Pole-winning GAINSCO car becomes 'Ia pinata' drops out of Rolex 24 after 22-hour struggle DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 28, 2007) -- Polesitter Alex Gurney and his No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac-powered Riley led a 70-car field to the green...
Pole-winning GAINSCO car becomes 'Ia pinata' drops out of Rolex 24 after 22-hour struggle
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 28, 2007) -- Polesitter Alex Gurney and his No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac-powered Riley led a 70-car field to the green flag at this weekend's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Rolex 24 At Daytona at the Daytona International Speedway. But a series of accidents and mechanical failures conspired to defeat Gurney and his co-drivers, Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser -- beginning just seven laps into the race, when Alex clipped a GT car, which had suddenly slowed because its hood had flipped over the windshield. That freak accident was followed by an axle failure, more contact, a gearbox malfunction, another axle failure and a broken rear wing. At one point, Gurney told the crew via radio that he "felt like a pinata" out on track.
The GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team made lengthy and repeated repairs in an effort to keep the No. 99 running to the finish -- using two spare noses, a spare tail clip, the spare gearbox and spare drivetrain parts along the way -- but a second gearbox failure with less than two hours to go in the 24-hour endurance contest sealed the team's fate. The car was retired after completing 493 laps, recording a 46th-place finish overall, 22nd in the Daytona Prototype class, a total of 175 laps behind the overall winner, Scott Pruett.
The result was a bitter pill to swallow for Gurney, Fogarty, Vasser and team owner Bob Stallings, who had come into this race as one of the favorites after Alex set a track record in qualifying. Nearly 100 GAINSCO agents, executives and employees were on hand to cheer the team on -- making the pain that much more acute. But the team's resolve to succeed in their quest for that elusive first victory -- and a Rolex Sports Car Series championship -- remained unbroken.
"It was a really rough day for the GAINSCO Auto Insurance team and we're pretty disappointed with the result," Gurney said. "I'm really proud of all the guys on the team who just worked their butts off to keep our car on track -- we threw everything we possibly could at them. We just didn't have any luck today and we tore up a lot of equipment along the way. There's a lot of racing left this season, though, and we believe we can contend for the title. We've just got to lick our wounds and move on."
Fogarty was equally sanguine about the team's struggles.
"These 24-hour races are difficult to win and we just had so many unfortunate incidents that took us out of the running," Fogarty said. "A lot of things happened tonight and it seems to me like they all happened to us."
Vasser's fourth outing in the GAINSCO car again ended in disappointment, but the 1996 Champ Car champion still believes the team is destined to taste success -- and is looking forward to returning to action in a future endurance event.
"We just got caught up in just about everything we could possibly go through, and sometimes that happens in racing," Vasser said. "I know the GAINSCO team can be a winning outfit and I hope to be back with them when they find the right combination."
Stallings said that while this year's season-opener had a disappointing result, he was impressed by the improvements over last season shown by his drivers and the GAINSCO Boys behind the pit wall. Their efforts, he said, were simply negated this weekend by a surplus of bad luck and mechanical misfortune.
"Last year, we created a lot of problems for ourselves -- either the drivers or the crew made mistakes, but that didn't happen today," Stallings said. "Everyone on our team did their job, but we got caught up in an unfortunate sequence of problems. We had some gearbox problems too, and we need to get to the bottom of those issues before Mexico City. It's a long season and this is just one race out of 14 -- that's why we kept running as long as we could to get some points. The GAINSCO Boys were real heroes today -- they anticipated a lot of problems, they dealt with a lot of unanticipated problems and through it all, they never lost their cool."
The GAINSCO team will take a month to rebuild and improve the No. 99 machine before resuming their 2007 campaign in Mexico City, where the Rolex Sports Car Series will contest a 400-kilometer sprint race on March 1-3. Practice begins at 1 p.m. local time on March 1, followed by Daytona Prototype qualifying at 11:40 a.m. on March 2. The 90-lap Mexico City 400k will go green at 3:15 p.m., March 3, and will be televised on SPEED Channel at a time to be announced.
-credit: bob stallings racing