Grand Am - Lime Rock GAINSCO Racing Preview
LAKEVILLE, May 26, 2011: GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, and drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, will look for their first win of the 2011 season in Monday’s Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park in the opening round of a tight, two-race stretch that will bring this year’s GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series schedule to the halfway mark. Memorial Day’s timed 2-3/4-hour sprint, which can be seen live on SPEED, Monday, May 30th, at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, will be followed just five days later by the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, at Watkins Glen International, Saturday, June 4.
GAINSCO finished second in Round 3 at Barber Motorsports Park in April but that lone victory-lane appearance has been the highlight of an otherwise challenging season. The latest hit literally came one race ago at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) where a competitor knocked Gurney off course in a late-race contact incident.
“We are very happy to be back racing after another forgettable weekend at VIR,” Gurney said. “We wish we could hit the reset button on our season so far because we know we are capable of so much more. Lime Rock is a great circuit for our cars and I’m sure we’ll put on another excellent race.”
A major plus for the No. 99 “Red Dragon” at Lime Rock is the team’s potent Chevrolet motor supplied by Earnhardt Childress Racing (ECR) Engines. GAINSCO was the first team in the series to partner with the accomplished NASCAR engine builder, debuting with ECR at last year’s Memorial Day Classic.
“The one thing that has been totally pro this year is the ECR motor program,” Fogarty said. “Strong reliable motors race in and race out, and Lime Rock is a good place to showcase a motor. It is not exactly a horsepower track, but there are a lot of compromises when it comes to your gearing, and having a nice broad power curve is helpful when you have big gaps between the gears. I think we should be in good shape.”
Gurney even gives some credit to GRAND-AM Road Racing for bringing some parity to the Daytona Prototype engine mix this season.
“I think GRAND-AM has done a better job this year with leveling the engine playing field than at any other time in the last four years,” Gurney said. “ECR has been a great partner, really working with us throughout each race weekend.”
Despite the improvements in the engine area, GAINSCO encountered unforeseen brake issues in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona and struggled one race later with tire setup problems in March’s Grand Prix of Miami. While the Barber podium result made up for disappointing finishes of 12th and eighth at Daytona and Miami, respectively, the VIR blow prevented the No. 99 team from building any real momentum.
“I don’t even really think we can talk about our season to date,” Fogarty said. “With the exception of Barber, there have been way too many mistakes from too many people, myself included. You cannot get away with that in a competitive series like GRAND-AM. We really need to focus and just complete our tasks error free. If we can do that we will finish at or near the front.”
While getting this year’s first race win is the goal – GAINSCO has scored at least one victory every season since 2007 – the team always keeps the season championship top of mind. Gurney, Fogarty and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing won the 2007 and 2009 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype Championships.
“This is a critical time for us in the championship,” Gurney said. “The leaders have slipped away and it seems the rest of us are fighting for second. We know we can win races but we have to put together a complete weekend without mistakes. We know it’s time for us to step up.”
Ending the opening half of this year’s 12-race schedule with the Lime Rock and Watkins Glen stretch may be just what GAINSCO needs. Gurney and Fogarty both like Lime Rock and they won the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in 2007. Plus, the team typically performs stronger in the second half of each racing season.
“I am sure we can be the best team for the remainder of the year,” Fogarty said. “I think we can score more points than anyone from here on out. Unfortunately, we are way back in the points and it won’t likely get us to the front, but we can still be the best from here on out. That is what I would like.”
Gurney knows GAINSCO has history on its side as a strong season-closing team.
“As a team we’ve historically gotten stronger in the latter half of the season and I think that trend will continue,” Gurney said. “We have the tools to win races and we just need to regroup and focus on what we know how to do.”
The current task, however, is Lime Rock and this is only the second appearance of GRAND-AM’s premier Daytona Prototype division on the picturesque Connecticut road course. GAINSCO qualified third and finished sixth last year at Lime Rock after the No. 99 lost half of its rear spoiler late in the race due to a hit from another Daytona Prototype.
“It’s a different track, that is for sure,” Fogarty said. “I think it is a place where experience, independent of car type, is extremely valuable. Having said that, as a team we don’t have a ton of data from the place. It’s a sports car track first and foremost, and much of our team’s experience comes from open wheel. Collectively, I think we have the ability to tame the track, although no one team member could be considered an expert on the place.”
Gurney and Fogarty both raced in the Barber Dodge Pro Series at Lime Rock early in their careers and Fogarty also has a 2005 ALMS start in a Flying Lizard Porsche GT3 to his credit. Gurney even has a favorite section of the 1.5-mile Lime Rock track.
“I love the West Bend corner,” Gurney said. “It has a very fast entry and it’s very tricky to get the line just right. That sound when you ride the curbs at the exit is always a thrill.”
Fogarty is hoping his favorite thing to like about Lime Rock will be just around the corner.
“It will be winning,” Fogarty said. “Other than that, I really like Turns 1 and 2, which are really kind of just one decreasing radius corner. It is long, fast and tricky; proper setup is key though and if your car won’t turn, it can be a nightmare.”
Heading into the Memorial Day Classic, the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley ranks fifth in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype Team Championship standings with 95 points, just 20 points from the second-place team.
The annual Memorial Day holiday is the biggest weekend of auto racing in the United States, if not the world, each year and Gurney and Fogarty have celebrated the tradition since they were kids. “One of my great Memorial Day racing memories is from my childhood,” Fogarty said. “We had a circular driveway growing up, and I remember we had our own 500s during the race. We couldn’t sit still long enough to watch all of Indy, so we would go out and have our own race in the driveway and make pit stops to see what was happening in the real deal.” Gurney, the youngest son of American racing legend Dan Gurney, also has some fond memories. “Memorial Day weekend has always been the big racing weekend in my family,” Gurney said. “We’d always wake up for Formula One in Monaco in the morning and then Indy a little later.”… These days, Gurney has found another way to mark the Memorial Day holiday. “It’s also become my favorite weekend to gamble,” Gurney said. “I’ve got a nice bet for the Indy 500 on Alex Tagliani at 60-1 and one on my friend Townsend Bell at 100-1, so I’ve got my fingers crossed! The most important race of the weekend, though, will be taking place in Lime Rock, Connecticut on Monday!”… GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Crew Chief Link Smith is from nearby Poughkeepsie, New York, and grew up racing and working on cars at Lime Rock. “Link Smith has probably spent more time at Lime Rock Park than anyone on the team and he has some ideas of how a car should look setup-wise,” Fogarty said… The “Red Dragon” team also gets pumped from the large crowd that annually shows up for the Memorial Day Classic. “I love the crowds that come out to Lime Rock on Memorial Day,” Fogarty said. “There is a lot of tradition at Lime Rock Park, and I feel like many of the fans have been attending for a long time, many probably since they were kids. It just has a great feel.”