Never-say-die attitude and a crew that just won't quit powers GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing to the checkered flag at 2006 Rolex 24 at Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Twenty-four hours. Four drivers. Six hundred and thirty-five laps. Three halfshafts.
Never-say-die attitude and a crew that just won't quit powers GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing to the checkered flag at 2006 Rolex 24 at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Twenty-four hours. Four drivers. Six hundred and thirty-five laps. Three halfshafts. Two noses. Dozens of zip-ties. Hundreds of bottles of water. Just one goal for GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing: Finish the team's first-ever endurance race, the 2006 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Today, Alex Gurney, Bob Stallings, Rocky Moran, Jr. and Jimmy Vasser did just that, by bringing home GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing's battered, bruised and wheezing No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley in 24th place overall, 13th in the Daytona Prototype class, after starting in the third position.
The 44th annual event, billed as "America's Premier Sports Car Race," turned into an odyssey of survival for the GAINSCO team, after an early accident with the No. 77 Daytona Prototype and several mechanical failures forced the team to take the No. 99 machine into the garage area four times, losing more than 90 laps in the process. The crew's repeated efforts to repair the car and return the team to competition despite long odds earned high praise from the team's drivers.
"Our guys never, ever gave up and still had enough left to be all smiles and jokes as the checkered flag fell," Gurney said. "I'm incredibly proud of the team effort they showed -- it kept us on the track and got us to the finish."
Stallings, who co-owns the team, said the importance of the finish to the team's 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series championship hopes made the repairs all the more crucial.
"This is only the beginning of a 14-race season for us, and the fact that we finished 13th in class means we'll go home with 18 championship points that we wouldn't have if we'd have just quit," Stallings said. "Everyone -- our engineer Kyle (Brannan) and the crew chief, Terry (Wilbert) -- the whole crew just dealt superbly with anything and everything that was thrown at them -- and let me tell you, everything got thrown at them."
For Vasser, the team's result could be summed up with a sports cliche: Never give up.
"You just can't give up in a race like this. Even after we had our problems and I got in the car, the race wasn't even half over. When something like this happens, you just do your best to give the car back to your teammates in a good position. I had a lot of fun and I'd like to come back and do it again."
The early laps of the endurance classic went promisingly well for a rookie team -- Gurney kept the car in the top-10 throughout his opening stint and Stallings held his ground until he handed the car over to Moran, who clicked off a succession of consistently quick lap times.
The trouble for the team started on Lap 120, when the No. 77 Daytona Prototype spun in front of Moran, far too late for him to stop. The resulting contact severely damaged the No. 99, forcing the replacement of the nose bodywork, undertray and radiator, a process that sent the team behind the wall for 25 laps. Rocky was unhurt in the incident, and was able to bring the car back under its own power. Just 15 laps after the team returned to action, Rocky brought the GAINSCO machine back in -- part of the driveline had failed.
The team again made repairs, and quickly climbed back through the field, with Vasser at the wheel in the early morning hours. Then, just after 5 a.m., the driveline trouble came back to haunt the team, forcing yet another visit to the garage area. From then on to the checkers, it was a race to survive for the GAINSCO team -- survive the tricky traffic, survive the "slick as snot" track and survive an engine drawing its final breaths.
Rocky, who was making his sports car debut, said, "I feel so bad for the team that we weren't able to get the results we were hoping for, but I think we all gained a lot of experience and we had a lot of fun. It was great to be with such an outstanding team and hopefully I can come back and do it again."
Gurney agreed, saying, "It was great to finish our first-ever 24 hour race. We had way more than our share of problems throughout the weekend, but we made it to the end, we got the points and we learned a lot we can take back and digest for next year. We really suffered from a lack of horsepower because we blew our primary race motor in practice, so the car struggled on the straightaways, but the car handled awesome. Late in the race I was still able to turn laps within a few tenths of the leaders despite a really soft engine -- that says a lot about our engineering."
The GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing team will return to their shops in Dallas, Texas to bring the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley back to tip-top shape in preparation for the next round of the 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve. That race, held in conjunction with NASCAR's Busch Series, will take place at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Mexico on March 4. The race will be televised on SPEED Channel. Live timing and Web radio coverage will be available at Grand-Am.com, and team news and updates can be found at GAINSCOracing.com.