WATKINS GLEN, NY (June 9, 2007) - Not one, but two stop-and-go penalties during Saturday's Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen could not keep the SunTrust Racing trio of Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and Jonathan Cochet from grabbing the team's fifth podium finish through the first six of 14 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series events of 2007 and, most importantly, staying a close second in the season-long championship.
Angelelli, who on Friday qualified the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley of Wayne Taylor Racing fourth on the starting grid for today's six-hour marathon around the 3.4-mile Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International Raceway circuit, did the lion's share of the driving and on several occasions looked like a sure contender for his second race win in his last three outings. But a pair of stop-and-go penalties for restart violations during the final two hours - the knockout blow snatching him out of the lead with 1 hour, 10 minutes remaining - proved to be just too much to overcome. Series officials called Angelelli both times for "improving his position" before the start-finish line, the first just after the 4-hour mark and the second at the 4-hour, 50-minute mark. The first proved not-so-costly as the split-second stop in the SunTrust pit and remaining drive through pit lane dropped Angelelli from 12th to 13th place at the time. Moments earlier, Angelelli was forced to swing wide entering the front straight to avoid the No. 16 car of Rob Dyson, who was experiencing throttle problems and was three laps down. Angelelli clearly was ahead of Dyson at the start-finish line, and the fact Dyson had throttle trouble made no difference in the decision to penalize him.
On the next restart, some 40 minutes later, Angelelli was in second place behind leader Ian James in the No. 6 car as the two led the field to the green flag. Angelelli again swung wide entering the front straight and gradually crept forward alongside James on the way to the start-finish line. Television replays confirmed that Angelelli did not cross the line ahead of James, but officials still assessed the stop-and-go penalty, and Angelelli dropped back all the way from first to 12th with just over an hour to go. He was up to eighth coming out of the day's ninth and final caution period with less than a half-hour to go, and passed three cars without incident on the restart by the time the field arrived at Turn 1. From there, Angelelli picked off the No. 61 car of Mark Wilkins for fourth place with 21 minutes remaining, and passed James for his final finishing position of third with 15 minutes to go.
Only the race-winning car of polesitters Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty in the No. 99 Gainsco Bob Stalling Racing entry, and the runner-up finishing No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates car of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, beat Angelelli across the finish line. Angelelli finished 10.5 second behind the winning No. 99 car and 3.5 second behind the No. 01, which the SunTrust team now trails in the championship by just seven points (180-173).
"Most definitely," Angelelli said when asked in the post-race press conference if he felt the penalties cost his team a win today to go with the one he and co-driver Jan Magnussen scored at Alton, Va., two races ago. "We had a good car today. Finally, we sorted out our setup between yesterday and this morning. With the hard work by the team and by our other drivers Wayne and Jonathan, I felt like we could have definitely won the race, or come a lot closer. They (the No. 99 and No. 01 teams) had great cars today, too. But we were right there with them, even with the penalties. It's very frustrating, to say the least."
From his fourth starting position, Angelelli gradually worked his way toward the front and led 13 of the first 48 laps of the race before pitting under yellow at the 1-hour, 50-minute mark for tires, fuel and to hand the SunTrust Pontiac over to Cochet, the French Le Mans Endurance Series full-timer who joined the team for the first time this weekend in place of regular co-driver Magnussen. Magnussen is competing at a Danish Touring Car Championship event in his native Denmark this weekend. Cochet restarted in the lead, but couldn't keep the hard-charging Gurney in the No. 99 car behind him for more than half a lap. At the end of his 90-minute stint, Cochet had the SunTrust car in second when he pitted under yellow at the 3-hour, 20-minute mark to hand the car over to Taylor for the next 40 minutes. The team owner, who co-drove with Angelelli to the 2005 series championship and twice scored victories here at Watkins Glen in the SunTrust car that year, started his stint in sixth and turned the car back over to Angelelli at the 4-hour mark in eighth place. It was the final driver change of the day.
"I just think that given what happened during the race, the team and Max and Jonathan did an absolutely incredible job to finish third," Taylor said. "It's extremely disappointing to have races go like this. But our guys worked hard, they soldiered on, they didn't let anything get them down and we ended up on the podium. We lost another two points to Scott Pruett, but they are certainly not out of the woods. There are a lot of races left and our eyes remain focused on the championship, as they have been from day one."
For Cochet, the veteran sports car racer and Formula 1 test driver who left immediately after the race to join his factory Courage teammates for next weekend's 24 Hours of Le Mans in his native France, his first taste of the SunTrust Racing organization and the Wayne Taylor team certainly tasted sweet with a podium finish, despite the bitterness of a pair of stop-and-go penalties levied against his teammate.
"For me it was a great opportunity to come back to this series, especially with Max and Wayne," said Cochet, who has a half-dozen Rolex Series events under his belt, co-driving with the Tuttle Racing team in 2005 and 2006. "They called me two weeks ago to see if I could join them. I am busy in Europe with the LMES and the Le Mans 24-hour, but when they called me I knew I could not pass up this opportunity because I think it is the best team in the series. Today, I have to thank Max because he did a really, really good job. At the end, he pushed a lot and got us a podium finish."
After a weekend off, the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series resumes with Round 7 on Saturday, June 23, a twilight race during the EMCO Gears Classic at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course outside Lexington, Ohio.
SunTrust Banks, Inc., with total assets of $182.2 billion on December 31, 2006, is one of the nation's largest and strongest financial holding companies. Through its banking subsidiaries, the company provides deposit, credit, trust, and investment services to a broad range of retail, business, and institutional clients. Other subsidiaries provide credit cards, mortgage banking, credit-related insurance, brokerage, equipment leasing and capital markets services. Atlanta-based SunTrust enjoys leading market positions in some of the highest growth markets in the United States and also serves clients in selected markets nationally. The company operates 1,701 retail branches and 2,569 ATMs in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. In addition, SunTrust provides customers with a full range of technology-based banking channels, including Internet, PC, and Automated Telephone Banking.