Tuesday
Jun052007

TEAM NEWS: Suntrust Racing Watkins Glen Preveiw

Photo by John Thawley WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (June 5, 2007) -- A new co-driver joins regular Max Angelelli in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley of Wayne Taylor Racing for Saturday's annual Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, but the quest for a second series title in the last three seasons is the same as it ever was in the SunTrust Racing camp as it prepares to tackle at the historic, 3.4-mile Watkins Glen International road course.

Jonathan Cochet of France, a 30-year-old former Formula Renault and Formula 3 champion and Formula 1 test driver, will make his first start with the SunTrust team as it tries to regain the top spot in the Rolex Series standings after its string of four consecutive podium finishes to start the 2007 season was foiled three weekends ago at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Cochet, a factory Courage LMP1 team driver at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in the season-long Le Mans Endurance Series (LMES) in Europe, takes the place of regular SunTrust co-driver Jan Magnussen, who is competing this weekend at a Danish Touring Car Championship (DTCC) event in his native Denmark. Magnussen will be back with the SunTrust team later this season -- in-between his remaining DTCC stints and his commitments with the factory Corvette team in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).

Also back in the SunTrust driver lineup this weekend is team owner Wayne Taylor, the three-time sports car champion who co-drove to the 2005 Rolex Series title with Angelelli in the SunTrust Racing machine. Taylor is back in the lineup for the first time since co-driving with Angelelli, Magnussen and four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon to a third-place finish at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.

Taylor, Angelelli and Cochet are looking to put the SunTrust Pontiac on the Watkins Glen podium for the seventh time in its eight appearances at The Glen since joining the Rolex Series in 2004. That streak includes back-to-back victories for Angelelli and Taylor at The Glen during their 2005 championship run, both of which came in the 200- and 250-mile sprint races in August and September that year after their sixth-place finish in the June six-hour event. In its seven previous Watkins Glen starts, the blue No. 10 SunTrust Racing machine has led more than a quarter of the total laps (207 of 763) run at the historic road circuit by Rolex Series competitors. But, oddly enough, victory at the Sahlen's Six Hours is the only major sports prototype endurance event milestone that has eluded Taylor during his 30-year driving career that includes victories at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Petit Le Mans.

Still, podium streaks, laps led and elusive victories aside, top priority in the SunTrust camp at Watkins Glen is simply a maximum points weekend in its season-long quest for another Rolex Series title. In the short time since Taylor founded the team that bears his name just last September, it has not missed a beat in continuing the SunTrust Racing legacy that is in its fourth season. After the season-opening third-place finish at Daytona, which saw the SunTrust team rebound from a five-lap deficit to a fierce battle for the race win in the closing hours, Angelelli and Magnussen co-drove to another third-place finish in Mexico City, a runner-up finish from the pole at Homestead, Fla., and the season's first victory at Virginia International Raceway.

They arrived at Laguna Seca three weekends ago with a hefty 11-point lead over their fellow perennial championship contenders, the No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry of drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. But an uncharacteristic off-course excursion early in the Laguna Seca race led to significant front-end damage to the SunTrust Racing machine and it was able to soldier home no better than 15th despite stellar work by the SunTrust crew in making the necessary repairs. The 15th-place finish, coupled with the Ganassi team's runner-up result at Laguna Seca, dropped the SunTrust team back into second in the championship chase, five points out of the lead heading into the Sahlen's Six-Hour.

As disappointing as its first non-podium finish of 2007 was, the SunTrust team is ready to rebound this weekend on what is historically one of its best circuits. A year ago this month, Angelelli, Taylor, and another first-time co-driver, Australian open-wheel star Ryan Briscoe, led a race-high 36 laps en route to a third-place finish in what turned out to be a wet and wild Sahlen's Six-Hour battle. This year's SunTrust team is counting on more of the same and is hoping to achieve a major milestone along the way.

Max Angelelli, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:

The SunTrust team has had a good deal of success at Watkins Glen over the years. Are you expecting that trend to continue as you return to the historic track for the Sahlen's Six-Hour?

"I'm very happy to be going back to Watkins Glen. It's a track, very much like Virginia (International Raceway), that suits the SunTrust car very well. Obviously, we had a win at Virginia already this year. We won at Watkins Glen two times in 2005, so we have big expectations for this race, this weekend. It is coming at a very good time at a very good place because we had a very bad result at Laguna Seca. We qualified on the front row, but we had a big problem in the race. Hopefully, that was our one bad race of the year. We need to maximize our points every weekend if we are going to fight for the championship."

You are sharing the driver's seat with one very familiar face and one brand-new co-driver for the first time. How do you feel about the lineup and your outlook for the weekend?

"Obviously, Wayne and I have a very good history together and it will be good to drive with him for the first time since Daytona. As he is running this new team from day-to-day, he is able to drive less and less. But, obviously he is just as good of a team owner as he is a successful driver because, so far, things have been going very, very well since Day 1 at Wayne Taylor Racing and the SunTrust program. It will also be exciting to have Jonathan join us this weekend. He is a well-known guy in European sports car racing. He's fast. He knows the Pontiac Riley package and the Grand-Am series since he drove with the Tuttle Racing team during the last two seasons. I think he is a good fit for our team and he can definitely help us in the championship. Most of all, I want to be able to win this race for Wayne, because it is the one endurance race he has not won in his career. And he has won all of the other big ones. It would be nice for me, too, but I would very much like to win this race for Wayne."

Jonathan Cochet, co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley:

This is your first chance to drive with the SunTrust team, but you have experience with other Rolex Series teams the past two seasons. How do you feel about this opportunity?

"I know from my experience with the SAMAX and Tuttle Racing teams in 2005 and 2006 that the SunTrust team is really, really good. I see them fighting for the championship every year. For me, it's probably one of the best teams, if not the best team, I've had the opportunity to drive for. I know the situation for the team, and they are fighting for the championship again this year, so I will do what the team asks me to do. I think they will ask me to drive fast, but drive safely. I have driven with very good teams in other categories in Europe, so I know what to expect. When this opportunity arrived, with the team fighting for first place and fighting for the championship, it's very exciting for me."

You have raced all over the world, but this will be your first race ever at Watkins Glen. Does that put any additional pressure on you -- driving for a championship-contending team -- to be able to do well this weekend on a track you've never seen?

"I've never driven at Watkins Glen, but I am very familiar with the Pontiac engine and the Riley chassis. Knowing the car is probably the most important thing. After that, learning a circuit is easy, in my opinion. I saw video of the circuit. I know how the circuit is -- a very famous circuit. Fortunately, it's one of the longer Grand-Am races, so I will have plenty of time to get to learn how to work with the team, and to learn the circuit. In Europe, I am used to racing the 1,000-kilometer LMES races, which take five to six hours or more. So for me, it will be a normal race distance."

Wayne Taylor, owner of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley team:

What is the SunTrust Racing battle cry for this weekend at The Glen?

"Basically, we want to get back to where we were before the last race at Laguna Seca, which was in first place in the championship. So we have some lost ground to make up for. We had such a good start to the season that Laguna was a real disappointment. A six-hour race is obviously a difficult race. So on one hand, while we want to go and win the race -- the one endurance race I've not won in my career and one I badly want to win -- we have to conduct ourselves with our eye on the big prize, and that is the championship at the end of the season.

You're adding a brand new driver to the mix in Jonathan Cochet. What does that mean to your championship fight?

"We think very highly of Jonathan, obviously, and we have great confidence we can continue our fight for the championship with him in the SunTrust car alongside Max. We've seen what he's done driving with very high-profile, respectable programs in Europe. I saw him drive with Brian Tuttle the last two years here in Grand-Am. He clearly has the speed we need, and he doesn't seem to crash, which is a good thing! He has all the talent and ability that we want and need. He definitely will be a good representative for the SunTrust Racing program. With Jan (Magnussen) busy racing in the ALMS and in Denmark, we won't see him on a regular basis like we did the first part of the season. It's not ultimately like I wanted to have it, but this is sports car racing and you have to do what you need to in order to show up at each race with the best possible package. I feel we have that, once again, at Watkins Glen this weekend."

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