Utah: Blackhawk Racing race report

For the GAINSCO 99, it's ninth place in a nine-hour race after team fights back from early adversity TOOELE, Utah (September 2, 2006) -- The numbers aligned for the GAINSCO team today, but unfortunately they came up all nines, as the No. 99 ...

For the GAINSCO 99, it's ninth place in a nine-hour race after team fights back from early adversity

TOOELE, Utah (September 2, 2006) -- The numbers aligned for the GAINSCO team today, but unfortunately they came up all nines, as the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley finished ninth in the nine-hour Discount Tire Sunchaser, which concluded just past 9 p.m. Mountain Time at the brand-new Miller Motorsports Park. The driving team of Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser drove a superb race to overcome an early garage visit that cost the GAINSCO team three laps and a shot at its first-ever Rolex Sports Car Series victory in the 2006 season finale.

From the drop of the green, Gurney drove a strong opening stint, running with the lead pack and generally sticking to the team's game plan. But ominous puffs of smoke spelled trouble, and at the team's first scheduled pit stop, Grand-Am officials required that the GAINSCO car be brought back to the garage and the source of the smoke found. The trouble was traced to a loose sensor fitting, which was quickly repaired. But the damage was done -- three laps were lost.

Still, the team soldiered on, determined again to make it to the finish. Gurney turned the fastest race lap, Vasser clicked off some of the consistently quickest times on the track and Fogarty brought the GAINSCO Pontiac home to the checkered flag with 191 laps and a grueling 857 miles in the books. While the result was a disappointment, there's no looking back for GAINSCO/Blackhawk -- it's on to 2007 and a chase for the championship.

"This race is really just the way our year has gone, especially the last few races," Gurney said." It's tough -- we have a fast racecar but we've just not been able to put all the pieces together. All three of us behind the wheel did a really good job and it's definitely encouraging for next year. We believe we can win the Rolex Series championship but we've got to clean things up to do it."

Alex said he thoroughly enjoyed driving the 4.456-mile desert circuit, and enjoyed the racing action as well.

"I love this track. It really rewards being aggressive, it's got a good flow and a little bit of everything mixed in," he said. "The last stint out was really fun. Even though I was a lap down, I got to dice with four or five other cars and had a good time out there."

Fogarty had the responsibility of bringing the GAINSCO Pontiac home under the checkers, and that was no mean feat with the pitch-black sky over the Utah desert. He called racing at night "a whole different discipline" than daytime driving.

"When you're out there at night, you have to rely on your feel, your rhythm and your timing in the corners, rather than what you can see -- because you can't see anything!" Fogarty said. "You almost have to tune out your vision."

As for the troubles the team faced head-on, Fogarty's endurance experience tells him it's all part of the game. "There's a lot of teams that had their share of problems this weekend -- but you really have to avoid them if you want to win because this series is just so competitive," Fogarty said. "It was still a fun race, I had some good battles and we managed to claw our way back into the top-10. The team's dedicated and the car is flat-out fast."

Jon said he is excited about the prospect of pushing for a championship in 2007. He knows exactly just what sort of hard work that will take -- and he knows the GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing team can make it happen.

"There'll be a lot of good cars and it'll be a very competitive year," he said. "We're going to step up our program this offseason and come out strong at the 24."

Vasser is just as enthusiastic about coming back, now that he's had a taste of the GAINSCO car's strength with Gurney and Fogarty aboard. The 1996 Champ Car champion did everything he was asked to do, and more, running a long stint mid-race with a quick pace and, just as importantly, staying clean and trouble-free.

"I believe the three of us had a pace that no other complete team could match," he said. "It's just one of those deals where a 50-cent part costs you a chance at a victory. I'd love to return to the GAINSCO team to take another crack at Daytona next year."

Team owner Bob Stallings is now counting down the months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds until the GAINSCO Pontiac heads back on track for the 2007 season. He believes that with a little more planning and a bit more luck, the 99 will be one of the cars to beat for the 2007 Rolex Series title.

"This team has learned so much this year and it's really hard to win in this series. But the thing we can take with us into the 2007 season is that this team now knows how to work together," Stallings said. "We've got two great drivers in Jon and Alex, a great engineer and a dedicated crew. The bottom line is, if someone else wants to win the 2007 Rolex Sports Car Series championship, they'll have to come through us to do it."

-credit: blackhawk motorsports

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Jon Fogarty , Bob Stallings