An Interview with Bob Stallings, Alex Gurney, Jimmy Vasser and Rocky Moran Jr.
ADAM SAAL: Good afternoon, everybody. As all of you know, the Rolex 24 At Daytona is coming up on the last weekend of January, the weekend of January 26 through 29. It has become a star-studded affair the last couple of years with champions from all forms of the sport taking up the challenge to run alongside sports car racing's best to win the big prize in America's only major 24-hour race. Several announcements have already been made, but this one we have today in concert with GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing is going to be as significant as any.
We are joined by Bob Stallings, the team owner and driver of the No. 99 GAINSCO Pontiac Riley, and Alex Gurney, his co-driver. They're going to run a championship bid for the entire season in the Rolex Sports Car Series. We're also happy to announce today they've called on a couple of Alex's fellow Californians to help them win the crown jewel of sports car racing here in the United States. Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 Champ Car champion, is going to join the team for this race, and is no stranger to the Rolex 24. We'll also have Rocky Moran Jr., a second-generation driver out of California on the team as well. All four gentlemen are with us today for a great announcement. Let's start with comments from Bob, who is joining us from Dallas.
Bob, congratulations on not only running a full season with Alex this year, but also putting together a great team of drivers for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. This is going to be your first run at this race. Do you guys really feel you can come here and win this race your first time out?
BOB STALLINGS: I'm so excited about having this team. That I actually get to run with these guys is extremely exciting to me. When we started to think about doing the 24 for this year, we were getting emails from people as far away as Australia and Switzerland, drivers asking us if we would consider letting them drive with us in the 24-hour race. I've got to be honest with you, I was tempted by a number of them because a number of them actually offered to put up all the money that is required to run the race. Since that is a pretty expensive race, since I have to kind of come up with the money, I was extremely tempted by that.
But I had the good fortune to have a partner on my team named Alex Gurney who really wants to win. He said, "Bob, look, a lot of these guys are good drivers. I kind of know who some of them are. If money is that important to you, maybe we should talk to them." He said, "I sure think we ought to think about the 24 the way we thought about the series, and that is when we got into the series," he said, "Let's buy the best equipment, let's buy the best motor, let's find the best engineer, let's put together the best possible people, and let's go out there every race and actually try to win the race."
Way back then, I was thinking about other alternatives that were maybe a little less expensive. I took his advice. We had an absolutely fantastic year. We had a lot of fun. Alex had the pole a couple of times. Alex was usually the fastest guy at the track. There was just a tremendous amount of great feeling that came out of that.
I took his advice this time. We talked to a number of people. Our preference was to run, if we could, two Americans - not because we're prejudiced against anybody else, but for all kinds of reasons we thought it would be better if we could have an All-American team. Rocky Moran is a guy that Alex has talked to me about for the last three or four years as he's been coaching me. He kind of tells me about people that he's met. One of the things he said about Rocky, is that he is a guy that always stands on it. He's always on the throttle. The guy is a winner. I'm just so excited that Rocky is with us because he's just a terrific driver. He's distinguished himself in all kinds of different kinds of cars. Both Alex and I know he's going to do a great job here.
Then most recently, we actually--our engineer (Kyle Brannan) who knows Jimmy Vasser said, "Look, there's a remote possibility, but maybe a slight possibility, that Jimmy Vasser could be talked into running with us." I said to Kyle, "Cut it out. I've never met that guy, but I know who he is. He's famous, probably got a big head. He's not going to run with us." He goes, "Let me just mention it."
To make a long story short, Jimmy and I got a chance to get together right before he went to Europe to have a birthday celebration with somebody. I'm sure he'll tell you about it here in a minute. We talked. He said he had kind of observed us a little bit this year. He talked about what he wanted to accomplish. He just said, "Look, I've got money and I've done a lot of different things in my life. What I like doing is winning. If you guys really think that you have a shot of winning, then maybe I'm interested."
I think Jimmy is convinced that everybody on our team, including Rocky, are people who are used to winning. We're going to give everything we've got to win. Even though I've never been there before, even though we've never been there before as a team, that doesn't mean we're not going to be one of the fastest cars on the track. I think with the experience of the three guys that are there, and maybe some of the enthusiasm that I bring from my lack of experience, we're going to have as good a chance as anybody else on the track.
Sorry I got long-winded there, but I am so excited about this team. These are great drivers all getting together to win one of the greatest events in road racing.
ADAM SAAL: No need to apologize. We're here to talk about, again, a great announcement in what is going to be a star-studded race as I've mentioned several times now. This is going to be as strong as any entry out there.
Alex, let's move to you right now. This car was competitive out of the box, no question about it. Laguna Seca, you were strong, and came close to winning at Watkins Glen. First of all, do you think you're going to get your first win as a team this year in Daytona Prototype competition? If so, do you think it can be at the Rolex 24?
ALEX GURNEY: Absolutely. I certainly hope we get our first win. I mean, that's what we have all been working towards. Definitely this lineup that we have, you know, they're very quick guys and they tend to stay out of trouble, which is something that we talked about at length. I mean, I think that's what this race requires, is guys that can keep up a very quick pace and still not hit anything. I think they've all proven that in their careers.
I think we definitely have as good a chance as anybody. We've got a great team behind us. We're ready to go.
ADAM SAAL: Rocky, you're back in action, and this is going to be your first sports car start. It couldn't be better. Once again, the Moran family name is linked with the Gurney family name. Talk about how this came about. We mentioned you were first to the table before Jimmy. Talk about the connection and where you hope to go with it.
ROCKY MORAN JR.: Yeah. Well, I really have to thank Alex and Bob and Jimmy for participating, obviously GAINSCO for being such a strong sponsor of the team. It's not so often that you have an insurance company on a race car. That's pretty neat. It gives you a little bit of extra confidence there.
It really all came about from my relationship with Alex. My dad drove for Alex's dad in the late '80s, early '90s, way back into the early '80s. Alex and I were teammates in Toyota Atlantics. In 1999 we raced in Barber Dodge together. Went through the Team KOOL Green Academy together. There's a lot of history there. He comes to my race track every once in a while and lays down some blazing laps.
When this opportunity came up, he was looking for drivers. I actually was walking the pits last year with my tongue out hoping to get a ride. I've had my eye on the series for a while. I have great respect for Alex as a driver and with this team, with Kyle Brannan as the engineer. You know, I just basically started talking to Alex and things came together.
Once again, I want to thank Bob for giving me the chance. Listening to Alex on this one, I've really got some weight on my shoulders here. I'm going to go out there, do my best, keep my nose clean and have some fun.
ADAM SAAL: Good to have you here. We're looking forward to seeing you at Daytona.
Finally, we'll conclude our opening statements with Jimmy Vasser. Tell us where you are today, Jimmy. Obviously, we know where you're going to be early next year, at Daytona for Test Days hopefully, as well as the race on January 26th through 29th. You've been here before. You even picked up a class win with the Comptech Camel Lights team several years ago, but you're back now with a team that can win. Talk a little bit about what you're doing today with your Champ Car team as well as what your perceptions have been of the Daytona Prototypes and the Rolex Sports Car Series. It seems like everybody was in this race last year. Now you're going to bring your championship credentials, as well this year.
JIMMY VASSER: Not to bounce around too much about where we're at, we're talking about this great opportunity that Bob and Alex have given me to drive for them, and GAINSCO. The most intriguing part of this whole package really was to me the fact that they have put together a great group of young drivers in Alex and Rocky, and Bob is a great owner. I've been checking on you, Bob, a little bit, you're not that far off the pace. We're going to expect you to be as near to us as you can and probably right there I'm sure.
In doing my due diligence, I really believe, especially with Kyle engineering, and I kept my eye on him throughout the season a bit, they had some great outings, and they were quite quick. I think the package is there with the equipment that we can fight for the race win. That's really what I'm interested in. I'm very excited about it. Having an All-American lineup to me is very cool. I think it's unique in this way. Not many teams these days are taking that approach, and I think they should. I'm a big fan of Alex's father and Rocky's father for many years. I think it's a great honor for me to be in this driver lineup. I think we got a great shot. I'm looking forward to it.
I got third place one time overall with Stefan Johansson and Max Papis one year. I'm really looking forward to having an opportunity to win. I think the Grand-Am Series has a lot of great momentum.
ADAM SAAL: We appreciate you giving the spotlight to Bob and the team here on their day of announcement. Before we open it up for questions, talk a little about what you're doing, where you're calling from today.
JIMMY VASSER: I'm in Sebring. We're out here testing some young drivers. We have been running Giorgio Pantano, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Dalziel. They've all done a fantastic job up till now. We're just finishing up this afternoon, running the guys through a very rigorous test plan that's exactly the same for each guy. Really, the approach and the mentality is we're trying to evaluate young talent and speed to better our team.
I'm contemplating--I don't want to use the word "retirement"--I'm contemplating retiring my car seat. We want to make sure that we get the best possible guy. We've got a lot of opportunities for the driver lineup in front of us with Cristiano da Matta, who is interested in coming back with us, obviously myself and a lot of young talent, guys that are in the series that still haven't been signed. Champ Car has a tremendous amount of momentum these days, and it shows in the fact that the long list of top talent around the world, they want to be here, they want to compete. It's an exciting time for us in Champ Car and PKV. Basically it's what we're out here doing.
ADAM SAAL: The Rolex Sports Car Series is actually going to be on the same card with the featured Champ Car event at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this year. We ran alongside the Champ Cars at Mexico City this year. We're looking forward to serving as the Saturday opening act when we go to Long Beach. Before that we have the 24 Hour race. We'll go ahead and open it up for questions for all four of our drivers today.
Q: Rocky, what are your plans post Daytona 24, so to speak?
ROCKY MORAN, JR.: Right now, it's a bit wide open. I'm speaking with a Busch North team about possibly doing some races. I started a little bit of stock car racing in 2005. But I'd really like to do more races in Daytona Prototype. I watched the last race of the year. I've been following the series. I just love the tracks they go to. I love the cars. I think it's a series that's got tremendous growth potential. I love road racing. That's really what I am, I'm pretty much a road racing purist. I don't have anything against ovals, I love ovals, too, but that's where I grew up. I'm just going to basically keep my options open and see what happens with our sponsors.
Most of the time, I've got to go where the sponsors need to go. We're going to keep the doors open and keep knocking hard. The duty is if I'm not racing there, I'm at least in a car driving, so I'm racing all the time.
Continued in part 2