GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, and its trio of drivers Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Memo Gidley, saw an opening hour of race-leading success give way to a slew of endurance race related issues that ultimately resulted in a 13th place finish for the two-time championship winning team in the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 28 and 29.
Starting fourth after GAINSCO’s best qualifying effort at the Rolex 24 since winning the pole in 2007, opening driver Gurney raced in the lead pack from the drop of the green flag. He brought GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing into the record books later in the race’s opening hour when he put the No. 99 “Red Dragon” into the race lead. It marked the first time one of Chevrolet’s all-new Corvette Daytona Prototypes to lead a race lap in GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series competition. Gidley would later match the feat when he took over for Gidley in hour two of the race, and it appeared as if GAINSCO was on the early fast track for possible success in the Golden Anniversary edition of America’s premier 24-hour race.
The course of any sports car endurance race is seldom smooth and the first in a string of setbacks that combined to keep GAINSCO out of victory lane emerged in the race’s seventh hour. An overheating problem led the team to discover and quickly replace a debris-punctured radiator in just over 10 minutes, losing only four race laps.
That was nothing, however, compared to what was behind another heat spike problem in the early overnight hours. The No. 99’s temperature suddenly skyrocketed as Gidley was coming in for a pit stop. The problem was traced to a water pump pulley failure and the related thrown belt that forced the team to the garage for the race’s next two hours. Any shot at victory, or even a top-five finish, in the 50th Rolex 24 At Daytona was lost.
“It was definitely a very tough day, not what we wanted at all,” Gurney said. “A 13th place showing doesn’t seem right for how hard all the guys worked. They toughed it out, but that is the way it is in racing sometimes. There were a few positives as we led the race a little bit and we were fast at times. We just had a few little issues and that’s all it takes here to get knocked backed a lot.”
The team’s third and final setback came at 6:30 a.m. Sunday when the coldest temperatures of the race forced Gurney off the track and into the tire barrier in the East Horseshoe just after he exited the pits on cold tires. Quicker pit work by the GAINSCO crew got the No. 99 “Red Dragon” back on track, but it was difficult to make up any positions in the race’s final nine hours.
“Absolutely, I’m super proud of the guys,” Fogarty said. “The car actually ran flawlessly relative to everything that the GAINSCO crew touched when we had our issues. The water pump deal is just one of those issues in a race like this. It is just a component of the car that had nothing to do with the GAINSCO team’s prep, and that’s the way it goes sometimes with a 24-hour race. It tests every bit of the car and every mechanical piece, and this one gave up on us. That’s just how it goes.”
Despite the tough day, the entire team was encouraged by the performance and potential of its new Corvette Daytona Prototype. The No. 99 turned the third fastest race lap as the top Chevrolet-powered DP in the field, trailing only the first and second place Daytona Prototype finishers.
“Issues aside, the car ran like a clock and we’re really happy about that,” Fogarty said. “Our pace, relative to the leaders, and compared to our previous visits here, was probably as good as it has ever been. We still have some work to do, but we are close and on top of that. We were the class of the field when it compares to the performance of the new Corvette DPs.”
Fogarty had further high praise for the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing crew.
“I’m proud of the work the team did, not just this weekend, but the last few months,” Fogarty said. “The guys put in a lot of work since receiving the car in December. Not where we wanted to finish, but I see a lot of things pointed in the right direction for the future. Not happy where we finished but happy about the job the guys did and the potential for the season.”
Despite some tough recent runs in the Rolex 24 since GAINSCO, Gurney, Fogarty, and then co-drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jimmy Vasser, finished second in 2008, Gurney sees no reason why GAINSCO can’t win the day-long race in the future.
“Winning the Rolex 24 is an attainable goal for the GAINSCO team,” Gurney said. “We know how to win races. We have done it a lot in this series. This is the hardest race to win, so it will still be our carrot.”
Team owner Bob Stallings also shook off this weekend’s disappointments to take a positive look at both the short- and long-term plans.
“The best thing for us to focus on is that we had the fastest Corvette,” Stallings said. “The Corvette is what we will run this year and, clearly, we’re in much better control of that than anybody else. We will learn more about the car. I think we had the fastest lap of the new Corvettes and all that bodes well. In terms of the championship, we have walked out of here in much worse positions, including when we won our first title in 2007. We missed picking up one more position and point today at the end by four-and-a-half seconds, but we were having fun until the very end. These guys will be fine.”
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, and each of the team’s three drivers, earned 18 valuable championship points for the 13th place Rolex 24 result.
Next up for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series is the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, in Birmingham, Alabama, March 30 – 31.