January 06, 2008

It’s a Wrap for SunTrust at Rolex 24 Test Days
Season-Long Regular Drivers Angelelli, Valiante Joined by Father-Son Duo Of Wayne and Ricky Taylor for Three Days of Sessions at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 6, 2008) – The No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing wrapped up a successful three-day test session on the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway road circuit this afternoon as preparations continue for the Jan. 26-27 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. And, as has been the case during its previous efforts at the twice-around-the-clock marathon, the SunTrust Pontiac appears to be one of the cars to beat in perhaps the most competitive field in event history.

Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante, his recently named season-long co-driver in the SunTrust Racing machine for 2008, were joined this weekend by team owner and two-time Rolex 24 winner Wayne Taylor, with whom Angelelli co-drove the SunTrust Pontiac to the 2005 Rolex 24 victory enroute to that year’s series championship, and Taylor’s 18-year-old son Ricky Taylor, who took his latest turns behind the wheel of the familiar, blue No. 10 prototype in what has been a nearly year-long testing program with the team.

True to form, the SunTrust Pontiac clocked top-five laps around the 3.56-mile, 12-turn Daytona road circuit in four of the eight test sessions over the past three days among 67 car-and-driver combinations that took to the track.

Angelelli’s lap of 1 minute, 41.855 seconds (125.826 mph) during Saturday’s afternoon session was the team’s fastest of the weekend and was the seventh-best lap of the entire weekend among all competitors as the SunTrust team rotated through the driver lineup and alternated between qualifying and race-pace setups each day. While regular drivers Angelelli and Valiante made short work of posting some of the fastest, most consistent race laps in the field, both Wayne and Ricky Taylor made full use of the considerable amount of seat time available to the father-son duo.

“I think we had a lot of things to accomplish,” said Wayne Taylor, who won the Rolex 24 for the first time in 1986. “We had a new driver in the car. We also had Ricky in the car. We wanted to give Ricky as much mileage as possible. Michael showed he’s clearly the best choice we could have made in a co-driver for Max this season. He’s going to be an asset. Max, as usual, ran up front. Ricky did a pretty good job right up until this morning. He made a little mistake. But there was a lot thrown at him and he did pretty well. I think, overall, it was a positive weekend.”

Angelelli, who qualified the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley on the front row in the first-ever race for Wayne Taylor Racing here last year – his third front-row qualifying effort for SunTrust in four Rolex 24s – felt thoroughly confident he had another potential front-running car to work with when the team returns for race weekend later this month.

“We went through our checklist and, when you have four drivers, such limited time, and a lot of things to test and try, it’s not always very easy to get maximum seat time for everyone,” Angelelli said. “But we’re happy with the car. I think we have a competitive car. I’m pretty optimistic for the race weekend. One priority was to give Ricky as much time and experience in the car as possible. Daytona is a very difficult track. The Daytona Prototype class is very competitive. He did very well and I’m very happy about that, among other things that went well for us this weekend. We’re going to be a very good team here once again.”

Valiante, who closed out the 2007 season with the No. 19 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry, enjoyed another successful Daytona test to go with his successful on-track debut with the SunTrust team during a two-day Pirelli tire test in November. Like Angelelli, Valiante did not need an abundance of laps this weekend to prove his ability to run up front.

“Daytona’s always like that because you have so many drivers who aren’t regular (season-long) drivers, you have to get them in the car and get them comfortable with it,” said Valiante, who will be making his fourth Rolex 24 start. “The great thing is the SunTrust car’s been quick pretty much every session. We have a really good balance and I think we have a car that can qualify up front and will be really strong for the 24 hours. In general, the more seat time, the better. I think any driver will tell you that. Fortunately, I’ve been able to get up to speed quickly without being too comfortable in the car, so I’d consider it a good test. We made some gains before we even came here. The car rolled out pretty good, so I think all the usual things like finishing the race and staying out of traffic are going to be our main challenges because we have a good car and a strong driver lineup. This is my fourth 24-hour race. I wouldn’t call myself a pro, by any means, but I’ve done it enough times to know what to expect, and I’m definitely surrounded by a team that lives for this event.”

For Ricky Taylor, who was a 6-year-old when he watched his dad win his first Rolex 24 in 1986, the learning curve is slowly but surely leveling off at the direction of seasoned road racing veterans Angelelli and Wayne Taylor, as well as longtime engineer Travis Jacobson.

“It was a great weekend,” Ricky Taylor said. “I learned so much over the last few days, it felt like three weeks. I had so much track time, I feel like I learned more these last three days than I have the last three years. There was so much going on, from the traffic to the night driving to spinning on the race track for the first time this morning. Everything’s just been a huge learning experience. I’m definitely learning all the different aspects of what the 24-hour race is all about. Right now, one quick lap isn’t hard to do. It’s all about bringing up my average lap time closer to what my best lap time is. So we worked on the traffic, and it’s a combination of the traffic and me and the car, so we’re working on all those things and trying to get me close to that fast time. Overall, I feel like we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

The SunTrust team now returns to Wayne Taylor Racing’s Indianapolis race shop to complete its final preparations for the season-opening marathon event, which will be run for the 46th time. SunTrust, for the first time since joining the series in 2004, will have a “sister” car with which to share information during this year’s Rolex 24 effort and one to carry the SunTrust name as associate sponsor – that of the No. 9 Toshiba Pontiac Riley of Penske-Taylor Racing, featuring IndyCar teammates Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe and former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch. The collaborative effort between Wayne Taylor and Roger Penske – prepped by Team Penske’s IRL IndyCar Series crew and engineers at the Wayne Taylor Racing facility – also proved to be one of the cars to beat this weekend as it clocked the second-fastest overall lap at 1:41.277 (126.544 mph) during Friday’s late-afternoon session.

“We know what we have to do, and we have not one, but two competitive cars,” said Wayne Taylor, whose 16-year-old son Jordan also tested here this weekend with the No. 17 Terra Firma Motorsports GT-class entry. “It’s always nice to know that you have a fast car so you can then focus on reliability. But I think we’re looking good. There are 20 cars that can win this race. It’ll be what it’ll be, but the objective is to have a good car and, as I always say, if you only come in for drivers, fuel and tires, you’ll be in contention. This race is only going to be won on Sunday. It’s not going to be won on Saturday. We couldn’t wish to be with a better group than Penske. Those guys have shown the speed all weekend. They’re carrying the SunTrust name, as well. I think we’re going to have a good 24-hour.”

The No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry, which won this race in 2007 and this year features drivers Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Memo Rojas, clocked the fastest lap of the weekend at 1:41.232 (126.600 mph). Behind the No. 09 Penske-Taylor Pontiac on the overall timesheet was the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing entry at third-fastest with a lap of 1:41.555 (126.198 mph). Fourth overall was the No. 61 AIM Autosport team at 1:41.584 (126.162 mph) with the defending series champions, the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing effort, fifth-fastest overall at 1:41.761 (125.942 mph). Just ahead of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac with the sixth-fastest lap was the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry at 1:41.818 (125.872 mph).

Practice and qualifying for the 46th Rolex 24 At Daytona begin Jan. 24. Race time is 1:30 p.m. Jan. 26 with the FOX broadcast network and SPEED-TV combining for an unprecedented 17 hours of live coverage through the race’s conclusion at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 27.


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