Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway next challenge for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty Reigning Rolex Series champs ready for rebound in No. 99 GAINSCO "Red Dragon" MIAMI, Fla. (March 2, 2010) --...
Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway next challenge for
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty
Reigning Rolex Series champs ready for rebound in No. 99 GAINSCO "Red Dragon"
MIAMI, Fla. (March 2, 2010) -- GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty clinched their second GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype Team and Driver Championships at Homestead-Miami Speedway less than five months ago but that day of triumph and celebration will be just a distant memory when the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley team returns to the South Florida facility this weekend for the Grand Prix of Miami. The 2-3/4-hour timed race is Round 2 of the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Series 12-race schedule and can be seen live on SPEED this Saturday, March 6, at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT.
The 2009 GRAND-AM Rolex Series season ended at Homestead-Miami last October where GAINSCO, Gurney and Fogarty wrapped up their second set of Daytona Prototype Championships in the last three years with a fourth-place finish in the Florida finale. The titles capped a solid season for the GAINSCO team, which also led the 2009 GRAND-AM Rolex Series Daytona Prototype division with four race wins and six poles. The championship celebration began the evening of the race and continued straight through the Rolex Series Awards Banquet two nights later, but don't count on the GAINSCO team resting on its laurels when it returns to Homestead-Miami this week.
"I think we will be focused on this weekend rather than to relive any glory days," said Fogarty, who led a race-high 45 laps from the pole in the 2009 Homestead race. "We would prefer the race weekend to be a glory day in and of itself but, for sure, the memories we carry into Homestead could be worse. We just narrowly got it done last year. If it had gone the other way, I would really be hating this upcoming trip. But we did win our second championship in Miami last year, so it's not so bad."
Saturday's Grand Prix of Miami also gives the No. 99 GAINSCO "Red Dragon" team a chance to shed the memory of January's season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. After clawing back from an accident on the first day of practice and tackling a myriad of typical endurance-related issues in the day-long race, the GAINSCO team was running in the top five only to retire at Noon on Sunday when the No. 99 lost oil pressure just over three hours from the finish. Despite the rare and disappointing DNF (Did Not Finish) at Daytona, the GAINSCO squad was still classified in eighth place in the final race results, and the team and drivers earned 23 valuable championship points.
"Daytona was a real disappointment for our entire team but especially tough because we fell out at the 21-hour mark," Gurney said. "It was a very long weekend for our crew and I had hoped that they would get to see us up on the podium. The important thing to take away from Daytona, though, is some points and on that front we are really not in a bad position at all."
While 2009's championship-clinching performance was GAINSCO's best career showing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the 2.3-mile speedway road course has traditionally been one of the hardest circuits to conquer for the No. 99 team. Both the GAINSCO crew and its drivers always approach the tricky 11-turn circuit with mixed emotions.
"Honestly, I never know what to expect at Homestead, other than a lot of head scratching," Fogarty said. "But the head scratching does seem to be worth something as we are improving. The team will never give up on improving and Homestead is just another challenge, and actually one I somewhat welcome. I really want to win at that track, and having another shot at it is great. We had a fairly balanced car last year and if we have made headway in the horsepower department, we should be better still. So I think we are as good as ever."
A victory could be just what GAINSCO and the drivers need to shake off the team's long-standing frustrations at Homestead-Miami.
"I think as a team we have yet to stand on the podium in Homestead so we have a clear goal in mind come race time," Gurney said. "I am very excited to get back behind the wheel of the Red Dragon and I know that the entire GAINSCO team will be giving it maximum effort as we try to chase another championship. We are looking to get right back in the thick of things at Homestead. We had a very stressful race there last season for the finale. We had some problems with the car during the race but we were all elated that it held together and we were able to squeak out another championship."
Despite the GAINSCO team's sketchy history at Homestead, Fogarty is quick to give credit where it is due.
"Say what you will about the place, but the racing is usually quite good." Fogarty said. "The track is slippery with slow corners and with GT cars you can really get hung out, which seems to keep everyone close together. The draft comes into effect as well as the long straights. You cannot ignore the horsepower issue. Nowhere else will you see the gap between pros and gentlemen drivers so close. The reason is the time really comes from the straightaways, another factor that keeps everyone close."
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing debuted at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006 when Jimmy Vasser co-drove with lead driver Gurney to a sixth-place finish after qualifying ninth. That event marked the only GRAND-AM sprint race Vasser, who won his first CART Champ Car race at Homestead in 1996, has ever driven for GAINSCO, although he has been the team's primary endurance race specialist for the last five seasons-- GAINSCO won its first GRAND-AM Rolex Series Daytona Prototype Team and Driver Championships in 2007, but the Homestead-Miami round was not part of the successful season. Fogarty qualified a solid second but the team ultimately crossed the finish line in 11th place-- In 2008 Gurney and Fogarty matched the team's then-best Homestead finish with another sixth-place showing after qualifying fifth, but 2009's championship-clinching run remains GAINSCO's best Grand Prix of Miami showing to date. Fogarty won the pole and then joined Gurney in finishing a career-best fourth last year-- Fogarty echoes teammate Gurney's praise for the effort the GAINSCO crew turned in at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. "It goes without saying that the crew did an outstanding job at Daytona." Fogarty said. "I am glad they have had some time between races, they deserved some rest. I never doubted their ability to perform at the 24, despite our pre-race issues. They are dedicated pros, the best at what they do and they are excellent people outside of the race track as well. I can't wait to see them each and every race weekend."-- Fogarty will join several of his GRAND-AM driver colleagues in support of Homestead-Miami Speedway's "Drop-N-Drive" Haitian earthquake relief effort this Thursday evening, March 4, between 5 -- 8 p.m. Donors are welcome to drop off a variety of much-needed canned food (pull-tab cans), hygiene (soap, shampoo, etc.), shelter (tarps, blankets, etc.), medicine (rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, etc.) and power items (batteries, flashlights, etc.) at the track and then will be allowed to take a guided driving lap of the actual Homestead-Miami Speedway circuit. Fogarty is scheduled to help with donation collections from 6 to just after 7 p.m.-- One of Gurney's few positive memories in Miami happened at Homestead 12 years ago. "I think apart from last year's finale, my only good memory at Homestead was in 1998 when I had a pole position in the Barber Dodge race." Fogarty was in the same race. "I remember Alex being on pole in 1998," Fogarty said with a smile. "Then during the race I remember being part of the freight train waiting to get past him!"-- Parting Comment: "One way to look at it is to say that Homestead is one of my favorite tracks on the GRAND-AM schedule," Gurney said. "I rank it right after Virginia, Barber, Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, Daytona, New Jersey, Montreal and Salt Lake -- right after those."