MEXICO CITY (April 15, 2008) – For Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor, the historic Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in downtown Mexico City forever will be remembered as the place where they clinched for SunTrust Racing its first Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series championship in 2005.
As the series heads back to the legendary former Formula 1 circuit for Saturday’s Mexico City 250 and the fourth renewal of its annual trek south of the border, the Wayne Taylor Racing driving duo of Angelelli and Michael Valiante would like nothing better than to add to SunTrust’s illustrious list of racing firsts.
Last we saw of the Rolex Series competitors – March 29 at Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway – the all-new No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara DP-01 prototype was making its much-anticipated debut in head-turning fashion. And not just because of a bold, new tangerine- and yellow-based SunTrust Racing paint scheme that covered the latest creation from longtime carmaker Dallara Automobili Spa of Parma, Italy.
The new, virtually untested racing machine proved to be a front-runner from the moment it unloaded as Angelelli and Valiante put it through its practice paces with relative success. Then Valiante, the 28-year-old Canadian who joined Angelelli as full-time co-driver this season, came within 28 hundredths of a second of qualifying the new car on the pole. And from his front-row starting position on race day, he went on to lead 20 of the opening 42 laps of the 99-lap main event before misfortune reared its ugly head. On Lap 43, the polesitting No. 58 Brumos Porsche, running third at the time, came out of seemingly nowhere and punted Valiante and the SunTrust Racing machine off the track, sending the brightly painted race car to the garage for suspension repairs. So much for that.
From there, Angelelli, the veteran Italian racer whose relationship with Dallara dates back to his open-wheel racing days in the early 1980s, had the unenviable task of resuming four laps off the pace. But he and the SunTrust team made the most out of what amounted to a 48-lap test session in real-life race conditions as he brought the No. 10 home in 14th place.
This weekend, they’re hoping to pick up where they left off on lap 42 at Homestead with sights firmly set on, among other things, a first pole for the new Dallara, perhaps a first podium finish on Saturday or, better yet, perhaps a first victory.
Practice for Saturday’s Mexico City 250 – companion event to Sunday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Corona Mexico 200 – begins Thursday afternoon with Daytona Prototype-class qualifying set for 12:40 p.m. EDT Friday. Saturday’s 250-mile (or 2-hour, 45-minute) race begins at 4:15 p.m. with SPEED-TV’s live broadcast beginning at 4 p.m. The detailed event schedule, as well as live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions, can be found at www.grand-am.com.
Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara:
You have a couple of podium finishes in your three previous races at Mexico City. Are you looking forward to another successful weekend with the new Dallara?
“Historically, Mexico has always been a challenging race for us. We always seem to struggle in deciding the best set-up for the car. Even though we had a fairly good result last year (third), we never seemed to be in contention for the win. What I’m expecting this year is a big question mark because of two things – the fact that we’ve always struggled with our set-up, and the SunTrust car is still very new. We could not go testing since Homestead. I would be happy with a finish in the top-three. Mexico is the kind of track that is very technical. It’s very fast, and very bumpy. But while it’s fast, you also have slow corners. That combination makes it difficult to decide which one of those areas you want to set up the car for – which kinds of corners you want to make the car good – the slow part or the fast corners. It’s always a challenge, but we’ll be ready for it. Last year, we finished third in the race. I was sort of running my own race during my stint at the end. Nobody was challenging me from behind. I could not see who I was chasing. Having no yellow flags did not help us in getting closer to the leaders and trying to overtake them and race them. It will be interesting to see how the new Dallara likes the track at Mexico City. It will be exciting, to say the least.”
After the team’s misfortunes in the race at Homestead, are you concerned about falling so far behind in the point standings?
“I’m not concerned, but I’m really mad. If you want to win the championship, this is not the way to do it. It was so unfortunate, what happened to us, and so frustrating because I know how difficult it is to win championships and you have to be always there. Right now, it feels pretty bad. We finished fifth in the first race, and then way back in the second race. Last year, we were leading the championship when we had a bad day at Laguna Seca, and we were in the top-two in the championship when things went wrong at Iowa. We had two failures, but we were always in the top two or three in the championship last year. You can have a bad result one time, maybe twice in a season. A lot depends on when they happen. We must focus on finishing strong every single weekend until the last race. Fortunately, we are capable of doing that. With a brand new car, it will be very challenging. But with this team, it is very much a possibility.”
Quotes from Michael Valiante, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara:
You’re no stranger to the race track at Mexico City. What are your overall thoughts as you head down there this weekend?
“I’m looking forward to Mexico because I really enjoy the facility. The nicest thing is to get back into the swing of things, again. We had such a long layoff between Daytona and Homestead that I’ve been just looking forward to getting some consistent weekends going and continuing to develop the new car, since it ran so strongly at Homestead. What happened to us in the race there was such a tough situation for our team because it worked so hard just to get us there. So I felt really bad for the guys. But the positive side of it is that we were competitive and we were quick right away. After such limited time to work with the car, for us to come out and be right on pace and almost qualify on pole was unbelievable. It was a motivator for the whole team because it showed that all the effort and work that went into making this car what it is today is paying off. Every time you introduce a new car, you’re always apprehensive about how it’s going to perform because there is always development that needs to go into a new car. And a lot of things that you don’t know are going to creep up until you actually run it a lot. It’s great to know that, with such limited testing, we were able to be quick right away.”
Knowing what you learned about the new car at Homestead, how do you feel it will perform at Mexico City?
“Bringing the Dallara to Mexico, it’s hard to say because the car is completely new. It’s going to be a challenge wherever we go. I’d say every track we go to is going to be equally challenging because we’ve never run the car there. Each track is so unique. Every single track has a different grip level. So, with no data from running this car before, we’re really going to have to work hard everywhere we go, regardless of the location. But this is a great group, and I’m confident we can overcome the challenges each weekend.”
Quotes from Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara team:
After a strong start to the Dallara program at Homestead last month, are you feeling particularly confident heading to Mexico City this weekend?<