Grand AM » 29 January 2007
Grand-Am: Maiden voyage yields podium for Suntrust
For the third time in the last four editions of the Rolex 24, the familiar colours of SunTrust Racing appeared on the podium at Daytona, but only after a stirring fightback drive.
Run for the first time by Wayne Taylor Racing, the SunTrust Riley-Pontiac came from five laps down in the early going on Saturday to feature in a lead-lap fight for the race win - only for brake problems with just 38 minutes remaining to relegated it to a third at the flag.
WTR only assumed responsibility for carrying the SunTrust Racing banner less than three months ago, but applied the experience gained over past Grand-Am Rolex Series campaigns to put the distinctive blue machine at the head of the field after qualifying. However, as is often the case for most runners bar the eventual race winner, the #10 was forced to deal with adversity throughout the 24-hour marathon.
"I felt really good for SunTrust, and really good for the team," South African team boss Taylor said, "These races are really difficult to win, and people who have been doing it for so many years know that so many things have to go the right way. Look at what Ganassi did today - all they did was change drivers and tyres and add fuel for 24 solid hours. That's what wins these things. But the way we came back from so far down says a lot about the potential of this new team and that, in itself, is exciting."
Having consistently recorded the fastest overall laps in group test days at Daytona in November and earlier this month, the #10 team arrived as one of the pre-race favourites, and SunTrust regular Max Angelelli didn't disappoint as he qualified second on the 70-car grid. The Italian then pushed the car into the lead by the third lap and kept it there until handing the car over to Taylor at the end of the first hour.
The road got a little rocky from then on, however, as Taylor immediately found himself battling power steering problems that caused him to lose positions. Soon afterwards, just short of the two-hour mark, the owner-driver was forced to the outside wall by a slower competitor entering the backstraight chicane, causing him to check up and get hit from behind by the #11 SAMAX?CITGO Riley, flattening Taylor's right-rear tyre and forcing an unscheduled pit-stop that cost a lap.
The most devastating blow in the early going, however, was an engine misfire that arose at the two-hour mark. The team replaced the ECU and the nose of the car, which had also been damaged in the contact with the #11 car, before Taylor handed over to Jan Magnussen, now five laps off the pace and down in 22nd place.
The Dane's first stint was, by comparison, relatively uneventful, and he was able to get the #10 to within three laps of the leader by the three-hour mark, when he handed the car over to NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, who continued the recovery. When Angelelli took over from the American, however, the clutch failed, and the team was hit with the reality of having to push-start the SunTrust car out of the box after each and every pit stop for the next 19 hours.
Unbeknownst to Angelelli at the time, he would be behind the wheel for three consecutive stints, fighting his way back into the top ten by the seven-hour mark, and all the way up to sixth, just two laps off the lead, when he handed the car over to Taylor shortly after nine hours.
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