Image via WikipediaNo one was faster during the month of January at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway than the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing, featuring drivers Max Angelelli, Ricky Taylor, Pedro Lamy and Wayne Taylor.
But despite clocking the month’s fastest testing lap in record-setting time, qualifying on the pole for this weekend’s 48th Rolex 24 At Daytona, and setting the fast lap of the twice-around-the-clock Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series endurance marathon itself, the SunTrust team had to persevere through multiple mechanical maladies and a fateful meeting with a concrete barrier to earn a hard-fought sixth-place finish by the time the checkered flag flew Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps darkness is to blame for the fact the SunTrust team never had a fighting chance to exploit its lightning speed over the 3.56-mile, 14-turn superspeedway road circuit. During the daylight hours Saturday and Sunday, Angelelli, Taylor, Lamy and Taylor led an incredibly trouble-free existence in the team’s efforts to bring SunTrust its second Rolex 24 victory since 2005. But once nightfall began to set in on Saturday, troubles of all kinds began to send the SunTrust Racing machine to the pits and the garage for extended visits for repairs, which gradually distanced the No. 10 car further and further from the race leaders.
After helping set the pace under rainy and wet conditions at the outset of the 24-hour affair, the troubles started, innocently enough, when Angelelli had to make an unscheduled stop during the second hour for a new set of rain tires when his right-front tire was beginning to come apart due to excessive heat. He stayed on the lead lap in 13th place, nonetheless, with plenty of time left to regain his position at the front.
But then, midway through the third hour, a freak occurrence plucked Angelelli from his forward movement. The rooftop radio antenna mount collapsed and fell into the cockpit, right into Angelelli’s field of vision. The Italian driving ace bolted into the pits for a quick fix, but fell two laps off the pace as he handed the car over to his new full-time co-driver Ricky Taylor. The antenna mount proved to need better reinforcement as Taylor was having to help keep it propped up while negotiating the Daytona circuit. He was able to pit shortly after the three-hour mark under caution so the team could make a permanent fix without losing any more laps.
Midway through the sixth hour, after taking over from Taylor and completing his first fuel-and-tire run, Lamy, the Portuguese former Formula 1 competitor and current factory driver for Peugeot at the 24 Hours of Le Mans just left the SunTrust pit with a full load of fuel and fresh tires when he slid into a concrete barrier on the pit exit road. He was able to continue, but inflicted significant damage to the right-front and rear of the SunTrust car. He headed straight to the garage for 13 minutes of suspension and gearbox repairs that dropped him five laps off the pace.
Not long after relieving Lamy during the eighth hour, Angelelli reported that the rear end of the car didn’t feel quite right. The crew directed him to the garage and ended up replacing the gearbox a second time, as well as other major driveline components. Angelelli resumed 18 laps off the pace.
All the while, between trips to the garage, the SunTrust car was able to turn some of the fastest laps on the race track even though the team’s hopes of winning had essentially vanished well before the race’s midpoint. And the troubles would continue in the overnight hours.
Midway through the 14th hour, Lamy reported gearbox troubles once again and brought the SunTrust car to the garage. In addition to a third gearbox change, the crew also had to replace the left-side driveshaft before Angelelli took over and resumed in 10th place, 44 laps down. One final visit to the garage less than an hour later, when the crew noticed via onboard telemetry that the gearbox oil temperatures were beginning to spike, dropped the SunTrust car to its largest deficit of the race—47 laps—to the leaders.
Once the darkness began to turn to light on Sunday morning, the SunTrust car’s troubles would be behind it with more than eight hours of racing left. At one point, just after dawn, Angelelli showed his and the No. 10 car’s mettle when he drove up behind the first- and second-place cars, picked them off one-by-one, and left them in his rearview mirror.
He turned the race’s fastest lap of 1 minute, 41.101 seconds (126.764 mph) in the process. As the SunTrust driver lineup rotated through the cockpit the rest of the way, attrition came to the rescue and enabled the team to leave move up in the order and end up with a relatively successful points day despite its unusual array of mechanical troubles.
“I think this is such a great team,” said team owner, two-time Rolex 24 winner and three-time sports car racing champion Wayne Taylor, who put the exclamation point on the sixth-place finish by driving the car across the finish line to take the checkered flag. “Everybody works for one thing, and that’s to be successful, and they never give up. There is so much respect amongst this group, as well as all of our partners—SunTrust, Toshiba, Roush Yates Engines—it’s what we do. It’s all we do. I’ll say this, and I mean this: I’ve never known my team to be more prepared than they were for this race. But it’s always those little things that take you out in a 24-hour race, and we had more than our fair share of those. We proved we had the best car. We have the best team. And that bodes well as we move forward from here.
Angelelli, who co-drove with Taylor to the 2005 Rolex 24 win en route to that season’s Rolex Series championship, had one of the many smiling faces in the post-race revelry despite the disappointment of having such a fast car and having to settle for a sixth-place finish.
“It’s quite rare to have such a fast car all the way through a weekend and leaving the weekend without a win,” Angelelli said. “It was such a good car, it was really upsetting. But we’re happy because, despite all of the bad things that happened to us, we finished sixth and that leaves us looking good for the championship. I’m enthused about Ricky. He did everything so perfectly, so incredibly perfect. We can’t forget that, for him, this is his first real race as a regular driver with a championship-contending team. I’m looking forward to the season with Ricky. We will have a lot of fun.”
The younger Taylor, who made his Rolex Series debut just two years ago when he co-drove the SunTrust car to a fifth-place finish in the Rolex 24, turned competitive laps throughout his three double driving stints and left no doubt the team would be able to mount a strong run for the championship once again.
“This SunTrust Ford Dallara was really, really unbelievably strong today,” said the 20-year-old Taylor. “It was just a shame for a little bit of bad luck through the night just ruin it for us. It’s the 24-hour, it’s expected to have some bumps. But I felt so strong during the race. Hopefully, we can have a solid season for the rest of the year. All the worries, all the uncomfortable feelings, are gone. I’m ready to get to Homestead (for the next race) and get the season going. I was in the motorhome during all of our major problems, so I didn’t get to see everything that was going on. But going through four gearboxes is unheard of. Hopefully, I didn’t have anything to do with that. But the car was so strong, and it’s just a shame we weren’t there at the end to fight for the win.”
Asked his opinion about his son’s performance, Wayne Taylor deferred.
“That’s difficult for me to talk about, personally, because he’s my son and I don’t want to say things that would come across as biased,” Wayne Taylor said with a laugh. “I guess what you should do is ask Max, and Dallara, and Ford, and the rest of the team. Ask them, because I know what I think.”
Finally, Lamy heads back to the Peugeot Le Mans program after his second Rolex 24 with the SunTrust team, wondering just what might have been.
“We had many problems,” he said. “And I made a big mistake going out of the pits on cold tires. I touched the barrier, and then we lost some laps there and kept losing laps with the other things. It was a terrible race for us from that standpoint because the car was very fast. If we could have finished without so many problems, we might have won the race. But that is a part of these kinds of races. This is a very good team and I think they will go on and have a great year.”
The new No. 9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley team, a spinoff of the Brumos Porsche team that won last year’s Rolex 24, took the checkered flag today, 52 seconds ahead of the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley. They were the only two competitors to finish on the lead lap. There were 13 race leaders in all, including the SunTrust car, which held the point for seven laps. The lead-lap cars covered 755 laps, or 2,687 miles. The SunTrust team finished 44 laps down.
Round Two of the 2010 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series will be the Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead Miami Speedway on Saturday night, March 6.