In a season where just about everything has gone wrong for the SunTrust Racing team in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, 16, everything went right for Michael Valiante and Max Angelelli finally at Infineon Raceway.
Valiante led the opening 24 laps on the Californian track before handing over the #10 Pontiac Dallara to Angelelli, who led the final 58 laps to win the Armed Forces 250. It was the first victory of the season and twelfth career for 2005 series champion Angelelli, but the first for Valiante, who joined the Wayne Taylor-owned team this season. The team's previous best finish this season was third in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen in June, a result which came only two weeks after the team's transporter and primary car were destroyed in a highway fire. It was also the first victory for the Dallara chassis, and first triumph for a non-Riley constructor since the Laguna Seca round in May 2007.
"We're definitely very happy - it couldn't have come at a better place," Angelelli commented, "We've had everybody, from our team members - SunTrust, Toshiba, Miracle Sealants and, of course, Gianpaolo Dallara, who came from Italy for the very first time - to watch our race. We won the pole position, won the race; it couldn't have been better."
At one point, the team's closest challenge came from the AIM Autosport team which had triumphed in each of the last two rounds, but had been demoted from pole on Friday after a technical infraction.
Mark Wilkins and Brian Frisselle eventually finished third in the #61 Ford Riley, giving the team its third consecutive podium finish, after Frisselle started 16th but led 17 laps before pitting. Wilkins then ran third throughout most of his run.
"It was just unfortunate what happened with the #61, unfortunate for them because we wanted to race them," Valiante commented, "It was good in the race to actually come through together and battle with them and show that we had the speed we did this weekend, even though they had to start from the back.
"In the race, I thought we'd be challenged a lot more than we were. From all the problems we had all year long, it was a textbook race. It couldn't have gone any better. We kept saying our time's coming, but the clock was ticking. So it was nice for it to finally come before the end of the year."
"The team called a great strategy, having us pit on lap one, and then running me long," Frisselle admitted, "I knew it was going to be tough, because this place is a tough place to pass, and I knew you really had to work the race track to get through traffic. I just had to put my head down. It was hard there at the end, not only with Max, but because my tyres had about double the laps that he had on them. So it was hard to keep him behind me, but the team just did a great job calling the strategies and getting track positions. I tried to pass as many cars as I could, and Mark kept it near the front for his entire stint."
Alex Gurney finished second in the #99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley, crossing the line 3.646secs behind the SunTrust car. The result allowed the defending series champions to cut the points lead of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas to 42 with two races remaining in the 2008 campaign.
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