Daytona 24: Pre-event notes

Rolex 24 At Daytona Points The Way Toward A Championship DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 17, 2008) -- The Rolex 24 At Daytona, much like the Sprint Cup's Daytona 500 in NASCAR, if not most important is unarguably the highest profile race for the...

Rolex 24 At Daytona Points The Way Toward A Championship

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 17, 2008) -- The Rolex 24 At Daytona, much like the Sprint Cup's Daytona 500 in NASCAR, if not most important is unarguably the highest profile race for the Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16.

However, winning the "Big One" at the "World Center of Racing" January 26-27 does not make for an inevitable series' driving championship. Just ask 2007 Rolex Series Champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty.

Though the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley drivers were full of confidence after Gurney grabbed the 2007 Rolex 24 pole in record-setting fashion, the season's first race soon became anything but a sure thing.

"It was going to be our year," Gurney later recalled. "We went into the 24 believing that we were set to make a championship run."

On Lap 6 the unexpected happened in the 31-degree East Bank portion of the course's 3.56-mile road course, when Michael Auriemma's No. 42 Porsche GT3 Cup car's hood suddenly loosened. With his vision blocked, Auriemma shot from the track's outside wall and into Gurney's path.

"And that was about it for us for the rest of the day," car owner Bob Stallings said later.

Though repairs were made, the early contact would lead to a series of later parts failures, leaving Gurney, Fogarty and Rolex 24 co-driver, 1996 Champ Car World Series champion Jimmy Vasser, to finish a disappointing 46th overall and 22nd in the Daytona Prototype class.

More importantly, though, the team left Daytona International Speedway so far down the driving championship points list "that bottom looked like up," Fogarty remarked. The nine points the duo earned for their 22nd-place finish left them 26 points behind Scott Pruett, who proved to be the tandem's chief rival throughout the season.

"We were very dispirited," Gurney said, "but at the same time we also knew we had 13 more races to climb back into championship contention."

Riding the crest of an unprecedented seven series wins, Gurney and Fogarty nonetheless headed into 2007's final race -- the Sunchaser 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, Utah -- with a scant one-point championship lead over second-place Scott Pruett, driver of the No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Lexus Riley.

As if Gurney and Fogarty's lead wasn't precarious enough, sitting three points behind in third place was 2005 champion driver Max Angelelli and his No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley.

"While we realized it wasn't going to be easy, we also didn't expect the fight to come down to the last race of the season at Miller, either," Gurney said.

During 2007 Pruett and Angelelli each would hold the points lead at one time or another and each went into the final race vowing to regain it by the checkered flag.

Like punch-drunk heavyweight boxers the three teams would slug it out for six hours, ultimately leaving pieces of their respective Daytona Prototypes strewn about the 4.486-mile race course.

Taking nearly nine months to contest the series' entire 14-race schedule, Gurney and Fogarty came out on top, demonstrating the champions' mettle to fight on despite a disheartening initial defeat at the hands of 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Scott Pruett (who co-drove that Rolex 24 with one-time teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Salvador Duran).

As the defending champions can attest, one race does not make a season. But if disaster strikes during the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the rest of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 season becomes an uphill climb.

-credit: garra

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