Gurney, Fogarty, GAINSCO team crowned Rolex Series champions in Utah Eighth-place finish in wild Sunchaser finale secures driver, team titles for Bob Stallings Racing TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 15, 2007) -- Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and their No. 99...
Gurney, Fogarty, GAINSCO team crowned Rolex Series champions in Utah
Eighth-place finish in wild Sunchaser finale secures driver, team titles for Bob Stallings Racing
TOOELE, Utah (Sept. 15, 2007) -- Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and their No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac-powered Riley fought for nearly seven hours through a wild and controversial season finale today to capture the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype driver and team championships for themselves and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing.
The all-American duo's eighth-place finish in the Sunchaser 1000k at Miller Motorsports Park, one spot ahead of rival Scott Pruett, meant that they finished the 14-race season with 408 points to Pruett's 406. The team took the points lead for the first time three weeks ago at Infineon Raceway, on the strength of their record seventh victory. For Gurney, Fogarty, team owner Bob Stallings and his GAINSCO Boys in the pits, the emotions upon grabbing the team's first-ever professional championship were indescribable.
"After the season we have had, to come out as champions is a dream," Gurney said. "Bob put together an amazing team and it's been a pleasure to drive for him this year. Jon and I have worked together so hard, and the team as a whole has worked hard to get us to a place where we can win championships. We broke all the Grand-Am records for wins and poles, and I believe we deserve this title. I want to particularly thank Terry, Link and the mechanics, because they do all the grunt work on the team. It's a thankless job but they are a huge part of this championship win."
Fogarty said his team's dominant package this year has been the result of hard work and cooperation among the crew, drivers, engineer and Pontiac staff. But even with all the right pieces in place for a championship run, he said there was never a moment at which he was certain that the GAINSCO team would collect the championships.
"This was the toughest fight of my professional career," Fogarty said. "The number of top drivers and professional teams is so high that it's a tough job just to get one win, let alone seven and a championship. Bob has ensured that we have all the tools we need to succeed at our disposal every weekend, so I'm really glad that we get to end this season on a high note."
Stallings, who brought the team to the Rolex Sports Car Series in 2005, said the championships were the culmination of nearly three years' work, building his drivers, car and crew into a finely tuned machine which not only set a Grand-Am record for victories in a single season, but did so often in dominant fashion.
"We're not overnight wonders at all," Stallings said. "I've been focused on winning a championship ever since I got out of the car in March 200, and we've done what we set out to do. This team fought and clawed and made our way to the top all year long, and we had the car to beat almost everywhere. I'm so proud of Alex and Jon because not only are they great behind the wheel, but they're great people as well -- almost like second sons to me. My belief is that my guys are the best sports car driver pairing in the world, and today we proved it."
In the race, Gurney leaped from the team's 14th-consecutive front-row start into an early lead, which he maintained for the first three hours of the event. As pit stops cycled through, Fogarty climbed in on Lap 61 -- and shortly thereafter, a missed pit stop opportunity under yellow nearly proved disastrous for the GAINSCO Boys' championship hopes. At the time, it looked as if the No. 99 would need an extra 20 to 30 seconds in the pits for fuel -- an absolute eternity, and almost certainly a fatal blow to the team's efforts at keeping Pruett from scoring the title. But Stallings said he simply reminded his crew, led by Link Smith, that there were hours yet to race.
"Things looked pretty bad on several occasions, but I told the entire team before the race that, 'Look, no matter what happens, we keep going. These Rolex Series races are never over until the checkered flag falls, so stay focused and we can win this'," Stallings said.
After fighting back to the front on Lap 115 of 139, Fogarty made a daring inside move in Turn 5 on the then-race-leading No. 01 machine, piloted by championship rival Pruett. But the No. 01 slammed the door on Fogarty, causing damage to bodywork and flattening tires on both cars -- however, the 01 took the brunt of the impact. Both drivers immediately pitted for repairs, with Fogarty turning the GAINSCO Pontiac over to Gurney for the final stint. The second-generation star quickly got up to speed, even with damage from the incident hindering his progress.
If he could keep his wounded machine ahead of the 01, Gurney had the championship secured. However, the 19 car, also owned by Chip Ganassi, began to block Gurney, bringing Pruett ever closer.
"That hit really did some damage, as the steering was knocked way off-center, we had a vibration in the brakes and there was debris shredding the front louvers," Gurney said. "The car would turn left very well, but not so much right. My main deal was to stay out of the way of the 19 car and ahead of the 01 car."
With six laps to go, the road-racing veteran pulled a bump-and-run maneuver in a pack of traffic, getting by the 99 and in doing so, putting Gurney out of title contention. But Grand-Am officials ruled the punt on Gurney as avoidable contact, and black-flagged Pruett for a drive-through penalty on Lap 136. From there, Gurney cruised the remaining three laps to the checkered and the title.
"It was very frustrating, all the games being played out on track," Gurney said. "I think the penalty was the right call, because Pruett just came up and bumped me in the back for no good reason."
"Even after the incident, we still had a championship to fight for," Fogarty said. "This fight may have been a bit unconventional in the last stint, but we came out on top and that's what counts. We've been kicking butt all year and nobody can look at our performance and say that we're undeserving champions."
With one championship in the books, Stallings now begins the search for a second -- his team will be back racing in 2008, with details to be announced in the coming months.
"As Jon and Alex's manager, I have a responsibility to take a look around and make sure I'm doing the best thing for them, but we love the Grand-Am series, the racing is phenomenal and it would not surprise me if we ended up back here. We'll make that call in the next month or so," Stallings said.