by Fellow Champs da Matta and Vasser in First Two-Car GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Effort on Saturday
Laguna Seca Race Marks First Double for GAINSCO and Return of Recovered da Matta
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing will for the first time field two Daytona Prototype race cars in Saturday's RumBum.com 250 (SPEED, May 18 at Noon ET) at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in a history-making Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race that will see champion driver Cristiano da Matta make his first professional race start since recovering from life-threatening injuries in an August 2006 testing accident.
Reigning Grand-Am Rolex Series Champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty will be joined by da Matta and former CART Champ Car Champion Jimmy Vasser in similar Pontiac Rileys on the legendary Laguna Seca track where GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing made its debut just three years ago. Gurney, along with team owner and then-driver Bob Stallings, finished sixth.
"I returned to racing in 2005 after two years away when GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing made its series debut at Laguna Seca, so it is a special place for us," said Gurney, who drove through the field after Stallings recovered from an early contact incident. "We will always remember being quickest on our first day and we want that tradition to continue this weekend. We've had some terrible luck lately, but the speed of the car is there and the team is performing well, so we believe wins are coming. I'll have a big contingent of family and friends attending, so it's the perfect weekend to get back into victory lane."
Fogarty, who was part of another GAINSCO Laguna Seca milestone one year later when he and Gurney bagged runner-up honors in just their second race together, knew the Bob Stallings-led team was a winner long before signing on as a driver.
"I took notice of the GAINSCO team's performance when they were at Laguna Seca a year before," said Fogarty, who took over driving duties from Stallings in April 2006. "Right equipment, great driver, great engineer, top crew and a committed team owner, all the makings were there. I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one who took notice, but having a friend and former teammate kicking butt in a new venue gave me a strange sense of pride. It was really cool to see how well Alex and the team were performing."
Yet another GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Laguna Seca milestone is set for this weekend with close friends and former teammates da Matta and Vasser sharing a race car for the first time. Gurney and Fogarty will handle the familiar No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley while da Matta and Vasser will drive the nearly identical No. 98 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley.
"I've had enough vacation, man," said da Matta, who has fully recovered from devastating head injuries sustained when his Champ Car struck a wayward deer on August 3, 2006, while testing at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. "It's very nice to get back to work. The GAINSCO team and Bob Stallings were the only ones who gave me a chance to drive. Many other teams said come back after I did some races with somebody else, but only Bob and GAINSCO gave me a chance. I can't thank them enough."
Da Matta, who won a 2002 Champ Car race at Laguna Seca in addition to a 1997 Indy Lights race, was cleared to return to professional driving earlier this year. He sailed through his first test with the GAINSCO team at the Eagles Canyon circuit near Dallas in late March, and is set for his official return to racing on a track that he and his teammate both love.
"Laguna Seca is my home track and it is a favorite more so than a lot of other circuits," said Vasser, who won the featured CART Champ Car race on the same day da Matta took Indy Lights honors in 1997. "It's a track I know so well and this is a weekend I have been looking forward to for a long time. I was there the day of Cristiano's accident and was in the hospital a couple of times, so I know how severe this was, how incredible of a comeback this really is. He is a great friend and a great champion and it is cool to be able to share this with Cristiano at a track we love."
Gurney is likely the only driver in Rolex Series competition that has led at least one session at Laguna Seca the last three years, but that isn't the only reason he likes the track. "For me, it's the only race on the schedule that I get to drive to instead of fly to," Gurney said. "I usually get a speeding ticket about halfway through my five-hour drive up from Irvine, but it's all part of the Laguna process for me" …
Dozens of friends and family members will be at Laguna Seca to watch da Matta's return, including his newlywed wife Vanessa Franco da Matta, his parents Toninho and Maria, and younger brothers Gustavo and Felipe. Another guest will be Naval Officer Captain Thomas L. Mascolo, who played a key role in expediting U.S. visas for da Matta's parents so they could travel to be with their son on the day of the accident. This will be the first meeting of the da Matta family and Captain Mascolo, who is based at Everett Naval Station near Seattle …
Some familiar and experienced crew members have been brought in to help run GAINSCO's first two-car operation this weekend. Taking the lead on the No. 98 will be Mark Lubin, who ran the GAINSCO Daytona Prototype team early on and when Stallings won the 2004 Formula Atlantic SCCA National Championship. Greg Finley will return as the fueler for the No. 98 and was with the team for three previous races, including taking his first career win along with GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing at Mexico City last year. Vasser will also see a familiar face, as one of his former team members at Target/Chip Ganassi Racing from 1995 through 2001, Dan Hammond, will be part of the No. 98 crew …
While the two Pontiac Rileys will sport identical bright red finishes and the familiar GAINSCO Auto Insurance markings, there will be some slight differences. The No. 99 will run the usual black windshield banner with white Pontiac lettering, while the No. 98 will have a red banner with white Pontiac lettering …
Also showing their GAINSCO colors this weekend will be the "Pint-Sized Pit Crew," a group of identically outfitted toddlers who are sons and daughters of various crew members, team associates and drivers Gurney (Natalie, 17 months) and Fogarty (William, 27 months).