GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmie Johnson ready to roll in Rolex 24 At Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 26, 2011) -- Two-time GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Champions GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, and its all-American lineup of champion drivers Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmie Johnson, are ready to roll and race straight to victory lane in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley in this weekend's 49th Annual Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 27 - 30.
The All-Star GAINSCO trio of Gurney, Fogarty and Johnson - which has combined for a total of 11 American auto racing championships since 2002 - finished second with GAINSCO and co-driver Jimmy Vasser in the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona. The No. 99 "Red Dragon" Chevy Riley Daytona Prototype the team has prepared for this weekend may be GAINSCO's best race car since that Rolex 24-best result.
"We've definitely seen improvements on the engine side and the drivability has definitely improved over last year, and that should hopefully make us a little more competitive in race mode," said Gurney, the 2007 Rolex 24 pole winner. "We saw at the test that the times for all of the top teams are very close, which means this is going to be more of a race of strategy, reliability, and being smart. With the experience we've gained over the last five years, I really think this is our best chance yet."
Gurney is the only driver to run with GAINSCO in every Rolex 24 since the team first took up the challenge of the day-long race in 2006. Fogarty has been part of the Rolex 24 line-up since 2007 and co-drove to that year's Rolex Series Daytona Prototype championships, and a second set of team and driver titles in 2009, with Gurney and GAINSCO. He and Gurney will be the lead drivers of the No. 99 team for the fifth-straight full season in 2011. Starting the year with a Rolex 24 victory with GAINSCO and Johnson would be a career achievement for the duo and everyone on the team.
"I know for a fact that what I will enjoy the most about the Rolex 24 is winning it with the GAINSCO team," Fogarty said. "That has not happened yet, but the challenge and opportunity is always there, and that is something that I and the entire team never tire of. We think we will be as close as we have been in years at Daytona this year, so that is a positive. The team has assessed all of our past mechanical issues and has done everything possible to address those issues."
The challenge of the Rolex 24 is what keeps five-time reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Johnson coming back as well. He will be making his fourth consecutive Rolex 24 start with GAINSCO and the seventh of his career. In addition to the 2008 runner-up finish, Johnson also finished second in the 2005 Rolex 24, co-driving a Pontiac Crawford.
"Growing up, I raced all types of vehicles," Johnson said. "In my Cup career, it's the first time I've been in one vehicle for so long. I like to mix it up. I like to feel different things and the adjustments that are made on these cars are different than a Cup car, and I think it opens my mind up to a different way of looking at things."
A new look at Daytona this year is the recently repaved racing surface. Teams will also take to the new asphalt with Continental racing tires for the first time in a race. GAINSCO will also use for the first time in the Rolex 24 Chevy engines built by ECR Engines, which first partnered with the No. 99 team at last Memorial Day Weekend's race at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.
"ECR has given us great reliability, and that combined with solid race execution should make for better results than 2010," Fogarty said. "We are on a new tire this year, so we are still developing a setup to maximize that. I feel good about the Continental tires and I think we have a good body of information dating back to the team's beginnings in 2006 to pull from in order to maximize the 2011 package.
The three-driver lineup is also something new for GAINSCO after racing with four-driver tandems in the last three Rolex 24s.
"I think we'll be just fine with three drivers," Gurney said. "It's a little more work but a little less downtime between stints, which means we'll be all warmed up that much quicker as we start a new stint. The three of us get along great and communicate well, and we can all turn laps within a few tenths of each other. I think this will be a great strength as the race wears on."
Fogarty sees some benefits to the three-driver rotation even before the race starts.
"We will also get a little more seat time prior to the start of the race, which in the past has seemed close to zero, for me at least," Fogarty said. "The downside of course will be the additional physical demand. We will be whooped, without question."
Last year's Rolex 24 was run in record cold temperatures. Although a little cooler than usual, temperatures in central Florida this weekend are expected to be closer to normal, and hopefully dry.
"It seems like there is always some wrinkle to the weather at Daytona and it's never easy," Gurney said. My hope is that we can have a dry race. The chaos that can ensue from an untimely shower is not something that is high on my wish list. We're prepared for whatever weather gets thrown our way, but my preference is to have a good consistent track so that we can focus driving clean, consistent laps."