The 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Jan. 28-29, marks a half-century of top-level sports car racing on the high banks and twisting infield of Daytona International Speedway. We're counting down to that milestone with a series of stories looking at some of the drivers, marques and stories that have shaped those 50 years. This week, why selfishness has no part to play in winning a 24-hour race.
Compromise makes you stronger
Let's not beat about the bush: By their nature, racecar drivers are selfish. They prefer a setup tailored to suit their particular driving style. They like a certain seating position. They like a certain amount of oversteer or understeer. Basically, they like what they like.
That natural tendency for racers to gravitate toward their own interest can work well in other forms of motorsport, but not in endurance racing. Selfishness, looking after numero uno – call it what you will – has to take a distinct backseat to compromise over the course of a 24-hour race, where finding a setup that every member of the driving lineup can at least deal with takes precedence over individual interests.
Having a consistent driving lineup and establishing chemistry by compromise is key to success in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It's been one of the hallmarks of SunTrust Racing since the team made its Rolex 24 debut in 2004.
Italian ace Max Angelelli has been with the team since its inception. His longtime co-driver and team owner, Wayne Taylor, has since moved out of the cockpit and left the regular driving duties to son Ricky – whose maturation process and speed have improved by leaps and bounds since his debut. As in recent years, Team Penske IndyCar Series pilot Ryan Briscoe gets added to the mix for Daytona as SunTrust's third driver.
How important is compromise? Consider Angelelli, whose trademark aggressive nature (he's not nicknamed “Ax” for nothing) has earned him many fans throughout his career, has to temper what he wants compared to his co-drivers.
“A compromise can be very easy if people are open-minded,” he says. “I believe this is what we have. When you seek success, you have to put compromise as part of your job, and all the problems or issues with setup, seat position, whatever, can be made a lot simpler. Everyone comes on board and says, ‘Yeah, I can do that, not a problem.'
“But if you have drivers or teammates who don't recognize the word ‘compromise' as an aspect of endurance, it can become a very major problem. If the word ‘compromise' doesn't exist, then you start fighting with your teammates and other competitors. This is the reason why we spend a lot of time with the same drivers. We understand each other. We understand it's not a problem. It's just part of the deal.”
The Angelelli-Taylor connection dates back more than a decade, and it paid dividends with a win in the 2005 Rolex 24 (RIGHT). Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and Emmanuel Collard picked up the spoils after a near miss on their debut in 2004. The trio's background working together helped overcome what would otherwise have been a few sticking points in their personal preferences.
“That was a very united group of people,” Angelelli explains. “Everyone knows how close Wayne and I are – so much so, I was living in his house for a bit. And Emmanuel was also very close to us with the Cadillac (Le Mans Prototype) program. We knew each other.
“We had major compromises in the seat positions and the setup, because we like different things. But my teammates were very clever – more than me – and they set the role they did. We fit so well together, we were in an easygoing situation, open-minded and with a huge focus on winning.”
Now, with Taylor v2.0 and Briscoe added in, it becomes a different ballgame. But being studious has helped Ricky in his development, and Briscoe has accrued a wealth of knowledge and experience from his time in sports cars that translates well to one-off Daytona appearances.
“His approach was a little bit like going to classes at school,” Angelelli says of Taylor. “I don't want to say I'm a schoolteacher, because I'm learning from him as well. If you don't hide information, everyone can learn. Because he was the youngest, he learned the most.”
Briscoe and Angelelli agree a three-driver lineup can work better than a four- or five-driver lineup, as most teams tend to employ at Daytona. Briscoe explains, as the “ringer” who then has to integrate himself with the regular two-driver lineup.
“While I've only done it with three, not four drivers, three does seem normal,” Briscoe surmises. “It is busy. You're counting on yourself and both of your teammates being in top form; it's a lot of driving time. You need to do all the stuff, and still try and get rest out of the car. It does take its toll. It does wear you out.
“But having four drivers has its disadvantages, because there's an even greater compromise in setup or driver fit. It may not be all the time, but it's difficult to get everyone the same size. In our car, we don't have an insert [for the seat], so driver changes are simple.
“Ricky, Max and myself have done this before as a group. Continuity helps in this sort of racing. In lineups with more than three, maybe not everyone's happy with feedback. There's no reason a three-driver lineup can't work as long as they're fit on the day.”
For this year's Rolex 24, SunTrust is one of only three cars in the DP class with a projected three-driver lineup. The others are Action Express's No. 5 and the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing No. 99 – sister Corvette DPs to the SunTrust entry. Angelelli notes Wayne Taylor's availability as a backup driver if one of the three was to have any sort of issue that took them out of the seat. It's a luxury for a team to have a former Rolex 24 overall winner available on the pit box in the last resort.
Regardless of who's driving, Angelelli explains that a driver lineup that's willing to compromise makes things easier for the team as a whole in preparing for the event.
“When the compromise is not a problem, you can expect the success,” he says. “If compromise is a problem, the focus shifts to other goals – ‘I like the car that does this, or the seat to feel like that' – and the focus of winning becomes secondary rather than primary.”
Will compromise lead to more Rolex 24 success for SunTrust Racing in 2012? All will be revealed Jan. 28-29 on the tight turns and high banks of Daytona International Speedway...
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