Podium Finish Slips Away Quickly at Mid-Ohio

Angelelli and Valiante’s Second Consecutive Podium Bid for SunTrust Evaporates in the Closing Laps of Saturday’s EMCO Gears Classic

Date: June 21, 2008
Event: EMCO Gears Classic (Round 7 of 14)
Series: Daytona Prototype division of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series
Location: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (2.258-mile, 13-turn road course)
Start/Finish: 6th/10th (Running, completed 76 of 76 laps)
Winner: Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney of Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing

What looked like a sure podium result for the second race in a row for the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing evaporated into a disappointing 10th-place finish in the closing minutes of a wet and wild Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series EMCO Gears Classic Saturday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington.

With 20 minutes to go in today’s 76-lap race over the 2.258-mile, 13-turn layout between Columbus and Cleveland, Max Angelelli was in third place with his sites set firmly on getting around the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac of Alex Gurney for second place on a lap-63 restart. But shortly after passing the start-finish line to take the green flag, Angelelli made a fateful radio call saying he was starting to struggle with his rear tires.

Angelelli and his fellow competitors had been racing on grooved rain tires from the time a driving rain storm first deluged the facility just seven laps into today’s affair – shortened from its originally scheduled 250-mile, 111-lap distance by the 2-hour, 45-minute time limit. Though the rains had finally subsided about 30 minutes before the lap-63 restart and the track was gradually drying at that point, no one risked switching to slick tires during the caution period immediately preceding it. The combination of rain tires at race pace on a gradually drying track ended up affecting Angelelli and the SunTrust Pontiac the most, as he was able to hold onto third place for just six tours of the circuit before fading quickly. Angelelli dropped to fourth on lap 70, eighth on lap 71, and to his final finishing position of 10th by lap 73.

“Obviously, I think everybody could see that my tires were finished,” said a disappointed Angelelli after the race. “I had no more tires left and I did what I could with what I had. I have no idea why they went away so quickly. It’s not the first time it has happened, so we have to keep looking at why this might be and think about what to do to fix the problem. Unfortunately, I could tell the tires were going to go away. I know the car. I know those tires. But that’s what happens, sometimes. Tenth place doesn’t feel good at all when you are 10 minutes away from finishing on the podium. It was a disappointing way to end the weekend.”

Co-driver Michael Valiante, who qualified the SunTrust car sixth on Friday and drove the opening 37 laps of today’s race, had a spectacular start in dry conditions – but under ever-threatening skies – and found himself in third by the end of the opening lap. He was up to second by the end of the second lap, having gotten by Memo Rojas in the series point-leading No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry. When the deluge began on lap 7, Valiante pitted for rain tires along with the rest of the field and resumed in fourth place after getting inadvertently stopped by Grand-Am officials while exiting the pit lane. By lap 16, Valiante was up to second, chasing race-leader Rojas, and then made a stellar pass of Rojas to take the lead on lap 21. It was the sixth time in seven events this season that the SunTrust team has led laps – albeit just two today.

“We had a great start. We picked up some positions and got up to second there in the beginning,” Valiante said. “When the rains came, I was on slicks and it got crazy for a while, there. After we put on rains, for the first 30-40 laps, we were fine. As the rain started coming down harder, I don’t know if it was tire pressures, or what, but I struggled so much against other cars. We made a major change to the car when I came in to hand the car over to Max and it seemed like it worked well for him. He was quite quick. All in all, it wasn’t a bad race, but the result just wasn’t there. It was just strange how quickly the tires went away for Max.”

Gurney, who took over the No. 99 Gainsco Pontiac from Jon Fogarty for the last half of the race, passed the No. 7 RumBum.com entry for the lead with 14 minutes to go and went on to win today’s EMCO Gears Classic. The polesitting No. 58 Brumos Porsche of Darren Law and David Donohue rallied to finish second, while the RumBum.com car, co-driven by Gene Sigal and Matt Plumb, finished third to reach the podium for the first time ever.

“I don’t know, I thought we had a really good, third-place car,” said team owner Wayne Taylor. “For some reason, the rear tires burnt off and Max went backwards. We were on the same tire strategy with all of the lead cars, but for some reason, we burnt ours off and I don’t know why. It’s really hard to accept 10th place when you know you’ve got a car capable of finishing on the podium. We’ll go back to the shop, regroup, finish building our new Dallara chassis that arrived on Monday, and get a fresh start on the second half of the season at Daytona.”

The next stop on the 2008 Rolex Series schedule is the Brumos Porsche 250 on July 3 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, the annual  Thursday-night race that kicks off the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola weekend.