The “Red Dragon” team is on the pole in Alabama as they hope to continue their resurgence with the aim of regaining the Rolex Grand-Am title in their new Corvette Daytona Prototype.
Jon Fogarty won the pole for Saturday’s Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, suggesting that he and teammate Alex Gurney are ready to follow-up their win last month at the Circuit of the American in Austin, TX with another victory on Saturday.
Gurney and Fogarty used to win all of the time in their Gainsco-sponsored Daytona Prototype, often referred to as the “Red Dragon.” They won seven races in 2007, four in 2009, and the Rolex Series drivers’ title in each of those years. But in 2010, Chip Ganassi Racing became the team to beat, winning three-straight drivers’ titles and the bulk of the races. During that time, Gurney and Fogerty saw there win totals drop to one in 2010, two in 2011, and none in 2012. They were still competitive, but could not match the consistency or the win total of the Ganassi duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas.
But last month’s win – the first since August 2011 – combined with Friday’s pole could point to a resurgence of the Red Dragon, now cloaked in swooping Corvette bodywork.
And we have an opportunity to do that this weekend and that’s our goal now.
“It was a huge day,” admitted Gurney, describing last month’s win. “We felt it was coming for a long time. We definitely felt the pressure. In 2012, we led a lot of laps and were up [in the front] a lot. We thought [a win] was right there all of the time. It’s not like we had fallen massively off of the pace or something. We all knew [a win] was going to come up some point and that we just needed to stick with it.”
“It had been a while,” added Fogerty. “Just having that win and vaulting us up to second in points gives everybody some motivation. It stokes the fire. We know we’re capable of winning. All in all that was a great weekend, but not something we want to rest on. We still want to move forward and get up to the top of the leader board. And we have an opportunity to do that this weekend and that’s our goal now.”
Gurney and Fogarty lay just six points behind Pruett and Rojas (who qualified fourth) in the drivers’ standings. The Gainsco duo has never been second in driver points this early in the season and Gurney says things are looking up for the team.
The Gainsco squad stands a good chance of winning for the second time in as many races on Saturday. The track’s short straight-aways and tight, twisty corners seem to suit the team’s Chevrolet-powered Daytona Prototype quite well, resulting in two previous wins (2007 and 2009) and second-place finishes in 2011 and 2012. The track’s configuration also means the team can run narrow gear splits, maximizing the performance and power band of their Chevrolet engine.
However, qualifying on the pole does not assure a Rolex Series win. There are five other Chevrolet Daytona Prototypes in the race and that they recorded four of the top-seven times during qualifying. Indeed, the Spirit of Daytona and Wayne Taylor Racing entries were each less than a second off of Fogerty’s pole time. Plus, the cold and rainy conditions during Thursday’s practice sessions did not allow teams to see how their cars would react to the grinding done to the track during the offseason to improve grip, or how that grinding would affect the new tire compound Continental, the official tire suppler of the Rolex Series, brought to the track. This means it could be difficult to predict how the cars will perform when temperatures rise into the 70s and the track is bathed in sun. Finally, the race’s unusual length – two hours – could lead some team to gamble when it comes to tire selection and fuel strategy.
How all of this plays out is difficult to say, but if nothing else the Red Dragon seems to be a prime contender for wins once again.
John Edwards will start on the GT class pole in the Stevenson Motorsports Camaro. The Marsh Racing Corvette will start second, followed by the Park Place Porsche, the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458, and the Turner BMW M3.