GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and driver Alex Gurney posted their best Rolex 24 At Daytona qualifying effort since winning the pole for the 2007 race in Thursday’s qualifying session for the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona with the new No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Corvette Daytona Prototype. The green flag drops this Saturday, January 28, at 3:30 p.m. ET with live television coverage on SPEED beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET/11 p.m. PT.
This weekend’s milestone race is the seventh consecutive Rolex 24 for GAINSCO and sixth straight with Gurney and Jon Fogarty as lead drivers. Their fellow Californian Memo Gidley rounds out the driver lineup and the trio is looking for their first Rolex 24 At Daytona victory for themselves, sponsor GAINSCO, and the entire GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team.
After pacing practice earlier on Thursday afternoon, Gurney believe the latest version of the No. 99 GAINSCO “Red Dragon” was capable of winning the pole in its very first race. Instead, the GAINSCO team opted to focus on race setup in qualifying but Gurney still produced a solid fourth fastest lap time of 1:41.519 (126.242 mph), despite the car’s balance falling off just a tick.
“I certainly was hoping to get the pole,” Gurney said. “Having been on top in the previous session, I thought we were pretty good, but the balanced changed when we went to new tires. It just wasn’t quite enough. Any way, we will put it behind us. Other than pole, it doesn’t really matter. The car is good and we figured out most of our reliability issues.”
Despite the slight disappointment, Gurney gave the team not only its best qualifying result since the 2007 pole but also the No. 99’s first top-five starting birth since that top qualifying run.
“We just rolled out our race car for qualifying,” Fogarty said. “With the exception of a fuel load, that was our race car. That’s where it stands. Whether or not the other guys sprinkled a little extra hot sauce on it for qualifying, we don’t really know, but I am going to assume that a few of them did. We will see what Alex says about the balance. We didn’t get to do a sticker tire run simulation in the previous practice session, so we were not able to compensate for any balance shifts that may have taken place. So, we are pretty pleased, Alex did a good job, and it’s not a bad place to start.”
A full practice and qualifying day Thursday also confirmed that GAINSCO’s new Corvette Daytona Prototype should race well.
“It seems pretty good,” Gurney said. “We were quite good on old tires. So, we will see, but so far so good. In general we feel good.”
GAINSCO’s best Rolex 24 result to date came in the 2008 race where Gurney and Fogarty were joined by Jimmie Johnson and Jimmy Vasser for a second-place finish. Gidley is the sole co-driver with the season-long Gurney and Fogarty duo for the 2012 Rolex 24.
“Finishing second was a memory for sure,” Fogarty said. “A little bittersweet in some ways, because you go 24 hours and fight through all that comes with it. On one hand, you feel like you came through a battle unscathed – and from a points perspective that is true – but on the other hand, you were so close. So, a lot of memories from that year.”
The Rolex 24 At Daytona weekend continues tomorrow with final practice before Saturday’s race start at 3:30 p.m. local time. Gidley is already thinking about his in-race routine.
“When I drive the Rolex 24 I really try to treat each stint like a separate event,” Gidley said. “I have found that it is so easy to get wrapped up in how the car is doing after your stint, and you find yourself hanging around and burning unnecessary energy. It is such a long race and after my stint I leave the pits immediately, go back to the motor home, eat and then try to sleep. Try is really the key word there. It is much harder than it sounds!”
Thursday’s schedule Rolex 24 At Daytona schedule concludes with night practice that runs until 8:30 p.m. local time.