Misfortune Ruins New SunTrust Car’s Debut

After Leading 20 of First 41 Laps at Homestead, Valiante, New Dallara Taken Out by Polesitting Porsche, Which Spins Into Them from Behind

Date:        March 29, 2008
Event:        Gainsco Grand Prix of Miami (Round 2 of 14)
Series:        Daytona Prototype division of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series
Location:    Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway (2.3-mile, 11-turn road course)
Start/Finish:    2nd/14th (Running, completed 96 of 99 laps)
Winner:    Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

The story of this weekend’s much-anticipated debut of the all-new No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing was shaping up quite nicely as the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series competitors were more than a third of the way through Saturday’s Gainsco Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway.

Some 24 hours earlier, co-driver Michael Valiante had qualified on the front row in the brand spanking new Dallara DP-01 prototype – which also debuted a bold orange- and tangerine-based paint scheme created by SunTrust and features the company’s sunray logo effects throughout. Improbable as Friday’s qualifying effort might have seemed, in light of the fact the car had not turned even 100 laps in testing and practice since the team received it in early February, Valiante remained in lock-step with polesitter David Donohue and the No. 58 Brumos Porsche during the opening laps of today’s 2-hour, 45-minute race. Then, Valiante put the all-new SunTrust Racing machine, in all its brightly painted glory, in the lead for the first time on only its 22nd competitive lap in history.

Twenty laps later, on today’s 43rd tour of the 2.3-mile Homestead Miami Speedway road circuit, Valiante found himself chasing a new leader, the No. 99 Gainsco Pontiac and driver Jon Fogarty, who slipped past Valiante on the previous lap as the SunTrust driver began to encounter minor brake issues. As Fogarty and Valiante made their necessary heavy braking maneuvers into the sharp, left-hand turn one, Donohue in the Brumos Porsche, now running third, locked up his brakes, spun sideways and crashed into the left-rear wheel of the SunTrust car, sending both cars off course.

While Donohue and his Porsche were stuck in the turn one gravel trap, Valiante was able to limp the SunTrust machine back to the garage, where the team replaced a rear suspension piece, put on four new Pirelli tires, replaced Valiante with Max Angelelli in the cockpit, and resumed the race four laps down and in 17th place among the Daytona Prototypes.

“The car was great, especially in the first stint, there,” said Valiante, who joined the SunTrust team at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona and today led 20 laps in all. “We were having some brake issues and I was really struggling toward the end of that last stint, which let the 99 car get ahead of us. But, out of nowhere, I was hit from behind by the 58 car and it took us both out.”

From that point, Angelelli and the team utilized the remaining 52 laps as a much-needed test session in race conditions. Angelelli’s lap times continued to get faster as the race progressed. On the 96th of 99 laps run today, the Italian turned the car’s fastest lap of the race. He picked up three positions and one of the four laps lost during repairs in the garage to finish 14th in class. Like his teammates, he took the early race incident in stride and focused on the positive developments of the weekend.

“I’m disappointed, but everybody is a human being, so what can I say,” Angelelli said. “Things like that, in the race environment, happen. After that, I wanted to learn about the car. I wanted to understand where we are not fast, and what we need to do for the next race. I’m very confident. It definitely will take time, but we will get there. I’m relatively confident moving forward with this new car.”

“Definitely, the team’s done a phenomenal job,” Valiante added. “The car’s got a lot of potential. But there are still some things to sort out that will make us a consistent front-runner.”

Team owner Wayne Taylor was equally philosophical in the face of disappointment. “It gave us some time to just find out what things are doing in the car and figuring out problems that we might have,” Taylor said. “Clearly, the car is fast. We just got really unlucky. Michael did an outstanding job, leading our first time out. He led for a long time. So, yes, it was disappointing. I feel bad for the guys because it was really an unlucky situation. It was completely out of our control. Other than that, the weekend was good. The car is fast, no question about it. A guy running into the back of you, there’s just nothing you can do about that.”

Round 3 on the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series schedule is the Mexico City 250 at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on Saturday, April 19, run in conjunction with that weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event.