Midseason momentum sets GAINSCO team's sights on championship fight Gurney, Fogarty look to continue consistent performances in 2007 season's second half As the 2007 season reaches its midpoint, Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and their No. 99 GAINSCO...
Midseason momentum sets GAINSCO team's sights on championship fight
Gurney, Fogarty look to continue consistent performances in 2007 season's second half
As the 2007 season reaches its midpoint, Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and their No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac-powered Riley have convincingly dominated the last two Rolex Sports Car Series races and are poised to make a bid for the Daytona Prototype championship. But with seven races down and seven to go, the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team knows from hard-won experience that to be victorious in the season-long battle will take much more than the speed they've already shown -- it'll take a dose of consistency, some smart strategy and a bit of luck.
With victories at Mexico City, Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio, Gurney and Fogarty remain the only DP drivers this season to capture multiple wins -- thanks in large part to a combination of speed, strategy and racecraft that, until this season, seemed to elude the team. Beginning with Gurney's pole in January's season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, the duo have combined to start on the front row in every race, and they've scored the last three poles in a row.
"Halfway through the season, I think we can be very happy with what we've accomplished so far," Gurney said. "The highlight for me was definitely the Mexico race. It was an emotional moment for all of us to get our first win and it's one that I will never forget. Seven races in, we've got three wins and we're on a bit of a roll -- it's a great reflection on our team and partners."
"The first half of the year was a bit up and down, but right now we're on the up and we plan to continue on that trajectory," Fogarty said. "We've got a pretty good handle on the 99 car and we just need to learn from our early mistakes and use those lessons to our advantage in the second half of the season."
None of this breakout success surprises team owner Bob Stallings -- indeed, it's what he expected would happen when he turned his club Formula Atlantic team into a professional Daytona Prototype outfit just over two years ago. Right out of the box, on the team's very first Rolex Series practice day in May 2005 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Gurney took quick time. A pair of poles that season also proved that the No. 99 had the speed to compete at the front, but race results didn't come so easily. It's taken effort, dedication and time for Bob's team to put all the pieces together for endurance racing success -- but there's no question that he likes the maturing process he's seeing.
"One of the things that I have been reflecting on is that the GAINSCO team is by no means an overnight wonder," Stallings said. "This team has worked very hard for two years to get the results that we're showing today, and that's a testament to their commitment and their talent. From the very beginning in 2005, we were fast -- but what we've done is add maturity, discipline and preparation to that raw speed. That is a winning combination in motorsports." "Our speed has always been there," Fogarty added, "but as relative newcomers to sports car and endurance racing, we needed to focus on the consistency and strategy that are so key to winning in this series."
But despite this hot streak on the track, the team remains in third in the points, 27 back from the leader, thanks largely to a spate of reliability issues that forced the GAINSCO machine's retirement from that brutal 24-hour event with just under two hours remaining. The No. 99 wound up 22nd in the DP finishing order, costing the team valuable points -- which in hindsight, loom large for the team's title hopes. A penalty-marred 11th-place finish at Homestead hurt as well. If the 99 car is to fight for a season championship, there can be no more mistakes. Even one finish outside the top-10 could widen the points gap into an impossible chasm.
Alex and Jon know this, though, and they're determined to stay focused on that season-long goal. Neither driver will back down from an opportunity to win, but nor will either of them push too hard, too fast.
"Unfortunately for us, the series point structure rewards consistent finishes rather than wins so we've still got a mountain to climb," Gurney said. "But the last two races have been almost perfect, with great performances from everyone on the team. We're just going to try to keep approaching the weekends the same way. It's very exciting to be legitimately in the hunt for the championship."
So does Stallings, who said the 14-race championship trail is a bit like an endurance race in itself. What counts is not who leads the most laps, but who's around at the end, ready to pounce on victory.
"My objective is to win a championship, and this thing may just go down to the last race. We're in third now, but there's still half the season to go -- that's a lot of racing left," he said. "If we're not in a position to go for the title in that last race, it won't matter how fast we are there, because we'll already be out of the running for the big prize. We've got to be there at the end. That's what really matters."
Part of consistency, Stallings said, is a touch of humility -- knowing when to play all your cards and knowing when to fold up and live to fight another race.
"As fast as we've been so far, we have to realize that we're going to show up to some tracks with a third-place car. I'd rather finish in third than try to do too much, go outside the limits to get a third-place car to win, and potentially crash out and finish 15th," Stallings said. "We can't try to do too much with what we have -- the key for us is to get the best we possibly can out of the car at each and every venue."
Fogarty, twice a Toyota Atlantic champion, says the Rolex Series is the toughest test he's ever faced -- and as a fiercely competitive driver, that's exactly the challenge he's looking for. There are seven races to go, and he and Gurney intend to be in the hunt at each and every one of them.
"It's going to get real busy in the next couple of months and we'll be faced with a lot of challenges, but I see a lot of focus, energy and drive in the GAINSCO team, and that's going to be crucial in our bid for the title," he said. "I have never competed in such a difficult championship, but I'm loving it and I can't wait to carry the fight through to the end of the final hour in Salt Lake City."
The Rolex Series season kicks into high gear beginning this month, with five races in six weeks. On Thursday at 8 p.m., the championship trail makes a return visit to the fabled Daytona International Speedway for a night sprint -- the 70-lap, 250-mile Brumos Porsche 250. The following Friday night, July 13, the Daytona Prototypes make their first-ever visit to Iowa Speedway for the Iowa 400k. On July 22, the series heads to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. After a much-needed week off, the stretch run kicks off in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, for the series' debut at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Aug. 3. One week later, the Daytona Prototypes will hit the short course at Watkins Glen, on Aug. 10, and after a two-week break the series stops at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. for its penultimate round on Aug. 25. The 2007 season will wrap up on Sept. 15 with a 1000km enduro at the 4.5-mile Miller Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City.