VASSER JOINS GURNEY, FOGARTY IN NO. 99 GAINSCO AUTO INSURANCE PONTIAC RILEY AT FINALE SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (September 17, 2008) -- Ready to end an up-and-down season on a victorious high note in Saturday's SunRichGourmet.com 1000 (Live on SPEED...
VASSER JOINS GURNEY, FOGARTY IN NO. 99 GAINSCO AUTO INSURANCE PONTIAC RILEY AT FINALE
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (September 17, 2008) -- Ready to end an up-and-down season on a victorious high note in Saturday's SunRichGourmet.com 1000 (Live on SPEED at 1 p.m. ET), GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty will be joined by Jimmy Vasser in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley as the team and its trio of champion drivers look for their second win of the season and first at Miller Motorsports Park.
The 1000-kilometer race, which has a seven-hour time limit, officially begins at 11:08 a.m. MT and brings the 2008 season of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 to a close. The event will also mark the final race of GAINSCO's reign as the 2007 Rolex Series Driver and Team Champions. The 2007 titles were clinched at Miller a year ago after a race-long tussle with the No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing team, where rival Scott Pruett saw GAINSCO, Gurney and Fogarty emerge as Rolex Series Champions. This year, Ganassi has already clinched the titles while GAINSCO and its drivers are virtual locks to finish second in the Rolex Series Championships.
"After the drama of last year's race, the championship pressure is off this time, so we can focus solely on winning the race," Gurney said. "It seemed like a long break the last couple of weeks after having so many races in a row. There hasn't been much rest for our GAINSCO crew guys, though, and it's been a pretty grueling schedule this summer. We would, of course, like nothing better than to end the season with a win, especially for all of the crew's hard work. We feel like we've let too many races get away from us this year and luck certainly hasn't been on our side."
The GAINSCO squad has led more races than any other team this year but a trying string of racing bad luck of nearly every type saw them finish second four times and win only once in the EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio in June. On more than a half-a-dozen other occasions, Gurney, Fogarty and even Vasser were running up front in races only to have mechanical woes or contact from other competitors knock them from contention. A first win at Miller on Saturday, in the team's third attempt at the track, would go a long way in erasing some of this year's disappointments.
"A win is what we are shooting for," Fogarty said. "We finished second in the season-opening Rolex 24 endurance race and want to get this one. Finishing the season strong is a good thing, but really we have been strong all year. We have just had issues that kept us off the top step. A straightforward race without those issues would be great. It would give a clear mind as we head into testing for next year's Rolex 24."
The Rolex 24 and the SunChaserGourmet.com 1000 join the Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen as the three endurance races on the annual Rolex Series schedule. GAINSCO, with all-star guest drivers Vasser and Jimmie Johnson and co-sponsorship from Lowe's, was running with the leader in this year's Rolex 24 when Vasser was called to the garage early Sunday morning to fix a gearbox that had been acting up for hours. The team recovered to finish second to Ganassi but couldn't help but feel a possible win had slipped away.
In the Sahlen's Six Hour, the No. 99 was leading only to have an engine issue develop. The team nursed the No. 99 GAINSCO race car home to finish eighth in a race they had won the previous year. Saturday's 1000k at Miller gives GAINSCO another shot at an endurance race win on a track all three drivers like.
"I like Miller but it is big," said Vasser, who will race with GAINSCO for the third time this year and the first time since May. "I end up breaking it up into sub-tracks or sub-sections in my mind when I drive it. I treat it like two or three smaller tracks and it is easier to follow that way. Shaking any rust off will not be an issue and the plan is for me to drive in the second part of Thursday practice and a stint in the race."
As he usually does in the Rolex Series endurance races, the SunRichGourmet.com 1000 also gives Gurney his third and final chance to qualify this year. He is more than ready after an early caution in qualifying his last time out at the Sahlen's prevented Gurney from attempting a flying lap.
"I'm really excited about having Jimmy Vasser back joining us and also I'm excited about getting the chance to qualify again after not really getting a chance at Watkins Glen," Gurney said. "I expect a very long, tough and competitive race as I know many teams are going into this one expecting a chance to win. We'll be giving it everything we got."
Following Saturday's season-ending race in Utah, Gurney and Fogarty will join team owners Bob and Linda Stallings and several other members of GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing in attending the Rolex Series Awards Banquet at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. While Bob Stallings and the drivers will be there to likely accept second-place honors at the Monday banquet, Gurney may be tempted to try his hand at a game other than racing. "I'm a big Texas Hold-Em fan but haven't played much lately," Gurney said. "I've played in a few big tournaments up in Los Angeles against a lot of the guys we see on TV. I've played against guys like Men 'The Master' Nguyen, Dan Harrington and Humberto Brenes, but I am definitely no pro player. I am lucky to leave with my shirt. I'm actually a horrible gambler. I always think I am going to win and rarely do. In Vegas this time, I think the best strategy for me is to let my wife Colleen hold my wallet."-- Fogarty and his wife Sara are expecting their second child in early October and that will occupy the majority of his off-season time. "The baby is my main focus away from racing," Fogarty said. "We are moving things around in the house -- 'nesting' is what they call it, apparently. My office is getting moved, which I am really looking forward to -- not."
-- Vasser, who last drove for GAINSCO in the team's No. 98 Pontiac Riley with Cristiano da Matta at Laguna Seca in May, was honored to be asked back for the Miller race for the third consecutive year. "I have always conveyed to Bob Stallings that I am open and ready to drive for the GAINSCO team," Vasser said. "I wasn't sure if I was going to be needed because last year, the way the race played out, I didn't drive. It was a pleasant surprise when (Chief Engineer) Kyle Brannan came by at Infineon and asked me."
-- The SunRichGourmet.com 1000 was chosen as an incentive reward trip for GAINSCO employees Deanna Widner, Rogelio Martinez and Gayla Norton, who were nominated by their peers and selected by management to represent the company as members of GAINSCO's "Circle of Champions." The pair will serve as honorary pit crew members during Saturday's race in addition to participating in VIP experiences throughout the day. Two other top GAINSCO employees were the first to receive the "Circle of Champions" honor at the EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in June where the No. 99 team won its only race of the season. No pressure on Widner, Martinez and Norton!