Cut Tire Dooms SunTrust Victory Bid at The Glen

Slight Contact with No. 75 Krohn Car Causes Slow Leak, Necessitates Extra Pit Stop as SunTrust Has To Settle for Seventh Place

Date: Aug. 8, 2008
Event: Crown Royal 200 (Round 11 of 14)
Series: Daytona Prototype division of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series
Location: Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International (2.45-mile, 11-turn road course)
Start/Finish: 3rd/7th (Running, completed 82 of 82 laps)
Winner: Brian Frisselle and Mark Wilkins of AIM Autosport

It was the slightest contact that produced an ever-so-slight slice in the sidewall of the right-rear tire on the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing. But that small slice ruined a potentially huge result in Friday night’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Crown Royal 200 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International for Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante, who had to settle for a seventh-place finish.

In a race started in conditions just wet enough that roughly half the 20-car Daytona Prototype field opted to start on grooved rain tires and the other half on slicks, Valiante, starting on wets, moved from his third position on the grid to second place behind the pole-sitting No. 61 AIM Autosport entry of Brian Frisselle by the time he completed the fast, right-hand sweeping turn one on the 2.45-mile, 11-turn Watkins Glen short course on the opening lap. His stay in the second position was short-live, however. The caution flag flew for a two-car accident before the first lap was complete, and the track appeared to be drying quickly enough to chase Valiante to pit road for a set of slicks and a topping off of the fuel tank just before the race went back to green on lap four. After restarting in 18th, Valiante passed 11 cars over the next 10 laps in a stellar march back toward the front.

But just as rain began to fall once again on lap 14, Valiante was completing a pass of the No. 75 Krohn Racing entry when he got sideswiped by driver Tracy Krohn. The contact punctured the right-rear tire and a slow leak led to another pit stop on lap 17. The team opted to put rain tires back on the SunTrust Racing machine and opted to take care of executing the obligatory driver change at that point and replaced Valiante with Angelelli as the raindrops continued to fall. Angelelli, resuming in 11th place a lap down to the leaders, was running lap times several seconds faster than the competitors ahead of him, who were almost exclusively on slicks in the increasingly wet conditions. Angelelli blew past the leaders to get back on the lead lap and worked his way back up to seventh place over the next six laps.

By Lap 28 of tonight’s 82-lap event, the once again drying conditions sent Angelelli back to the pits for slick tires and fuel enough to carry him the rest of the way. Angelelli resumed in ninth, quickly picked off two positions, then settled into seventh place behind the No. 16 Cheever Racing entry of Christian Fittipaldi and Antonio Garcia by lap 31. Angelelli could not pick up any spots from that point and seventh place was where he would end up.

“We knew track position is important in this race – it’s everything,” Angelelli said. “That extra stop for the cut tire basically cut our chances of winning the race. During my stint, I was able to work my way up to seventh behind the 16, which was strong, and I had not enough to overtake him. That was basically it. At the start, we were all in agreement that, in those conditions, we would start on wets. It was a gamble. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. At the end, the car was really fast, so I wonder what would have happened if we didn’t have to make that extra stop (for the cut tire). That makes me feel very bad.”

“The car was handling well all weekend, especially in the last practice session on Friday night, so I felt we had a potential race-winning car,” Valiante said. “It was a 50-50 gamble at the start whether to go with rains or slicks. It turned out slicks were the way to go, so we pitted early, which dropped us back. We worked our way back up to seventh, but then, while I was passing Tracy Krohn, he sideswiped me just a little bit and it ended up putting a slice in the tire. So I had to pit again, and at the time it was raining, so we put Max in the car and put on wets. Again, he made up a lot of track position by running some really fast laps while everyone else out there was on slicks in the wet. But we had to stop one more time for fuel and slicks when the track finally dried, and that set us back once again and that was really it for us.”

The No. 61 AIM Autosport entry, which scored its maiden victory at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve last Friday, led all but three laps for its second consecutive win tonight. The No. 99 Gainsco Pontiac of Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney finished second, while the No. 58 Brumos Porsche of David Donohue and Darren Law finished third.

“I’m just disappointed for everybody who worked so hard,” said team owner Wayne Taylor. “Our result did not show how fast our car was this weekend. Contact caused a slow leak and that set us back and that’s all she wrote. We’ll be back with a vengeance at Sonoma.”

After taking next weekend off, the Rolex Series picks up with back-to-back events at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. (Aug. 23), followed by the first-ever Rolex Series stop at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville (Aug. 31).