Gurney, Fogarty, Vasser look to capture victory, championships in Utah GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing leads driver, team points heading into marathon season finale SALT LAKE CITY (Sept. 11, 2007) -- With a dream season of seven wins, nine...
Gurney, Fogarty, Vasser look to capture victory, championships in Utah
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing leads driver, team points heading into marathon season finale
SALT LAKE CITY (Sept. 11, 2007) -- With a dream season of seven wins, nine podiums and 10 poles behind them, Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser now have one mission ahead in Saturday's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Sunchaser 1000k: capture the driver and team championships for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing. Piloting the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac-powered Riley in the pivotal season finale at the 4.5-mile Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, the all-American trio will aim to score their third consecutive victory and in so doing, put a lock on the 2007 Daytona Prototype titles.
Two weeks ago at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., Gurney's daring, penultimate-lap pass for the lead put the GAINSCO Pontiac in command of the points table for the first time in the team's history, albeit by the slimmest of margins. He and Fogarty lead by just a single point over Scott Pruett and Chip Ganassi Racing, and possess a three-point advantage on Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor Racing. But to claim the title, Gurney, Fogarty and Vasser must survive and succeed in the season's second longest race, a 1,000-kilometer or seven-hour, 30-minute test of endurance on the Utah salt flats.
"We're very excited to be leading the championship for the first time all season," Gurney said. "This race will require a bit of a different approach, but after getting the win at the Six Hours of the Glen, we're confident that we know how to tackle the endurance challenge. We've proven that we can get through these races without any problems, so our plan is just to run hard the whole way and take home this championship."
Fogarty said the difference in approach between endurance races and sprint races has shrunk as reliability has improved. No longer, he said, can a driver simply lope through much of the event hoping to save the car for the end. In fact, he won't be surprised if the Sunchaser -- and the series championship - comes down to a shootout in the final laps, much as the Infineon Raceway round was decided on the way to the white flag.
"GT cars or no GT cars, two and a half hours or seven hours, I don't think it makes as much of a difference as it used to. This is still a sprint race," the eight-time polesitter said. "We have to be aggressive because we know our competitors will be, but at the same time we know we can't damage the GAINSCO car. There's a definite balance there."
Vasser's extensive road racing experience has been an asset to Bob Stallings Racing since his first event with the team, the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona, and he's enthusiastic about the prospect of playing a key role in making the third-year outfit a championship-winning team.
"I'm extremely proud of what Alex and Jon have accomplished this season, and it's an honor to be going for not just a win, but a championship, with them this weekend," Vasser said. "The GAINSCO team has been super-strong all year and we want nothing more than to close out 2007 with an exclamation point."
In last year's nine-hour Sunchaser, early gearbox troubles put the GAINSCO team out of the hunt, but after repairs were completed, Gurney showed the 99 car's trademark speed by setting the fastest lap of the race, a 2:39-flat circuit of the twisting desert road course. The second-generation star may use that speed in an attempt to collect his third pole position in as many attempts this season, as the team is discussing whether to return him to the qualifying fray for the first time since the Sahlen's Six Hours back in June. That decision may not be made until qualifying starts on Friday.
"Both times I've qualified this year, I've gotten the pole, and I'd love to keep that streak going," Gurney said. "At these longer races, a lot of the guys that don't normally qualify will get a chance, so I expect a pretty serious field of qualifiers to contend with."
Fogarty said the team's stellar performance over the past season is a result of hard work, preparation and constant communication, as he, Gurney and team engineer Kyle Brannan have built a winning relationship with each other.
"There's no secret to what we've been doing," Fogarty said. "We've got the right package with Pontiac power and a Riley chassis. Our guys in the pits and in the shop are doing a great job with the car and the relationship that Alex and I have with each other is key. We've been good friends and good competitors ever since we first raced against each other in the early 1990s, and that's getting results on the track."
Team owner Bob Stallings is no stranger to one-race championship battles, as he won the 2004 SCCA Formula Atlantic National Championship, which is contested in a single-race, winner-take-all format. He believes the GAINSCO Boys and their No. 99 "Red Dragon" will again rise to the challenge.
"We're confident, but not cocky," Stallings said. "It's a long race, and we've learned how to win in those this year, so we've got to stick to that game plan. Jimmy brings a lot to this team, especially his experience and veteran mindset, and that's going to be key to making it to the end of a thousand-kilometer race. Last year, Alex, Jon and Jimmy were the three fastest drivers on track, and we just need to execute a strategy that keeps them out front. We all want this championship, bad."
Miller Motorsports Park is the longest road course in North America, totaling 4.48 miles of blacktop laid atop a desert valley west of Salt Lake City. Its unique length and high-altitude location pose special challenges to drivers and engineers alike.
"Last year, we learned a lot about the track, and we found that the setup it requires is quite a bit different than what we'd use anywhere else," Gurney said. "But we've got a lot of track time to work with, starting with the test day, and I'm confident that we'll be right on it come racetime. One of the things, behind the wheel, is actually remembering where you are on the track. I hope he forgives me for telling this story, but in practice last year, Jimmy was approaching a corner that looked similar to one maybe 20 corners later and he thought it was a third-gear corner. Turns out, it was actually a hairpin, and he just flew right off the track. This place is so long and flat that you have to stay aware of where you are and where you're going."