Date: June 7, 2008
Event: Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen (Round 6 of 14)
Series: Daytona Prototype division of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series
Location: Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International (3.4-mile, 11-turn road course)
Start/Finish: 1st/3rd (Running, completed 179 of 179 laps)
Winner: Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
Less than three weeks after their team’s transporter and all of its contents burned to the ground, Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante co-drove a race car that hadn’t turned a wheel since January, backed by a Wayne Taylor Racing team that used borrowed tools and equipment, and muscled their way to SunTrust Racing’s top Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series finish of the season – a third-place effort at Saturday’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
It wasn’t the victory the team was looking for, but it was by far the most satisfying effort of 2008 for the entire Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) organization, which pressed into service the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley last seen finishing fifth at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 27. On May 19, while traveling home to Indianapolis from the last Rolex Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, Calif., the WTR transporter caught fire in I-40 about an hour east of Amarillo, Texas, and gone was the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara that was just four races old, and every bit of the tools, hardware and equipment that made up the SunTrust Rolex Series road show. But thanks to a generous outpouring of support from the entire Grand-Am community, SunTrust Racing made it to Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International without missing a beat.
Angelelli started the weekend Friday in fairy tale fashion by qualifying the SunTrust car on the pole. And he finished it just before the six-hour mark of the race today with a stellar pass of third-place Oswaldo Negri in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford, securing SunTrust Racing’s first podium finish since a second-place run at this very track last August. Angelelli’s late-race pass was all the more remarkable considering the car’s cool suit unit failed to work during his entire 64-lap stint to the finish, forcing him to endure the race’s frantic pace for more than two hours inside a cockpit with temperatures well above the 120-degree mark.
“I wanted this for the guys because they deserve so much,” said Angelelli when asked how he mustered the energy to make the pass for third with just two laps to go. “When I say they lost everything, I mean they lost everything, including helmets, firesuits, tools. Everything. I have to thank the guys, and also the entire Ganassi team for giving us pit equipment, tools, a transporter, and also to Penske Racing, which gave us so much. If we’re here, it’s because of our guys, SunTrust, our partners, and those teams that I mentioned.”
Angelelli led the opening lap of today’s race but gave up the lead on the very next tour of the 3.4-mile, 11-turn circuit when he dove into the pits under yellow to fulfill Grand-Am’s mandated pit stop each team must make by the 45-minute mark of each race. He resumed in ninth, but methodically worked his way back into second place by the 19th lap. From there to the end of the race, Angelelli and Valiante were rarely outside the top-five as teams executed a myriad of pit strategies throughout the afternoon. Valiante drove a 52-lap stint over the middle portion of the race, fighting his way into the lead on laps 84 through 89.
“We really owe it to the team,” Valiante said. “We’ve been going through a rough patch here, especially after the fire. And it was a tough race for six hours. It was hot and it was grueling. The crew did a phenomenal job by putting together the car we ran at the 24-hour in a short amount of time. Everything was flawless. It was definitely hot for Max and I. Max did a great job at the end with his cool suit not working.”
“I am speechless,” team owner Wayne Taylor said. “They did it. Nineteen days ago, we had nothing. Zero. All we had was a car that had run the 24-hour and was left on the side of the work shop since then. No engine, nothing. It was just lying there. And then we got all these wonderful people, Ganassi, Penske, SunTrust, Toshiba, everybody, with all they did to help us get here. It’s been amazing, actually. I so wanted to win this race. But you have to remember that we hadn’t run this car since the 24-hour. So we didn’t have the latest pieces. This was a leased engine because our other engines burned up in the fire. So, to qualify on the pole and to get on the podium, that’s really something. I can’t say enough about everybody. They needed this result. The pole was great. And to come into a race like this and have no problems, that’s incredible. And Max showed he drives with his heart and he is still the best.”
Round 7 of the 2008 Rolex Series tour is the EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on Saturday, June 21.