JIMMIE JOHNSON, ALEX GURNEY AND JON FOGARTY TO CO-DRIVE NO. 99 "RED DRAGON" WATKINS, GLEN, N.Y. (June 3, 2010) -- Champion drivers Jimmie Johnson, Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty will co-drive as a trio for the first time in Saturday's Sahlen's Six...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, ALEX GURNEY AND JON FOGARTY TO CO-DRIVE NO. 99 "RED DRAGON"
WATKINS, GLEN, N.Y. (June 3, 2010) -- Champion drivers Jimmie Johnson, Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty will co-drive as a trio for the first time in Saturday's Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen where GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing will be looking for its second victory in the challenging endurance race and Johnson will be making his first career race start on the legendary Watkins Glen International 3.4-mile long course. The race can be seen in two parts live on SPEED this Saturday, June 5, at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT and 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.
The Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen will be Johnson's second start of the 2010 season with GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and his first in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series on a track other than the road course at Daytona International Speedway. Johnson has raced a GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype seven times at Daytona since 2004, including the last three runnings of the Rolex 24 At Daytona in a four-driver lineup with Gurney, Fogarty and former CART Champ Car World Series Champion Jimmy Vasser. This weekend's Sahlen's Six Hour will also be Johnson's first start in any series on the traditional 3.4-mile Watkins Glen Grand Prix road course that has played host to some of the greatest racecar drivers of all time since opening in the 1950s. Johnson has prepared for his debut by driving laps on the historic circuit on an iRacing simulator.
"Yea, (Dale Earnhardt) Jr. set it up for me," said Johnson, who drives the No. 48 Lowe's Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. "So we'll find out after I make a lap or two in practice how accurate it is. It seems like, based on running the part of the track that I'm familiar with, that it's very accurate. So I think it will help. I recognize that there are some really blind corners down in the other section that I've never been on before and I think all the repetition I've made on the computer game should help with that."
Repetition could also help Johnson when it comes to the critical driver changes that are key part of any winning strategy in sports car endurance racing. He has gained plenty of experience in switching out behind the wheel with Gurney, Fogarty and Vasser in the past three Rolex 24 races.
"The driver change thing's tough," Johnson said. "I think it's like 30 or 35 seconds you need to do a driver change. And a change is easy in 35 seconds to get bolted in and get your helmet and everything done. It seems like it'd be a piece of cake, but it is tough when the engine's running and you actually have to do it. It's a really tough challenge. And I think that the multiple driver changes in the 24 hour race will help, but that's definitely going to be a spot I'm nervous about and am worried about making a mistake."
One aspect of the Sahlen's Six Hours that should be no problem for Johnson is the flat-out nature of the endurance event that is really a sprint race in disguise.
"The Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen has really become another sprint race, albeit a much tougher one," Gurney said. "In the four years that I've done it, I barely remember a single time where I was not 100% going for it. One of the things that makes it tougher is that it is such a long lap so cars tend to stay on the lead lap fairly easily. You can pretty much count on a multi-car battle for the lead in the last few laps and that makes for a very long day."
Gurney and Fogarty won the 2007 Sahlen's Six Hours in a season of domination that saw GAINSCO capture seven wins in 14 races and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype Team and Driver Championships. The team and drivers scored repeat championships in 2009 despite a rare DNF (Did Not Finish) in the Sahlen's event when Gurney was punted off course by a competitor after the team overcame an early-race mechanical issue. GAINSCO also struggled to an eighth-place finish in the 2008 six-hour race after dealing with late engine issues.
"The Sahlen's Six Hours is a sprint race more than an endurance race, but after our comeback from four or five laps down last year you can look at it both ways," Fogarty said. "If you have trouble early it feels like an endurance event, and even more so if your competition has trouble early, because you will be concerned that they will be back in it at the end. If the race is clean or the problems come late, then it feels like a sprint race where you worked really hard for five hours for nothing. It is tougher for sure than the short races, the crew has a lot more pit work, drivers spend more time behind the wheel and it is a lot more physical effort. The engineer has to orchestrate more to make things line up for the last stint. The weather is often anyone's guess during that time of the year in upstate New York as well. It is a fun race no matter what though and the Watkins Glen long course is great and really good to drive."
Johnson's best finish with the No. 99 GAINSCO team was second with Gurney, Fogarty and Vasser in their debut Rolex 24 together in 2008. In addition to the last three Rolex 24s with GAINSCO, Johnson also drove a Crawford Daytona Prototype in the day-long Daytona race in 2004 and 2005. He did not make any GRAND-AM starts in 2006 but returned in 2007 to compete in both the Rolex 24 and the July sprint race at DIS with the Riley-Matthews Daytona Prototype team. In addition to the Rolex 24 runner-up finish with GAINSCO in 2008, Johnson was also part of the Crawford team's second-place effort in the 2005 24-hour.
This weekend Johnson will compete at both Watkins Glen, which is a Saturday race, and in the Cup race activities at Pocono Raceway that culminate with a Sunday race.
The No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley team is currently sixth in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series Daytona Prototype team championship standings with 122 points following a sixth-place finish in Monday's Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. Saturday's Watkins Glen race caps a tight stretch of two races in six days that will bring the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season to the halfway point of the 12-race schedule.
In addition to Monday's sixth-place showing, Gurney and Fogarty came home fifth two races ago in the Bosch Engineering 250 at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). GAINSCO also finished third in March's Grand Prix of Miami with that result coming in between a pair of engine failures in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona in January and in April's race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.
Whether or not competitors consider it a sprint or an endurance race, Saturday's Sahlen's Six Hours is the second and final long-distance race of the year after the season-opening Rolex 24. Gurney says there is more to endurance racing than meets the eye.
"One aspect of endurance racing that is sometimes difficult to recognize is the full race strategy," Gurney said. "A lot of times we make certain moves that appear not good for the moment but are all set up for the end of the race. We are constantly changing how much fuel we are using, which tires are good for a specific time in the race, trying to predict or counter what our competitors are doing, there's just a lot going on. We might change our pit strategy based on how much time it takes to drive down the pit lane, things like that. There seem to be a huge number of variables that affect how we approach every race, most of that probably unnoticed by the viewer. It makes for very long discussions in the trailer!"
"Wet weather almost always factors into The Glen races and teams could find themselves racing in the rain for at least a portion of the weekend. "Racing in the rain is like improvisational jazz," Fogarty said. "There is a loose framework, and you have to give all you've got to stay on the beat. Other than that, there is a lot of freedom as to how you go about getting things done. Often the conditions are changing during the drive, less rain, more rain, drying lines, puddles, etc. You have to follow Mother Nature's lead and adapt to where things are going, all the while staying at the limit. It is great when your there on top of it, right in the moment, almost predicting the changes, but if you fall behind it is complete chaos and discord - the kind of jazz that makes no sense and is almost painful to listen to."