Gainsco team ready to defend Grand-Am title
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing will take their familiar No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley back to the race track for the first time in 2008 as the reigning Champions of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 at this weekend's Daytona Test Days at Daytona International Speedway, January 4 – 6.
The Gainsco car leads the Ganassi car of Scott Pruett in the season finale at Utah last year.
The GAINSCO/Bob Stallings team will defend its 2007 Rolex Series Team and Driver titles with no change to the winning group of personnel that captured last year's honors, including driver Champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty who will join their teammates in trying to become the first repeat Champions in Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype history. Gurney and Fogarty will be the lead co-drivers of the No. 99 GAINSCO machine for the third consecutive year and will be joined for at least the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 27 and 28 (Live on FOX and SPEED), by fellow Champions Jimmie Johnson and Jimmy Vasser. All four drivers are California natives with Fogarty and Vasser from the greater San Francisco Bay area, Gurney hailing from Irvine in Southern California and Johnson a native of El Cajon, which is outside of San Diego.
Johnson, the two-time reigning NASCAR Cup Champion, will make his race debut with the GAINSCO team and bring longtime sponsor Lowe's with him. It was announced late last year that the No. 99 Pontiac Riley will run under the banner of Lowe's/GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing for the Rolex 24 and the race car's special paint scheme will be unveiled on Sunday of this weekend's Daytona Test Days.
Johnson is no stranger to racing sports cars at Daytona and has run in several Rolex 24 events, finishing a career-best second in the 2005 race co-driving a Pontiac Crawford. He also qualified second – alongside pole-sitter Fogarty in the No. 99 – and led this past summer's Brumos Porsche 250 at Daytona in a Pontiac Riley nearly identical to the GAINSCO race car he will co-drive this year.
Vasser, the 1996 Champ Car World Series Champion, has been tapped as an endurance race specialist by the GAINSCO squad numerous times over the past two years in addition to joining Gurney behind the wheel of the team's Pontiac Riley at the 2006 Grand Prix of Miami. He is the only member of GAINSCO's championship lineup that has scored a Rolex 24 win, which he did as co-driver of the GTP Lights class-winning Acura Spice in the 1992 race. Additionally, some of Vasser's most memorable Champ Car victories came in longer races, including his final career win in the 2002 California 500.
Gurney and Fogarty, however, are once again the drivers tasked with the full-time job of winning back-to-back Rolex Series crowns, and Gurney, for one, is ready to get on with the task at hand.
"I'm extremely excited about going racing again," said the second-generation sports car Champion whose father, Dan Gurney, will serve as the Grand Marshal of this year's Rolex 24. "Everyone on the team is very motivated to try to repeat the kind of race performances we had in 2007. The Rolex Daytona 24 was the one race that didn't go as planned but we are doing everything we can to make amends this year. I believe we are significantly better prepared at almost all levels leading into this race. We're looking forward to learning more about the Pirellis in this upcoming test and really focusing on reliability. With our driver lineup, Pontiac's support, and all the other fantastic people on this team, I think we are in good shape to challenge for the 24 hour win."
Gurney qualified on the pole for the 2007 Rolex 24 and led the opening laps before a freak contact incident with a GT-class race car – a Porsche had its hood break loose and block the vision of its driver – and later mechanical problems forced eventual retirement and season-low finish of 22 nd.
The team shook off the Daytona disappointment, however, and scored its first win one race later in Mexico City to begin the most impressive run to a Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype Championship in history. In total, the team won a record seven races, led all but one race and started every event from the front row. Ten of the front row starts were from the pole, including a record-run of nine consecutive first-place starts that stretched from the May race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca all the way to the season's penultimate event at Infineon Raceway in late August. The team took the championship lead with its seventh victory at Infineon and sealed the crown in September one race later in the season-ending SunChaser 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.
Among the record seven victories was a come-from-behind triumph in last July's Brumos Porsche 250, the last Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race run on the challenging 3.56-mile road course at Daytona. The next race is the Rolex 24 At Daytona and nothing short of a victory is the goal for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and its Champion Team and Drivers.