Groundhog day as SunTrust duo extend Grand-Am gap
25 September 2005
Despite only qualifying a disappointing sixth on the grid, the #10 SunTrust Racing pairing of Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor took another giant step towards the 2005 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series title by recording a series-leading fifth victory of the season in the Crown Royal 250 at Watkins Glen.
Angelelli took advantage of great pit work from his crew to take the lead with 27 laps remaining, and held off several late challenges from main title rival Scott Pruett and the #01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing team to win by 0.473secs.
Angelelli had his hands full throughout the race's final laps, however, and was unable to see Pruett behind him because he had lost both of his mirrors early in the race.
The Italian also managed to keep the lead despite the fact that a woodchuck ran directly into the path of the #10 Riley-Pontiac with three laps remaining. The resulting contact destroyed the car's right headlight and also did minor damage to the bodywork on the right front of the car, but Pruett was equally affected as the 'debris' from the collision also struck the #01 car.
Angelelli later explained that he had lost the 1996 Macau F3 Grand Prix after he struck an animal on course, and was afraid that the same thing would happen in the Crown Royal 250.
“All I saw was this black thing, and I couldn't understand what it was,” the Italian said, “When I hit it, I thought it should have been bigger because it was a big hit. It moved the car, and the steering wheel. I had nothing at the end, and I'm sure Scott pushed it just as hard as me. This race was really tough, but it was for the championship and this was a win we really, really wanted.”
The victory enabled Angelelli and Taylor to extend their lead in the Daytona Prototype driver standings to 39 points over Pruett and co-driver Luis Diaz. If the SunTrust team-mates further extend or maintain their lead following the VIR 400 in two weeks' time, they will share a first DP title.
It was the team's second-straight victory at Watkins Glen International, but their first win since a triumph in the CompUSA 200 at The Glen last month. With a total of eight victories, Angelelli and Taylor also moved atop the all-time Daytona Prototype win list, ahead of 2003 champion Terry Borcheller, whose regular ride was withdrawn from the race earlier in the week.
“Watkins Glen is always a favourite because there are true road race fans out here,” Taylor said, “We did plan to follow the #01, but we really thought Scott was going to get in the car. Then it turned out that it was the best decision that we made. For [Riley Technologies owner] Bill Riley and the guys, that pit-stop when Scott changed with Luis, and Max came in for fuel and tyres, played a big role in the outcome of the race. A lot of credit needs to go to those guys.”
After starting from the pole position, Diaz led the first eleven laps before making a pit-stop under full-course caution. The Mexican quickly worked his way back toward the front following the stop, and returned to the top five on lap 22, where the #01 machine would remain for the rest of the race. Diaz turned the car over to Pruett under a full-course caution on lap 41, and the American rejoined the race in second place behind Angelelli.
“There were a few places where I could pull up to them, but I just couldn't get there,” Pruett said, “This track is so fast, I would get up to him, but I couldn't keep the nose going. Unfortunately, we had some contact after the chequer, but it was an honest mistake. He didn't have any mirrors, and when I went up to give him a thumbs-up, he drove me off the track. There was more contact after the chequer than before, but it was a great race.
"I agree with Wayne, the pit-stop was pivotal and they did a great job. I have to take my hat off to them.“
It was the twelfth time in as many races this season that the driver who led the opening lap has not gone on to win the race. Nevertheless, it was the sixth podium finish of the season for Diaz and Pruett, and was their eleventh top-seven performance in twelve races.
“It was very important for us to win this race, but unfortunately the traffic didn't help me,” Diaz said, “When I was fighting with [Jorg] Bergmeister, he blocked me a little bit and Max passed me. They did a great job. We did everything we could to win this race, but sometimes you win and sometimes you don't. We still have more to go, and we're going to be there.”
While Pruett and Angelelli fought it out for the victory, Oswaldo Negri Jr and Alex Gurney had an even tighter battle for third place just a few hundred yards behind the leaders. Negri - driving the #60 Flight Options Riley-Lexus for Michael Shank Racing - duelled with Gurney in the #99 GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing Riley-Pontiac as the race reached its conclusion. The battle was cut short, however, when Gurney's car experienced a fuel system failure just three laps shy of the chequered flag.
Gurney's misfortune allowed Negri to claim the final podium position for himself and co-driver Mark Patterson. It was a Rolex Series career-best result for Patterson, and was Negri's best finish since a second-place performance in the 200-mile event at Watkins Glen in 2004. Gurney and co-driver Bob Stallings wound up eleventh.
Borcheller - the 2003 Daytona Prototype champion - belatedly joined forces with Chris Bingham and Hugo Guenette to give CB Motorsports its best-ever Daytona Prototype result with a fourth-place run in the #15 Riley-Pontiac. Memo Gidley and co-driver Michael Valiante brought the #19 Finlay Motorsports Riley-BMW home to its sixth top-five result of the season with a fifth-place showing, despite Valiante standing in for suspended regular Michael McDowell.
Bergmeister led nine laps aboard the #66 Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac Riley, and was looking for his second consecutive Rolex Series victory, but stand-in co-driver Max Papis tangled with Butch Leitzinger's #4 Boss Snowplow Crawford-Pontiac in turn one, which removed the nose from Leitzinger's car and flattened the right-rear tyre of the #66 machine.
In turn four of the same lap, Papis was able to drive away from what would become a five-car accident, but the resulting damage from both incidents removed the #66 from the race and Bergmeister from consideration for the Daytona Prototype title. Papis and Bergmeister were credited with a 17th place result in the Daytona Prototype class and 30th place overall.
Forbes-Robinson and Leitzinger remain in outside contention for the DP title, but trail points leaders Angelelli and Taylor by 62 points and are 23 in arrears of Diaz and Pruett after coming home 15th.
For the third time in the last four races, the #77 Crown Royal Special Reserve Doran-Ford found its way to the head of the field, this time in the hands of Matteo Bobbi. The Italian led laps twelve to 30 before handing the car over to co-driver and countryman Fabrizio Gollin on a lap 40 pit stop. Gollin, however, was one of five drivers involved in the lap 44 incident in turn four. Although all of the drivers involved escaped injury, Gollin and Bobbi wound up 19th in the Daytona Prototype class and 32nd overall.
Brian Tuttle and co-driver Bas Leinders brought the #7 Tuttle Team Racing/SAMAX Riley-Pontiac home to its best-ever Rolex Series result. The team's previous best showing was a ninth-place run by Tuttle and Jonathan Cochet in the EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio last year.
After watching their TRG team-mates take #64 Pontiac GTO.R to victory last time out at Watkins Glen in August - and again at the last race in Phoenix - Andy Lally and Marc Bunting knew it was only a matter of time before their brand-new #65 GTO.R crossed the finish line first in class. Fittingly, Lally crossed the stripe just ahead of Jan Magnussen's #64 machine to take the GT victory in the Crown Royal 250 at The Glen.
In a race that saw six full-course cautions, Bunting and Lally avoided major trouble to log their second GT victory of the season - and a ninth top-ten finish - but their first win in the GTO.R they debuted at Daytona International Speedway in July. However, it wasn't completely smooth sailing for the #65 duo, as Bunting slid off-course in turn nine and scraped the tyre wall on the first lap.
“It was a busy start, there was a lot of traffic, and there were a lot of people trying to get by,” Bunting explained, “I got forced off-line by someone and they got me into the marbles. We had some contact with the tyre wall but, fortunately, the Pontiac is built strong. When I hit that wall, I didn't expect to be here at the end of the race. but the car was good for Andy and it was good for me.”
Bunting spent the remainder of his stint making up positions before handing the car over to Lally on lap 15 for what would be an eventful double stint. Just after making his final pit-stop of the afternoon under full-course caution on lap 41, Lally found his way past a slowing Magnussen for second place at almost the same time as the five cars tangled in turn four.
It would become the decisive pass in the race, as a late pit-stop by leader Spencer Pumpelly in the #36 TPC Porsche GT3 Cup handed the lead to Lally. Despite Magnussen's best efforts in the closing laps, he would come no closer than three-tenths of a second at the finish, and Bunting and Lally made it three wins in the last four races for the Pontiac GTO.R. Even more importantly, however, the victory moved Lally and Bunting to within just five points of GT championship leader Craig Stanton with two races remaining on the schedule.
"We had it set up where Magnussen wasn't going to take too many chances,” Lally said, “I saw Spencer Pumpelly coming and he was coming fast, so we just held it on. Jan watched my back a little bit, and they knew where we were in the points. I have to say thanks to them, it was a whole team effort and these guys did really good job. It was a solid effort by all. It has turned our points championship around.”
For Magnussen and Edwards, it was a third top-two finish in their past four starts, and was their fourth top-five showing in the five Rolex Series races they've run this season. A late-race caution was the only thing that slowed TRG's two GTO.Rs from cruising to the line, and to the cars' third GT win in six weeks of Rolex Series competition.
“I was in the car for an hour and 40 minutes and I think I did ten green laps,” said Magnussen, “It was actually a pretty easy race. Paul and the guys did a good job testing last week and it showed right from the first session, and the car was noticeably better.”
“I was glad to see the #65 guys win the race,” Edwards added, “For us, it was a great TRG result. We're looking forward to going to the next race.”
Pumpelly and co-driver Randy Pobst wound up third in the #36 Porsche, followed by Ian James and Chris Gleason in the #22 BMW Financial Services M3 for BMW Team PTG. Kelly Collins and RJ Valentine made it two PTG machines inside the top five with a fifth-place outing in the #17 M3.
Aside from Bunting and Lally, it was a tough day for the frontrunners in the GT driver standings. PTG's Joey Hand slipped from sole possession of second place in the standings to a tie for fourth with David Murry, following a 13th-place class result. Hand joined the race several laps down after co-driver Justin Marks crashed in turn eleven on lap four.
Stanton, meanwhile, started tenth in class in the #80 Synergy Racing Porsche and remained in position to score solid points before handing the car over to co-driver Murry on lap 28. Murry then found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, as he was involved in the five-car accident on lap 44. However, Murry was able to limp the car back to its pit, and returned to the track for a twelfth place class finish that kept Stanton atop the points table.