Max Angelelli, driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Wayne Taylor Racing, has joined the throngs of people grounded by Eyjafjallajokull, the infamous Iceland volcano spewing ash that has affected all European air travel.
While many travelers were trying to get to family events or work meetings, Angelelli was just trying to get across the pond to his next race. Angelelli is set to race in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series this weekend at Virginia International Raceway.
For five days and nights, Angelelli worked the phones and his laptop, trying to get from his home in Italy to the States. He had some initial success, leaving from his home in Bologna bound for Munich, Germany.
Angelelli made that first leg of the journey, but was stranded yet again by a secondary wave of ash and debris that threatened the next part of his trip, from Germany to Chicago.
The racing gods were with Angelelli, and his flight left this afternoon on its way to the U.S., much to the relief of his SunTrust Racing teammates, sponsors, and fans.
"It has been stressful," Angelelli said. "I think I can officially say that I know everything there is to know about being a travel agent. I was working on my flights and watching the weather for five days, 24 hours a day."
"I can tell you that I personally know every Lufthansa customer service agent by name," Angelelli continued. "By Wednesday, I was pretty confident I could get from Italy to Germany."
"I believed if I could get to Germany, 80 percent of the deal was done," Angelelli said. "Thankfully it worked out. Now I can get back to thinking about the race on Saturday."
Of all the tracks on the Rolex Series schedule, Virginia International Raceway in Alton was the one track that Angelelli wanted to get to most. Angelelli and his teammate Ricky Taylor have put their SunTrust car in victory lane twice before at that track.
"I'm really excited," Taylor said. "Out of all the tracks we go to, except for Daytona, I've driven more laps at VIR than any other track. I feel comfortable there."
"The SunTrust car has been working very well lately," Taylor continued. "If we can just rid ourselves of those unlucky things that have been happening to us, I know we can piece together a bunch of winning weekends."
Their race car is so good that Angelelli and Taylor have started the car on the pole twice. The team has also led a total of 102 laps around the 3.27 mile, 17-turn circuit over the last six seasons.
With Angelelli battling the volcano just to get to the race, Taylor, who is a 20-year-old mechanical engineering major at the University of Central Florida, seemed just as anxious to get back behind the wheel of the car for the Bosch Engineering 250.
Taylor qualified on the pole two weekends ago at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. He dominated the first 15 laps of the race, but late race contact with another racer resulted in damage that put the No. 10 out of the race with just 28 laps to go.
Taylor and Angelelli finished the race in the 12th position, dropping the team from fifth to seventh in the points standings. The team is now 33 points behind leaders Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, driving for Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing.
"This championship is so tight," Angelelli said. "Every weekend, it's like starting from zero.
"We will keep pushing and try to turn things right-side up because we are a little upside-down in the championship right now," Angelelli said. "But we have time to change that, and the team to do it."
We just need to hit our stride," Angelelli said. "I hope we can start this weekend."
Although Angelelli and Taylor have their work cut out for them with the upcoming race, Angelelli at least has conquered the worst of the challenges. He made it to the race track.
"I don't think I've ever felt more thankful to reach a racetrack," Angelelli said.