Daring move at Sonoma gives GAINSCO team seventh win, points lead Gurney's patience pays off, putting him and Fogarty one point ahead with one race left SONOMA, Calif. (Aug. 25, 2007) -- With a thrilling pass for the lead on the penultimate lap...
Daring move at Sonoma gives GAINSCO team seventh win, points lead
Gurney's patience pays off, putting him and Fogarty one point ahead with one race left
SONOMA, Calif. (Aug. 25, 2007) -- With a thrilling pass for the lead on the penultimate lap of the Armed Forces Grand-Am 250, Alex Gurney drove the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac-powered Riley that he shares with Jon Fogarty into Victory Lane at Infineon Raceway this afternoon -- and in the process, collected the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series championship points lead and the all-time record for wins in a season. The Californian duo, which also won at Watkins Glen two weeks ago, is now poised to fight for its first- ever Daytona Prototype driver and team titles.
Gurney dogged David Donohue's No. 58 Red Bull Porsche-powered Riley throughout the closing stages of the race, after the No. 58 crew gambled on a two-tire pit stop to get them out ahead of the GAINSCO machine, which made a blazing stop of its own to get ahead of Scott Pruett's 01 car. But Gurney was unable to find a way by, until a full-course caution on Lap 93 closed the field up. On the Lap 95 restart, Donohue slid wide in Turn 4, opening the door for Gurney to make a textbook inside pass. After clearing Donohue, he streaked away to a 1.937-second margin of victory when the checkered flag fell at Lap 97. As the red No. 99 machine flew by to take the win, the 60-plus GAINSCO Auto Insurance agents and executives in attendance went wild in the pits.
"If it wasn't for the yellow at the end, the 58 car might have pulled it off," an exuberant Gurney said. "Every time I got close to him I'd get an aero-push pretty bad, and Donohue was going very quick, so hats off to him, he did a great job. When we got the restart, I tried to just time my move right and be a little aggressive and it worked out perfectly. What a day for the whole GAINSCO team -- to be leading the championship going into the last race is exactly what we were looking for."
The win was Gurney and Fogarty's second in a row, series-record-setting seventh of the 2007 season and sixth from the pole. As the Grand-Am season heads into its final race, the Sunchaser 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park on Sept. 15, the GAINSCO team now leads the chase for the driver and team titles by a single marker over Pruett and Chip Ganassi Racing, 280 to 279.
Fogarty started on his seventh and the team's ninth consecutive pole and led through his entire opening stint, before pitting on Lap 27 to hand the car over to Gurney. The Palo Alto native drove his first-ever auto race on the 2.52-mile circuit back in 1995, piloting an SCCA Formula Vee, and calls Sears Point his home track. After the two-time Toyota Atlantic champion climbed out, he took station on the timing stand to watch Gurney fight to the front.
"It just doesn't get any better than this," Fogarty said. "I had a good stint, even though the car's balance was a little off from where it was this morning -- I'm guessing the temperature difference did that. We started on our qualifying tires, and after the newness from everyone else's rubber wore off, I was able to open up a gap on the field and hand the car over to Alex in the lead. Getting it done here was important for the championship -- and it's on our home turf in front of friends and family. Alex got it done in spectacular fashion."
Gurney's stint was not without incident -- in fact, on his first pit stop, the car stalled when he put it back in gear to head out of the box. On Lap 60, as he was chasing down Donohue, Gurney slid off in the Carousel and made a magnificent save to keep the 99 out of the wall and in the race. A few seconds were lost, but with speed still in hand, the second-generation star simply set to work to erase the gap.
"I think Scott's line ahead of me had put some dirt on the track, not intentionally but it was there, and when I came up over the rise it was right in front of me," Gurney said. "The back end stepped out and I went straight off to the right. I managed to save it and keep going, and I knew I had some time over the next car behind me, so I felt out the car and it was fine."
Fogarty said those two mistakes were counterbalanced by two recovery moves from the team -- one orchestrated from engineer Kyle Brannan's place on the timing stand, and the other, from Gurney's cockpit seat behind the wheel of the GAINSCO Pontiac.
"We were able to overcome those problems in two ways," Fogarty said. "From the engineering side, our fuel strategy got us ahead of the 01 car and close to the 58, and then Alex did the rest, keeping the pressure on and taking advantage of the passing opportunity when it came. It was a really strong team performance that got us this win."
For team owner Bob Stallings, a milestone in his team's two-and-a-half-year Grand-Am history has been reached: never before have his drivers sat atop the points championship standings. On the radio to Gurney in the waning laps, he told his driver that he "can see a championship coming. But one final challenge awaits his team outside Salt Lake City. It's a challenge that Stallings is relishing.
"This year, we haven't made a lot of mistakes -- we made two today and usually if you make one in this series, you're hosed. That we came back to win tonight is a testament to Alex and Jon and Kyle and Link (Smith, crew chief) coming together and doing what they had to do," Stallings said.
"I had a feeling that on the restart we'd have a chance because we've been good on the starts all year long, so I told Alex that the decision to go for the win was up to him. He made the right call," Stallings said. "But if it wasn't for that super-fast second stop from Link and the rest of the crew, I don't think we would have finished first today. Every person on this team played their role perfectly and that kind of team effort wins races. We said going into Watkins Glen that we wanted to win the last three races and the title -- well, we're two-thirds of the way there now."