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Fogarty snares Grand-Am pole in Mid-Ohio
The Daytona Prototype field again saw only the taillights of the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac-powered Riley, as Jon Fogarty captured the pole position in record-shattering fashion this afternoon in qualifying for tomorrow’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. For Fogarty, co-driver Alex Gurney and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, it’s the third consecutive pole and fourth of the season, and extends to seven races an unbroken streak of front-row starts for the GAINSCO machine.
In just his second timed lap of the 2.25-mile circuit, Fogarty turned a 1:18.374 lap at an average speed of 103.718 mph, which was good enough to stand for the remainder of the 15-minute qualifying session. Then he parked the No. 99 and watched from the pits as 18 competitors tried – and failed – to best his effort. The closest anyone would come was Christian Fittipaldi, and even he was more than three-tenths of a second short. Fogarty’s time was over a second faster than the previous track record of 1:19.496, set by Max Papis in 2004, and the two-time Toyota Atlantic champion couldn’t have been happier with the performances turned in by his car, his crew and himself.
“It was a good lap – I really laid it out, and that’s what we practice for,” Fogarty said. “This kind of performance is what we work toward as a driver – having a great car that’s fast and consistent. What’s really special is that this kind of result is something that no one person can achieve – it requires a total team effort, and that’s what the GAINSCO team has put together. It’s always nerve-wracking as a driver to sit there and watch your time be attacked, but we didn’t want to put too many laps of the tires because we have to use them in the race tomorrow.”
Gurney, who’s scored poles at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen this year, and who had the pole here in 2005, believes that because Mid-Ohio is a tough place to pass, starting up front will be key to the team’s race efforts.
 “Jon did an excellent job – it seems like we have qualifying figured out. He laid down a very impressive lap and we were really looking for that here in particular,” Gurney said. “The GAINSCO team is super-excited, but we know it’s a long day tomorrow. We have the pace but now we have to execute in the race itself. Tire management will be key, and everything could come down to fuel strategy.”
Unlike the previous race at Watkins Glen, the No. 99 hadn’t been atop the time charts all weekend prior to Fogarty uncorking his fast lap. Several changes have been made to the Mid-Ohio circuit in the off-season, and the GAINSCO team didn’t participate in earlier mid-season testing here. That left Fogarty, Gurney and team engineer Kyle Brannan to work through some setup issues – but it’s clear that what they came up with, works.
“Either they elevated the track surface or shaved the curbs, but we can use them a lot more now,” Fogarty said. “The track surface is pretty interesting – there’s not a lot of grip and it really uses up the tires, so we’ll have to manage that closely during the race. It really is important to drive clean and smooth here, because if you’re too aggressive you’ll slide the car around very easily and that kills the speed.”
Team owner Bob Stallings, who captured the 2004 SCCA Formula Atlantic National Championship on this very circuit, was again pleased with his team’s ability to get the job done in qualifying, and is looking for the GAINSCO Boys to once again perform cleanly in the race – as they did in winning fashion two weeks ago at Watkins Glen International. With eight races remaining to close the 30-point gap between the 99 and championship-leading Chip Ganassi Racing, the time is now to execute.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team – we didn’t roll off the truck the fastest but Alex, Jon, Kyle and the crew made sure the GAINSCO car would become the fastest,” he said. “There’s two hours and 30 minutes to go tomorrow, so we don’t want to get too confident – but starting up front is important. We need to run a race like we did in New York – be smart and be there at the end. If we do that tomorrow, we can score big points toward our goal – the team and driver championships.”
Tomorrow’s activities begin with a 30-minute final practice, scheduled for 10:05 a.m. The 111-lap, 400-kilometer EMCO Gears Classic goes green at 5:45 p.m., running into the twilight, and is subject to a two-hour, 30-minute time limit. The race will be televised on a same-day-delay basis on SPEED Channel, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
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