Fogarty, Gurney Win Infineon
A hard-fought weekend by the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley team has given Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty a Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve single-season win record and placed the duo in the Daytona Prototype championship lead with a win Saturday during the Armed Forces Grand-Am 250 at Infineon Raceway.
Fogarty and Gurney battled through a tight but cleanly fought race to capture a 1.937-second win over David Donohue and Darren Law in the No. 58 Red Bull Brumos Porsche in the 97 lap race - a margin of victory that was not representative of the pace of the race.
Although the majority of the focus entering the weekend was on the tight championship battle of Fogarty, Gurney, Scott Pruett and Max Angelelli, Donohue and Law inserted themselves into a late race battle for points and the win. Donohue climbed into the lead on Lap 72, and spent the next 22 laps with Gurney glued to his tail. Despite the constant hounding, Donohue was able to keep the championship contender at bay.
Donohue's efforts went for naught when a spin by Tracy Krohn in the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley brought out the race's only full course caution period on Lap 93, setting up what became a green-white-checker dash to the finish between the two second-generation drivers. Gurney, who has been quick on restarts in the No. 99 machine all season long, seized the opportunity and passed a defensive Donohue under braking entering Turn 4.
"When these cars get bunched up together, any little bobble will open up the opportunity to get by," Gurney said. "I was just trying to be on the ball and be quick, and be in the right gear at the right time. I knew he (Donohue) was struggling a little bit with tires; hats off to him and his entire team, as they did an excellent job. I don't think I would have gotten by him if it weren't for that yellow. It was an awesome day for us."
Donohue was searching for the Brumos Porsche team's first win since 2003, which may have been possible until the yellow flag.
"When I went through those first couple of turns, I was kind of sloppy," Donohue said. "I had to slow down a little bit to keep the car on the track, and that's when the opportunity opened up for Alex. I didn't want him to go under me in those corners, so I took a protective line, which continuously left me vulnerable. I was sliding around; I had a little bit too much pick up, so I wasn't very good at that restart. I left one lane down on the inside, and I went in thinking I was in as deep as I could go and still keep the car there with the understeer we had. But he was able to go in harder and still get it turned. If I had tried to there on the outside of him, I would have gone off into the dirt and that would have been the end."
Law saw the effort as a positive for the team, as it marked the team's highest finish of 2007.
"It's a huge boost for all of us," Law said. "We've been close, or closer, all year, and struggled a bit at the beginning but have come on toward the end of this season. We made a few mistakes which I think we could have finished higher up this season. The team has done a great job and the car was good this weekend. We gambled there at the end with the last pit stop. We were probably within half a gallon. But we're probably to be on the podium. I'm happy for everybody."
Gurney secured the seventh win of the season for himself and Fogarty, a Rolex Series single-season record previously set by Terry Borcheller in 2003.
From the start of the race, Fogarty repeated a Rolex Series habit by pulling away from the beginning and settling into a two-second lead. While Nic Jönsson in the No. 75 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley battled with Law for second place behind him, Fogarty continued to grow the leading margin.
A seven-second lead evaporated as Fogarty pulled into the pits on Lap 28, passing the car off to Gurney, who rejoined the race in fourth. After the first cycle of mandatory pit stops, championship co-leader Pruett landed the lead eight seconds ahead of Gurney, with Donohue and Michael Valiante in the No. 19 Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Z-Line Designs/Mission Residential just behind. From that point, Fogarty became a spectator for his teammates' drama.
"It was just a good battle," Fogarty said. "That restart allowed Alex to get into position and make a move. That was his one opportunity. It was crazy. I am very, very happy to finish up top, and the finish just tightens up the championship even more. It's going to be pretty wild going into that last race."
Gurney began another charge to the front and by Lap 38, Pruett's lead was only one second. While Gurney chased the former champion Pruett to try to force a mistake, Gurney fumbled - running wide and off the track in Turn 6. Gurney was able to continue, but dropped further behind Pruett.
"When I went off course, I didn't think at that point we had a chance," Gurney admitted. "But it all worked out at the end. It was an awesome day."
Pruett, in the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley, dove into the pits for his second stop on Lap 66, changing tires and filling the tank for a final run for the checkered flag. But a gamble on the first stop forced the team to take more fuel on the second stop, dropping Pruett back to third after the second round of stops cycled through. Though he was able to bunch up behind Gurney and Donohue due the caution, he couldn't catch either in the final two laps, settling for third.
"The whole Ganassi team, we tried to change things up a little bit," Pruett said. "We changed our pit strategy and got back out in the lead and maintained it for a long time. Unfortunately with that (first) pit stop, we had to take more fuel on the second pit stop, and that's what let those guys get back by. It was the gamble we took; we had to try to make something happen."
The GAINSCO pit crew made a flawless stop on their second effort, sending Gurney back onto the track in front of Pruett but behind Donohue and Ricardo Zonta in the No. 75 Krohn Racing machine, with each yet to make their final stops. Donohue made his pit stop on Lap 71, and with fresh tires and full fuel tank reentered the race in second behind Zonta but less than a half-second in front of Gurney, setting up the late race drama when Zonta made his final stop.
Pruett's co-driver Memo Rojas ran the opening stint of the race, handing the car to Pruett on Lap 22. Rojas played his role as a championship contender's teammate perfectly, holding his fourth place starting position throughout his run.
"This season has been a tough challenge for me," said the rookie driver, thrust into his veteran teammate's championship hunt. "Normally in your rookie season, you're learning and making mistakes. But I haven't had the luxury of doing that and experiencing that as Scott's been leading the championship. We couldn't afford to make mistakes. It's been a lot of pressure trying to learn and do well at the same time. As far as the season goes, I'm very happy with trying to do the best I can. I'm doing my best to help Scott win the championship."
No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley driver Max Angelelli kept his championship hopes alive by grinding his way to a fourth-place finish. Angelelli and teammate Memo Gidley struggled at Gidley's hometown race during the first two days of the three-day weekend, but an up-and-down race from a sixth-place starting position ended with Angelelli just three points in arrears of the championship.
Zonta and Nic Jönsson, who started a season-best second, ran there for several laps during the race and finished fifth.
Fogarty and Gurney pulled into the championship lead for the first time this season, just one point ahead of Pruett and three ahead of Angelelli. The finish sets up a one-race showdown at the season finale, the Sunchaser 1000k at the 4.486-mile, 24-turn Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah in three weeks - Sept. 15. The Daytona Prototypes will be joined by the GT class in the season's final race.
NOTEWORTHY: Michael Shank Racing called on Sheldon Ko to serve on the team's active pit crew for the Armed Forces Grand-Am 250. Ko is a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army ... Pontiac clinched the Daytona Prototype Engine Manufacturer's Championship with today's win... Six of Fogarty and Gurney's seven victories this season have come from the pole position... No. 91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports co-drivers Jim Matthews and Marc Goossens posted another strong finish - sixth - to earn the "SunTrust Improve Your Position Award," improving seven positions from 13th... No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley driver Oswaldo Negri took eighth from fellow Lexus Riley driver Brian Frisselle on the final lap... Aside from Krohn's late-race spin and retirement, the No. 11 SAMAX/CITGO Pontiac Riley - with co-drivers Roger Yasukawa and Tomas Enge behind the wheel - was the only car that retired (engine).