Front-row streak extended as Gurney grabs outside pole for Sunchaser
Try for an 11th pole comes up just short, but GAINSCO team ready for championship fight
TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 14, 2007) -- Alex Gurney made a bid to tie another Rolex Sports Car Series record today in qualifying for tomorrow's Grand-Am season finale Sunchaser 1000k at Miller Motorsports Park, but for the first time since April in the Daytona Prototype class, the championship-leading No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac-powered Riley won't be starting on the pole. The second-generation star, who already has two poles this year, finished the 15-minute session with a lap of 2:40.844, just three-tenths of a second off championship rival Scott Pruett's best time, snatching the outside pole away from Bill Auberlen and extending to 14 races the GAINSCO team's unbroken string of front-row starting positions.
Gurney will start the race tomorrow, with co-drivers Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser taking the wheel in relief. The trio is seeking not only a win, but also the Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype driver and team titles. To control their own destiny, they must beat Pruett to the victory -- that goal is clear.
"I'm a little disappointed, but it's not the end of the world. There's a long race to run tomorrow," Gurney said. "I made a call right before qualifying to tweak the front downforce settings, and it was probably the wrong call because the GAINSCO Pontiac was very, very loose. I had a few moments on the first lap, and there was a lot of gravel on the track for my second, though it was a fairly good one. We're still on the front row and we've got seven hours to move up one position."
Fogarty, who shares the championship points lead with Gurney, is a two-time Toyota Atlantic champion, and from that experience, he knows it's tough to try and script out a scenario for victory -- especially in a race that will span 139 laps or seven-and-a-half hours.
"The game plan is to beat Pruett, and we can't really plan any further than that," Fogarty said. "Alex got us a great starting spot and the GAINSCO car is solid, so now we just have to execute in the race, and I think if we do that, we'll find ourselves in the lead on track."
Heading into the championship-deciding season finale, team owner Bob Stallings has the utmost confidence in his drivers and team -- and why not, as the combination of Gurney and Fogarty has smashed Rolex Series records this season, with seven wins and 10 poles in 13 races. Starting second is no handicap, he noted -- his team's first victory came at Mexico City, from the outside pole.
"Alex and Jon have put the Red Dragon on the front row for every race this season, and that's no small feat," Stallings said. "We've got a super-fast car, three solid, smart drivers and seven hours to race our way to the front and the championship. It's all about the title now."
The GAINSCO Boys in the pits have played a vital role in every one of the team's wins, as their blazing-fast work has repeatedly sent Gurney and Fogarty back into the fray well ahead of the competition. In a seven-hour race, their workload will be more than doubled, but crew chief Link Smith said nothing will be different about their performance.
"We've just got to execute the stops and do them right every time," Smith said. "We've got plenty of time because they'll all be full fuel stops, so the priority is to make no mistakes."
Tomorrow, Gurney, Fogarty and Vasser will conclude a record-breaking season and their chase for the championship, as they race 1,000 kilometers or seven hours and 30 minutes at the 4.5-mile desert road course. The points scenarios are many, but one thing is for certain: Win the race and the championship is secure. Gurney is ready for the challenge.
"We've got to run a smart race and have a good pace, pit stops and strategy," he said. "If we do all that, we'll come out with the championship."