Max Angelelli – Going For Back To Back Championships
© Gary Horrocks

Blame Max! Just a precursor to this interview. It is almost six years ago that I conducted my first interview for whatever DSC was called back then, and the subject of that interview was none other than Max Angelelli. It was Max who was responsible for helping me get to Daytona in 2000, where he and the team were busy preparing for the race debut of the Cadillac LMP. Max commissioned me to build some 1/43 scale models for him, with the proceeds of the model building then going towards my first trip to Daytona. Actually, it was my first race away from the West Coast of the US. My, times have changed. I guess you can blame Max for me being around… GH

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dailysportscar.comAfter being one of the dominant forces in the Daytona Prototype class in 2004, things came good for Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and the entire SunTrust Racing team as they dominated the class in 2005, winning both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and also the seasons’ points championship.

Winning both the Championship and the Rolex 24 were important to Max, capping a dream season which saw the team win five out of 14 races, finish on the podium 10 times, and complete every lap of the 2050 that were run during the season. But winning races was not the ultimate goal. That goal was to win the Championship and to do that, consistency was needed. “We wanted that Championship badly. To win Daytona in the same season was great, but winning it was like winning a battle. We wanted to win the war. The Championship was the goal from the beginning. To win that, we needed to be there in every race.” And that they were, never finishing lower than sixth all season long.

And that same attitude will carry over into the 2006 Grand Am season. “We will be there to win the Rolex 24, but if it doesn’t happen, we still have the Championship to go after. That is still the ultimate goal.”

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dailysportscar.comBecause the SunTrust team is run by Bill Riley, and is in essence a Riley factory team, many believe that puts this team at an advantage over the rest of the field. But, Max does not believe so. “The way the rules are in the Grand Am, you just cannot do much to gain an advantage. Yes, the Riley is the best chassis, but again, with the rules the way they are, that advantage is small. Just because we are run by Bill, we do not have a special car. We buy and race the same car that anyone else can buy. The new chassis that we have for this year is no different, other than in details, than what we ran in 2005. It is just fresher.”

Max feels that the advantage that his team has is in the organization. “The Grand Am was set up so that the budget of the team would not be the deciding factor. If you can afford to buy a car and do things right, you can win. And we do things right. We are running the standard springs, shocks and such. What I see happen is that many times a team will go off and start chasing a set up and lose where they were. When that happens, it can take them a long time to get back to being competitive, that is if they ever can make it back.”

Besides the efforts of Bill, a big part of Max’s racing career in the States, and the stability of the team, has been Wayne. They have been racing together since 1999, when they were teammates on the Doyle-Risi Racing team, where they raced Ferrari 333SP. “For me, Wayne has been more than a team boss or a team mate. I couldn’t find a better person to be associated with. This is very important for a driver. It makes you confident in yourself and also the team. To me, Wayne has been an ideal partner in racing and in business. He is my best friend.”

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dailysportscar.comAs great a challenge as 2005 was, Max sees the 2006 season as an even greater challenge. Besides the added competition in the class with more teams, he and his team also have to deal with the mandated 75 pound weight that has been added to the Pontiac-powered cars. “It’s a little unfair, but that is what they decided to do, so we have to live with it. It’s not like it was only Pontiac-powered cars that won every race. We can determine where we put the weight, but in the end, it is still an additional 75 lbs. We as a team will just have to dig harder to win.”

As far as what to expect from the competition for this season, Max sees some strong efforts coming from players that did not show much last year. “From the testing, it is apparent that the Porsche-powered teams will be strong, but that is no surprise. We knew the engine was strong, but it was just in a chassis that was not competitive. Now that the Porsche is running in a Crawford and also the improved Brumos, they could have an unbeatable package. I also believe the Ford motor is very strong, but it hasn’t shown anything yet because it hasn’t been run in the right chassis and by the right teams. As a driver, I know which motors have the right stuff. Put a Ford in a Riley, have it run by a proper team and it will win.”

One of the keys to the success of the SunTrust entry last year was the ability to stay out of the contact wars that were so prevalent in the class. Despite having a reputation as a banger in the past, Max was able keep it clean this past year, which is backed up by the fact that the team finished every lap of competition during 2005. “We are all human beings, and as drivers, we all make mistakes. The key for a championship run is to minimize those mistakes, so my goal was to make the least amount of mistakes as possible. When it comes to a situation where you need to fight it out, where you need to take a risk, you need to keep the final goal in mind, and for us, it was the championship. For others, it was just the race that they were in. They were not in contention for the championship, so they would be more aggressive. Last year was worse than in the past because there are more cars and more competitors. It is not an easy thing to control.

“I believe that Mark Raffauff (of the Grand Am) is in the worst situation that he could be in, but I think he did a good job over the course of the year. I felt comfortable with his decisions. It is not easy to make decisions on penalties, especially when, in a contact situation, both drivers felt they were in the right.”

But would taking the GT cars out of the mix make the racing better or create a better show for the Grand Am? “Absolutely not. Sports car racing has always been a mix of classes, and I believe that the Grand Am with their two classes has got it right. Three or four classes are just too much. Racing with traffic is part of the game. You can win or lose by how you handle the traffic. It does become difficult at times, though, as the average quality of the drivers in the GT class is pretty low. There are some very good drivers in the GT class, but most of them just don’t look – they are too focused on driving. Some spend too much time looking in the mirror. It’s like they can’t do both. But it is all part of the racing. We need the competitors. If you want to race and have the means to do it, it is your right to be able to compete.”

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dailysportscar.comMax has also been associated with Cadillac, being a driver for their effort in the LMP900 Prototype class and also their entry in the Speed GT World Challenge. The Cadillac Prototype program struggled in the beginning, but by the end of the third season of competing, it was starting to make some strong progress and actually appeared to be capable of challenging for wins.

Was there regret that the program did not continue, as it was canned just when it was becoming competitive? “We on the team knew that it was a three year program. Nothing was ever mentioned about it going beyond three years. It was a shame, but that is where we were.

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"As far as competing with Audi, I believe the chassis was there. It was at the same level as the Audi, but the engine was not. Due to a budget restriction, the Cadillac engineers could not create a full race engine. Rather, it was built as sort of a mixture. It had racing components but it was still based upon the production block. Because of that, we always had a gap between the Audi engine and ours that we were not able to overcome. And that is part of the differences between the two series. I believe that in the ALMS, you will win with money (used in the right way), whereas in the Grand Am, anybody can win. Buy a car – shoot for a win.”

After the prototype effort ended, the team disbanded and Max was asked to continue, by Cadillac Program manager Dave Spitzer, to develop a production based entry. “We spent almost the entire 2003 year developing the car for racing in the series. At no time was I aware of any intention of running it anywhere else. It was always the Speed series as far as I know.”

dailysportscar.comThe first race for the effort was at Sebring in 2004, and while it was a glorious debut for the Cadillac team, it might have been a case of too much speed too soon. Max won the race in convincing fashion and Andy Pilgrim came from behind to finish a strong second, despite losing many positions due to stalling at the start. “All I know about that race was that I was asked to win it and that is what I did. Did we show too much speed? I don’t know, I guess you’ll have to ask Andy. He is the one that had to charge through the field.” As a result of that showing, the Cadillac was the recipient of some major penalties, all aimed at leveling the playing field.

Unfortunately, it sometimes appears that the Speed GT series has become almost like a poker game, where nobody wants to show their true capabilities for fear of being penalized. And Max agrees. “It looks like nobody wants to win a race. If you win, you get punished for doing so. Like many series, the game was definitely raised. And I think the game became greater than even the series expected, so because of that, they had a hard time with it.”

Through all of this, Max has appreciated being with GM, even if he can be “a pain in the ass to them. I feel sorry for them sometimes. Now with Pontiac, I am so hard on Program Manager, Jim Lutz. It seems I’m always complaining to him about something and he has always been so nice to me. I may come across as not happy when I’m talking, but believe me, I couldn’t be happier. But I’m just always pushing, trying to be even more competitive.”

dailysportscar.comIn Max’s opinion, SunTrust has been an ideal partner over the last two seasons. “I felt that they have been behind us without really asking us to win. They see the value of being associated with racing. They are very supportive of our efforts without weighing us down with too much extra. I will say that it is odd to walk in to do my banking and see a full scale stand up of Wayne and I in the lobby. I feel that if they ask me for identification, I can just carry the stand up of me up to the teller and say, ‘that’s me’. But I’m very appreciative of how they have got behind us. They really know how to do it.”

Besides his racing partnership with Wayne, Max is also partnering with him in managing Ryan Briscoe. “This (managing) is something that I was involved with earlier in Europe. Working with Ryan is a pleasure. He is an outstanding driver who deserves an opportunity to show what he can do. He did some F1 testing and was the fastest there, but the ride went elsewhere. We’re working on getting him a ride in open wheel racing here in the States. Something that will showcase his abilities. But I’m not sure if I’m cut out for this. When I cannot close a deal for him, I feel terrible.

“It was a pleasure to do business with Ganassi Racing last year (Ryan drove in the IRL for them). In fact doing business here in the States is very different from back in Europe. Here in the States, people are much more sincere and open. I can enjoy doing business here. But it is different in Europe, especially in racing. In Europe, the amount of available seats is less, so the fight is intense between drivers and managers. The owners are un-emotional; they operate in a cool business manner with little or no human interest. It’s all numbers and very cold. Here in the States, I still find the human touch still survives. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just sensitive and have a hard time dealing with that part of business. I guess because of that, I don’t see too much of this aspect of the business in the future for me.”

What he does see in his future is more racing, with more victories and championships coming his way. And his next opportunity to do that again will be occurring very soon.

 

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