Photo by John Thawley From one winning race track to another, and with the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series championship lead stashed firmly in their hip pockets, the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Wayne Taylor Racing and its drivers Max Angelelli and Jan Magnussen head to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for Sunday's running of the Road & Track 250.
Angelelli and Magnussen scored their first victory of the season three weekends ago at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) to extend their streak of podium finishes in 2007 to a perfect 4-for-4. This weekend, they return to the scene of their only previous victory together in 2006 with their sites set on widening their 11-point (127-116) lead in the championship standings over the next-best team, the second-place No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry.
Sunday's 250-mile trek around the scenic 2.2-mile hillside road course at Laguna Seca and its famous Corkscrew combination of turns is the latest challenge in what so far has been a season filled with success stories for the still fledgling Wayne Taylor Racing organization, which didn't come to be until late last fall but has managed to keep the three-year-old championship-chasing legacy of SunTrust Racing moving full-speed ahead without missing a beat.
The team opened the 2007 campaign with a fierce battle from five laps down to a solid podium finish at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona -- a determined effort that included none other than four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Jeff Gordon in the driver's seat alongside Angelelli, Magnussen and team-owner Wayne Taylor. From there, Magnussen and Angelelli, who co-drove with Taylor to the 2005 Rolex Series championship in the SunTrust Racing machine, added a third-place run in Mexico City, the season's first pole qualifying effort and runner-up finish at Homestead, Fla., and the landmark victory at VIR the last Sunday in April. The latter result was not only the first win for Wayne Taylor Racing, but the 10th in the history of SunTrust Racing, which entered the Rolex Series for the first time in 2004. And for the driving duo of Angelelli and Magnussen, it was the ninth consecutive finish of fourth or better dating back to their victory together at Laguna Seca a year ago this weekend.
Making it back-to-back wins for the season with its second of back-to-back wins at Laguna Seca might be the goal this weekend for the SunTrust team, as it is each and every event weekend. But in the highly competitive world of Rolex Series racing that so far this season has yielded four different race winners in the first four events, the ultimate goal of a second series championship for SunTrust takes precedence over all else. And Angelelli and Magnussen have done their part of late by finishing at or near the front of the pack each time they get together.
This weekend, however, Angelelli and Magnussen will reverse roles in their effort to achieve another top finish. Former Formula 1 veteran Pedro Lamy of Portugal was previously announced as Angelelli's co-driver for this weekend and several others thereafter. But Lamy encountered an unexpected conflict in his schedule that led to Magnussen's return to the SunTrust team after all. A full-time co-driver for General Motors with the factory Corvette team in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), Magnussen will start his weekend at the ALMS event at Miller Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City while Angelelli does all the practice and qualifying in the SunTrust car at Laguna Seca on Friday and Saturday. After Saturday night's ALMS race, Magnussen and several other drivers who are also pulling ALMS/Rolex Series double duty this weekend will jet over to Monterey in time for Sunday morning's final practice for the Road & Track 250. Thus Angelelli -- per series rules as the qualifying driver -- will start the race and hand the SunTrust car over to Magnussen for the mandatory driver change some time before race's end. Magnussen typically qualifies and starts the races while Angelelli has played the role of closer.
Taylor, meanwhile, will pull a little double duty of his own, albeit all at the same racetrack. In addition to his usual responsibilities overseeing the SunTrust effort as team owner, he was invited to join fellow team owner Tracy Krohn as co-driver of the No. 78 Kinetic Motorsports entry in the KONI Challenge Grand Sports race that begins at 9 a.m. Sunday, just prior to the Road & Track 250. For Taylor, the 30-year sports car racing veteran and three-time champion, it will be a welcome chance to have a little fun on one of his favorite circuits and a much-needed break from the day-to-day rigors of starting up a championship-contending race team from scratch.
Quotes from Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
You're coming off your first win of the season and returning to the track where you enjoyed your previous win. What are your thoughts as you prepare for Laguna Seca?
"Naturally, I'm very excited. We have to keep the momentum going. I feel like we need to win, we need to win, we need to win. In order to win the championship, we have to be consistent, and we have to win. The down side this weekend is that Jan (Magnussen) will only show up on Sunday, so (engineer) Travis (Jacobson) and I will do everything we can during practice, set up the car in such a way that we can, qualify the car as well as we can, start the race, and then hopefully give the best car in the field to Jan when it is his turn to drive. It's not an easy task what we are asking him to do. Even if he is fast and quick in general, it's not easy in the Grand-Am series to come Sunday, jump in and expect to do well. On the other hand, I'm not worried about it. I know that if we have a good car, he will be able to do the job."
You are accustomed to being the driver on this team who usually finishes the race. How do you feel about being the one to start the race and then give it over to Jan for the finish?
"Our routine on this team has been the same since Day 1 when we started the Grand-Am series: I finish the race when the situation is normal. Unfortunately, this weekend the situation is not normal. We have to change the routine, and obviously I can't finish the race. It's really no big deal. On Monday, nobody will remember who started the race and finished the race. The bigger concern is that we want to win the championship, and who starts and finishes at Laguna Seca is only a very small part of that. We have a lot of momentum so far this season, and no matter how we get the job done, we have all the right people in all the right places to get the job done right."
Quotes from Jan Magnussen, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:
Surprise ... you're back with the SunTrust team this weekend after it was announced that you would be absent until much later in the season. How do you feel about the last-minute return to the SunTrust team?
"It's going to be really good to be back. I didn't expect to do this race, and even though I have a lot going on elsewhere in the ALMS and the Danish Touring Car series back home, it was tough to leave after winning at VIR and leading the championship with Max (Angelelli). It'll be good to come back and get some more driver points that I wasn't expecting to get. I'm doing both the ALMS race and the Grand-Am race in the same weekend, which will be a little tough since I will get only very few laps in the SunTrust car before the race on Sunday. But last year we had a good race car and we won, so I'm confident that we will be good again.
What do you expect will be the hardest part about racing two completely different types of cars on two completely different tracks on back-to-back days?
"We've got a private plane to take us from Utah to Monterey, so that part will be very easy. I really don't expect any problems that would affect our race effort at Laguna Seca. It might take a little more time than usual to get going on Sunday morning. I'm not an early morning person, regardless of whether I've raced the night before or not! But I've done 24-hour races and won 24-hour races and never had any problems once I've strapped myself into a race car. Once I show up for work, I pretty much know how to get the job done no matter what kind of car I'm driving. Fortunately, I know the Laguna Seca track very well. I've driven there in ALMS cars, Champ Cars, and we won with the SunTrust car last year. That definitely helps."
Quotes from Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:
You're coming off of your first win as Wayne Taylor Racing, and you're coming to a track where you enjoyed your last victory before that. Is it safe to say you're feeling good about this weekend at Laguna Seca?
"Well, we're feeling pretty good about the way things have gone so far this season. But in this business, obviously you're only as good as your next race, right? We had a little bit of a hiccup in that we announced Pedro Lamy as our driver for this race and something came up. His team for (the 24 Hours of) Le Mans got a little concerned with him driving in the U.S. prior to the 24-hour, and they wanted Pedro to fully concentrate on that effort for them. Luckily, there were a few other drivers who were doing both the ALMS race in Utah along with Jan (Magnussen), so we were able to get Jan here in time to drive for us on Sunday. It takes us out of our normal routine since he can't be here to practice and qualify on Friday and Saturday. So Max will qualify and start the race, per the series rules, and Jan will drive in the Sunday warm-up and finish the race. I don't see it as a big deal as they're both good at whatever they do. Max is a good qualifier and will get the car fully set up for the race. He and Jan have driven together a lot, and they know each other quite well, and, as you know, they've had a good bit of success together. We've developed a strong team with talented people, so we're going into this race with expectations just like any other race."