GAINSCO team dominates at The Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Polesitter Alex Gurney and co-driver Jon Fogarty became the first pair of drivers to record multiple Daytona Prototype victories in the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve season Saturday with a win in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International.
Rebounding from an unscheduled pit stop which dropped them as low as 16th, Gurney passed Scott Pruett with 25 minutes remaining in the six-hour classic (Lap 153 of 167) to cruise to a 7.069-second victory in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley. The checkered flag officially flew at six hours, one minute and 45 seconds.
Fogarty and Gurney broke a record streak which saw five different winners in victory lane to start a season. The pair also won at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City in March, and the duo has started all six races from the front row this season. Saturday's win at The Glen, however, marked this season's first Rolex Series win for a polesitter.
"I'm very happy for everyone on the GAINSCO team, because we all did an amazing job all weekend and that enabled Jon and I to capitalize on the really good car they gave us," Gurney said. "I have to give (engineer) Kyle Brannan a huge compliment because it's thanks to him that we put together a car that was this fast and this comfortable to drive."
Gurney led for the first 35 laps before bringing the race car in with overheating issues after a brief off-course excursion clogged the front grill with grass and dirt, just a few laps after his first scheduled stop. He returned nearly a lap behind the leaders but he and Fogarty steadily worked their way back to the front. Gurney retook the lead on Lap 140 after passing Ian James in the No. 6 Playboy Lexus Riley, but when the final of eight cautions came out - due to oil on the track and the stopped No. 72 Tafel Racing Tornos/Dunkel Bros Porsche GT3 car of Nathan Swartzbaugh - Gurney dove into the pits and Pruett took the lead.
Gurney challenged Pruett immediately after the green flag dropped, and passed for the final time going into Turn 1. Together, Gurney and Fogarty led more than half (91) of the laps on the 3.4-mile track.
"As far as our execution in the car and setting up the car and pit stops, we've been doing extremely well," Fogarty said. "We're still developing in the race environment, but the team is young and we're hungry. We're hoping to take this victory and move on, and produce even more as we go forward."
Pruett also had troubles early and recovered from a Lap 1 trip through a gravel trap that put him two laps down. But Pruett patiently drove his two stints, moving into the top 15 before Rojas took over. Rojas made it into the top 10 without problems, and Pruett finally took the lead when Gurney pitted for the final time. Pruett did his best to keep Gurney behind, but didn't interfere when Gurney made the winning pass.
"We got two laps down early but we just kept digging all day," said Pruett, who extended his point lead to seven over Max Angelelli (180-173). "The car was good. I thought we had the second best car out there. We ran well all day long, and we got everything we could out of the car. There is no question you have to finish well to get the championship. We did that today."
For Pruett and Rojas, it marked their second straight runner-up finish. The pair also finished second at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last month.
"I think the team did a very good job," Rojas said. "We've just got to keep working hard to get that second victory of the season."
Angelelli was a contender throughout the afternoon, leading 15 laps and setting some of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley's fastest times during the second half of the race. But two costly restart violations earned him stop-and-go penalties, and he didn't have enough laps to catch the lead duo and earn himself and co-drivers Jonathan Cochet and team owner Wayne Taylor the victory.
"We had a good car today," Angelelli said. "Finally we sorted out our setup between yesterday and this morning. With the hard work by the team and by our other drivers Wayne and Jonathan, I felt like we could have definitely won the race or come closer. They (the No. 99 and No. 01 teams) had great cars today, too. But we were right there with them, even with the penalties. It's very frustrating, to say the least."
Earning fourth was James and co-driver John Pew. James quietly worked his way into contention and led twice for 10 laps before Gurney got by. It marked the third straight top-10 finish for the car and first top-five result for the team in 2007.
No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley teammates Nic Jönsson and Tracy Krohn battled a variety of problems as well to come home with a fifth-place result, also a season-best for the team and their third top 10 of 2007. The team had to be pushed to the grid and out of pit lane during pit stops at several points during the race.
In GT action, Andy Lally and RJ Valentine welcomed Spencer Pumpelly to the No. 66 TRG GRC/Maxter Porsche GT3 and the team scored its second victory in three races. Lally passed No. 81 Synergy Racing EMC Mechanical/Gamewell Mechanical Porsche GT3 co-driver Richard Westbrook 23 laps from the end and beat Dirk Werner and the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Marquis Jet/IPC Porsche GT3 by 2.721 seconds. Lally drove two stints, and took over from Pumpelly during the final third of the race.
"It was absolutely wild out there; the GT class has just gotten so strong," Lally said. "During the last few laps I was alongside two of the best Porsche drivers out there, passing Richard (Westbrook), who is a super driver, and then had Dirk (Werner) come up on me and battle until the very end. I grew up in New York so winning here and having my family watching really means a lot to me."
For Valentine, it was a fitting start to his weekend.
"I'm so happy about this win," Valentine said. "Next to the Rolex 24 At Daytona, winning the six-hour is a major accomplishment. My teammates are priceless, and I couldn't have done this without them. Tomorrow is my 63rd birthday and God gave me the best birthday present today.
Pumpelly scored his first Rolex Sports Car Series class victory of 2007 after winning at Laguna Seca in KONI Challenge action.
"At one point I was trying to pass Bryce Miller and he ran me into the grass," Pumpelly said. "I ended up losing six spots, but the car was so good that I was actually able to drive back through the field on the next lap. This was a great win. I love this track, I love these people. Thanks to TRG and (car owner) Kevin Buckler; he puts together a great team that really made today's win."
Werner, who assumed the point lead by 14 over Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards (207-193), combined with co-drivers Miller and Craig Stanton to lead 68 laps in the car. Werner filled Lally's mirrors for a few laps before Lally pulled away. It was the sixth time this season a Farnbacher Loles Motorsports car has led the most laps of a race in 2007.
"I feel pretty good," Werner said. "Before we stopped the last time, we were in seventh place, I think. I'm very confident with the result. We struggled a little bit during the race with the (setup) of the car. In the end, everything went fine. The (winning) TRG car was pretty fast and I couldn't catch him because I was missing the aero. I think it's a good result for us for the championship. If we work together like this in the future, then we can make the championship."
Miller led a race-high 32 laps in GT competition, and drove two stints before handing the car over to Werner during the waning laps.
No. 07 Banner Racing/Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R co-drivers Collins and Edwards earned their third podium finish of the season after an eventful day. Edwards started the car, and made contact with Emil Assentato's No. 69 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 in Turn 11 midway through the race, forcing a stop-and-go penalty. The team also suffered battery problems which caused the car to fall two laps behind.
"Well it was a great finish after all we went through," Collins said. "The Banner crew did a great job to get the batteries changed and keep us out on the track. That and some excellent strategy to make up the two laps had our guys working hard in the pits all day. Paul ran some fast laps, setting fastest race lap in the last hour. Third is not bad for the tough luck that we had today."
Fourth-place finishers were Westbrook and co-driver Steve Johnson in the No. 81 Porsche GT3, while GT Rolex 24 At Daytona co-winners Jean-Francois Dumoulin and Carlos de Quesada and Floridian Scooter Gabel earned fifth.
The Rolex Sports Car Series continues its season June 22-24 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.