Three-Peat at Lime Rock
Angelelli, Taylor Score Third Straight Dominating Win at Connecticut Track To Close Out 2012
Date: Sept. 29, 2012
Event: Championship Weekend (Round 13 of 13)
Series: Daytona Prototype division of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series
Location: Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn. (1.53-mile, seven-turn road course)
Start/Finish: 4th / 1st (Running, completed 167 of 167 laps)
Winner: Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor of SunTrust Racing (Corvette DP)
Of all the victories accumulated by SunTrust Racing in nine seasons of GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series competition, Saturday's thoroughly dominating win by co-drivers Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor in the series' Championship Weekend finale for 2012 at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., has to go down as the sweetest.
Not only was it the third consecutive thoroughly dominating win by the veteran former series champion Angelelli and his 23-year-old co-driver at the legendary 1.53.mile, seven-turn road circuit in northwest Connecticut, it was the third victory of an otherwise trying 2012 season for the SunTrust Racing team that neatly positioned it in the top-five of the final point standings.
"This team is truly incredible," said team owner and Angelelli's 2005 Rolex Series co-champion Wayne Taylor. "We have had a year that I can't even begin to describe how difficult it's been for all of us. Simon (Hodgson, team manager), Brian (Pillar, engineer) and Travis (Houge, crew chief) have led this group of guys through all our ups and downs with an unwavering focus. There's never been a problem on the part of all these guys. Every single pit stop has been perfect all season. We haven't always had the best car, but they've worked and worked and never gave up. Today was a tremendous reward for all of this team's hard work, and it's a glorious way to wrap up the season we have endured. Max drove flawlessly today. And the Ricky we've gotten used to around here is back in a big way."
Like they did in their 2010 and 2011 Memorial Day Classic victories at Lime Rock, when they led 248 of 357 race laps in the two events combined, Angelelli and Taylor took masterful control of today's 2-hour, 45-minute season-ending race by leading 92 of 167 laps in the No. 10 SunTrust Corvette Dallara DP of Wayne Taylor Racing. It was SunTrust's 21st win since joining the Rolex Series in 2004.
But, for as dominating as the SunTrust team's performance at Lime Rock was once again in today's race, such did not seem to be the case after a rather disappointing qualifying session Saturday morning that left Angelelli hanging his head after qualifying the SunTrust Corvette DP fourth on the grid. Taylor qualified on the pole for the 2011 race here and second in 2010, the day he scored his first of now seven career Rolex Series victories. It wasn't the fact he qualified fourth today, but that fact his car was a hefty .7 of a second off the pace of the top three qualifiers that was bothersome to Angelelli.
So, he and the team went back to the drawing board immediately after qualifying and, after some deep thought, and even a conference call with engineers at chassis constructor Dallara's home base in Italy, the SunTrust team opted to institute wholesale setup changes for the race.
"There's an Italian saying, 'La fortuna aiuta gli audaci,' which translates to something like, 'Fortune favors the bold,'" Angelelli said. "Well, we took a big gamble on our race setup and it paid off. I couldn't be more happy."
From his fourth starting position, Angelelli held his ground at the outset of the race, which started under caution when a GT-class competitor slid off course and got stuck in the grass on the final pace lap. Five laps after the race went green on lap seven, Angelelli picked off Jon Fogarty in the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP for third. Two laps later, on the 14th tour of the 1.53-mile circuit, the yellow appeared for the second time, sending several cars to the pit lane for a topping off of fuel, including the polesitting No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP of Richard Westbrook and Scott Pruett in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley.
The SunTrust team instructed Angelelli to stay on-track, however, and he inherited the lead, which he held for the next 21 laps before pitting under caution on lap 35, with two hours remaining in the race, to hand the SunTrust car over to Taylor with four fresh tires and a full load of fuel.
"We were obviously very happy with what we did with the car for the race," Angelelli said. "After qualifying, we changed the car a lot, so we really didn't know what to expect for the race. It turned out to be a really good car. I wish I could've had that car in qualifying. The race turned out to be really good for us. From the first (green-flag) lap, I could really feel the big changes we made and the car was a lot better. After that, obviously, Ricky really delivered great results for us."
Taylor restarted fifth on lap 35, immediately passed Martin Fuentes in the No. 2 Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley for fourth, then got by Billy Johnson in the No. 7 Starworks Ford for third place on lap 45. From there, Taylor chased down the race-leading Westbrook and second-place Ryan Dalziel in the No. 8 Starworks Ford and engaged in a spirited nose-to-tail duel for the lead for several laps at the race's midpoint.
After Westbrook pitted with an hour and 21 minutes left, and then Dalziel pitted with an hour and 17 minutes to go, Taylor inherited SunTrust's second lead of the day. He stayed there for the next six minutes before giving up the lead for the final scheduled fuel-and-tire stop of the day with an hour and 11 minutes remaining.
Taylor restarted sixth but, one-by-one, the five cars ahead of him had to make their final pit stops and, with 44 minutes remaining, he was back in the lead after Alex Gurney in the No. 99 Corvette gave up the top spot in favor of fuel and tires. The 23-year-old Taylor would not relinquish the lead again, holding the point for the final 50 laps of today's 167-lap event. And he held off several aggressive challenges by Antonio Garcia in the polesitting No. 90 Corvette DP, including during a lap-139 restart after the day's final caution period that bunched up the field.
"We really transformed the car after qualifying," Taylor said. "I was sitting there at the beginning of the race hoping for a podium, to be honest. As soon as I saw Max on that restart at the beginning, I could tell he was flying. At that point, I knew we had a car that could possibly win the race. Toward the end, the way the whole strategy worked out, it was absolutely perfect for us. It was a perfect two-stop-strategy race, which wasn't exactly the plan. When the (last) yellow came out, I was nervous but, in hindsight, it was a little lucky because it made us a bit safer on fuel and gave us less (green-flag) laps on the tires. I'm really, really excited after such a tough year for the team and me, with the mistakes I made this year. It's just so nice to have a good result and I'm so happy to be back winning races. And this is definitely good momentum going into the 24-hour (in January)."
Asked in the post-race interview room about having to outduel Garcia after the final caution period, Taylor said, "I've never really been one to take a deep breath, but I felt myself say, 'Now, take a deep breath.' I needed it. I was shaking. I was a mess. It helped me a little bit. The car dropped off dramatically the last five laps and that yellow might have given me that extra buffer as far as tire wear goes."
"I do have to say, after a day like today, that we're ready to come back stronger than ever next year," Wayne Taylor said. "I really want to say thanks to everybody at SunTrust and Toshiba, and to Nelson Cambata, who's been a supporter of ours, a friend of ours, a partner for my kids. Also, everybody at General Motors - Jim Campbell, Mark Kent, Mark Reuss, the whole Corvette DP program. Thanks to all our partners. Today was truly special."
The 12-race GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season for 2013 gets underway Jan. 26-27 with the traditional Rolex 24 At Daytona on the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway road course. New events on the 2013 schedule announced Friday include March 2 on the newly constructed Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, April 20 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga., and Aug. 17 on the newly constructed road course incorporating the Kansas Speedway NASCAR oval in Kansas City. In addition, the traditional Rolex Series race run in conjunction with the NASCAR road course weekend at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International moves to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., Aug. 10 as part of a GRAND-AM/American Le Mans Series doubleheader weekend.