April 27, 2008

Grand-American ‘Take-Out’ Continues
For the Third Time in As Many Rolex Series Races,
SunTrust Car Gets Taken Out from Behind, This Time at VIR

Date: April 27, 2008
Event: Bosch Engineering 250 at VIR (Round 4 of 14)
Series: Daytona Prototype division of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series
Location: Virginia International Raceway, Alton, Va. (3.27-mile, 17-turn road course)
Start/Finish: 1st/17th (Suspension, completed 73 of 77 laps)
Winner: Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

On a weekend that saw the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara team of Wayne Taylor Racing rebound from a horrendous crash in Mexico City to win the pole and lead the opening laps of Sunday’s Bosch Engineering 250 at Virginia International Raceway, the nightmare continues.

For the third time in as many races, the No. 10, with Michael Valiante behind the wheel, was hit from behind and sent off the track. This time, the culprit was the eventual race-winning No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry and the handiwork of driver Memo Rojas. On the 29th of 77 laps run today over the scenic 3.27-mile, 17-turn road course, where the SunTrust Racing machine was victorious a year ago, Rojas made an aggressive attempt to take second place away from Valiante at the end of the long backstraight entering a right-left sequence of turns known as “Oak Tree.”

“Rojas tried to pass on the outside, and I was on the inside,” said Valiante, who won the pole in qualifying on Saturday and led the first eight laps of today’s race before pitting under caution for fuel. “We went into the second corner and he wasn’t past. He just kept his foot in it, and I was right there. I tried to give him room. He hit me once. I slid wide but I saved it. He hit me again and I saved that, too. Then he hit me a third time and spun me out. I came in right away and wasn’t sure how badly it was damaged. It was fine before that. Our biggest problem was keeping the tires on it. I think we had a podium car.”

After a lengthy attempt to get the SunTrust car back on track from the slick, grassy infield, Valiante pitted to turn the car over to co-driver Max Angelelli, who won at VIR a year ago this weekend with Jan Magnussen, and also in 2004 co-driving with team owner Wayne Taylor. Angelelli resumed one lap down in 17th position. By lap 67, he worked his way up to ninth and appeared content to bring home the team’s first top-10 finish since placing fifth at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. He reported several times during his driving stint that the rear of the car did not feel right. Still, he soldiered on. Just four laps from the finish, Angelelli felt something give way in the rear of the car and coasted into the pits. The team found a left-rear suspension piece had broken, the precise point of impact where Rojas smacked Valiante for a third time back on lap 29. The impact also put a hole in the right-front corner of the No. 01 machine. But Rojas was able to continue, handed the car over to Scott Pruett, and Pruett dominated the last 19 laps for his third win in four races this season.

“Once again, we have been taken out from behind,” Angelelli said. “I really have nothing else to say. This has to stop.”

Valiante was punted off the track from behind by the No. 58 Brumos Porsche at Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway on March 29, leaving the SunTrust team with an 14th-place finish. Last weekend, at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Angelelli was bumped from behind by the No. 7 Sigalsport entry and sent crashing heavily into a concrete barrier. He placed 18th.

“I’m disgusted to be taken out three races in a row,” said Taylor, whose 18-year-old son Ricky competed in his second career Rolex Series race this weekend and finished 11th. “Irrespective of who’s right or wrong, the facts are that we got taken out three races in a row, from the back all three times. We had, yet again, another good car – definitely a car that could have won the race. We had the pole. Michael led. We had everything, all the support from everybody – SunTrust, Toshiba, Pontiac, everybody. It totally could have been avoided today. We seem to come out on the short end of the stick because the car that put us out today went on to win the race. That’s not right.”

Round Five of the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series is a Saturday event (May 17) during the Monterey Festival of Speed 250 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.


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