GAINSCO, GURNEY, FOGARTY AND VASSER HANDLE RAIN AND HARD KNOCKS FOR SIXTH PODIUM
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (September 20) -- Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser combined great drives with typically strong pit work and outstanding strategy from the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team to finish third in Saturday's season-ending Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series SunRichGourmet.com 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park. The hard-earned third-place showing was GAINSCO's sixth top-three podium finish of the year after also scoring a victory in the EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in June and four second-place finishes.
After qualifying seventh on Friday, Gurney survived a lap one skirmish, moved to the lead pack early in the race and took the lead for the first time on Lap 40, just before the end of his opening stint. He handed the No. 99 GAINSCO/Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley over to Vasser who moved back to the top five before Fogarty took the wheel for an eventful double stint in the middle of the race. Fogarty dealt with a torrential downpour that caught some other drivers out and then benefited from a solid strategy call by the team to switch from rain tires to slicks several laps before the competition.
"It was ridiculous in the rain," Fogarty said. "We were on slicks when it first came down and in standing water you are literally not touching the ground, you are hydroplaning, so we were going so slow out there. We were just hanging on until we could come in for rain tires, and that was pretty short lived, and then the team made a good call to go back to slicks right away. That gave us a good advantage."
Fogarty dropped to eighth after pitting for the slicks but worked his way to the lead when the other front runners stopped. He led 25 laps until the race's sixth and final caution period came on Lap 108, and Fogarty ducked into the pits one lap later. Gurney retook the wheel and returned to the race in second place behind eventual race winner Raphael Matos, who co-drove the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley with Ian James and John Pew. Max Angelelli later moved the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara by the No. 99 for third, and Gurney even fell out of the top three in the final hour of the race, but he fought his way back on to the podium by the checkered flag.
"It's not a bad way to end the season, and every time you are on the podium it is kind of a good feeling," Gurney said. "We certainly wanted to win the race. Jon had a great stint and it was looking quite promising, but we really didn't have the ultimate pace. Once the other guys really stretched their legs it was a hell of a battle. All of the guys battling for that last podium spot for the last hour, it was really tough stuff and it was nice to come out on top of that."
Although the GAINSCO race car had nothing for Matos or Angelelli in front, Gurney battled aggressively with Joao Barbosa in the No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley in the closing stages.
"Barbosa and I hit each other maybe four times," Gurney said. "He was certainly taking risks and I was too, but we managed to come out on top."
Both Gurney and Fogarty and the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley team ended the season officially second in the respective Rolex Series Driver and Team Championships. Although repeat titles for the 2007 Rolex Series Champs were not in the cards this year, both drivers knew nothing was left on the table, in today's race or all season.
"It's a testament to the team that we finished third," Fogarty said. "You look at our car, we really didn't have the pace of a third-place car, but good pit stops and great strategy allowed us to get on the podium. Everybody on the team absolutely took it to the maximum, not just here but all year long. We came up a little bit short in the championship but it was certainly an effort to be proud of. We had a bunch of podiums and just good team work. It is a pleasure to work with all of these guys. It's fun coming to the track when you know everybody is giving it their all."
Although the team will head to Las Vegas tomorrow to attend Monday's season-end Rolex Awards Banquet at the Bellagio Hotel, Gurney is already looking ahead to next year.
"I really think we got the most of what we had every time we hit the track this year," Gurney said. "Finishing P2 in the championship is something to be proud of but in a way we are happy it is over and we are ready to go testing. Now it is on to next year."
Team owner Bob Stallings had nothing but high praise for all on the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team.
"This team was just amazing all year," Stallings said. "This race kind of typified our whole season because we had about a seventh-place car and we finished third. The three drivers and the crew did an absolutely magnificent job. It is just typical GAINSCO-guys stuff and I am just so proud of them."
When Gurney led Lap 41 just before completing his opening driving stint he ensured that GAINSCO led more races than any other Daytona Prototype team this season. In total, the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley was up front in a series-high 12 of 14 races with Gurney, Fogarty and Jimmie Johnson driving. The only races that GAINSCO failed to lead were at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the Crown Royal 200 at Watkins Glen. Gurney, Fogarty and Johnson -- who led 14 laps in the Rolex 24 -- combined to lead a total of 267 laps this season, including 26 in Saturday's race -- Vasser drove for GAINSCO in an actual Miller race for the second time in three years and was impressed with the team's effort. "Considering the car we had today, I was very impressed with the result," Vasser said. "The team made the right calls, they had no mistakes and that is what got us there. I felt a little bad I didn't have more speed when I was in the car. I didn't have any filtered air blowing into my helmet and that got me a little nauseous, but I just soldiered on. I fell a few spots early but got it back to fifth when I turned it over to Jon, so from that standpoint, mission accomplished. The whole GAINSCO team just impressed me once again, and they always do."