for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing at Laguna Seca as da Matta Leads In Return
Vasser and da Matta Show Well at Laguna Seca as Returning Champ Leads 10 Laps
Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty scored a hard-earned fourth-place finish for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing in Saturday's RumBum.com 250 while comeback driver Cristiano da Matta and teammate Jimmy Vasser finished 15th after the returning Brazilian led 10 laps at mid-race.
The fourth-place showing for the reigning Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Champions came in a caution-filled race that had the GAINSCO team roll with different strategies throughout eight yellow flag periods in the 2 ¾ hour timed race.
"We had an up and down run today," said Fogarty, who was among the first to congratulate race winner and former Toyota Atlantic rival Ryan Dalziel. "We found ourselves in a bit of a pickle, kind of not anticipating some of the yellows, you know, just strategy mix ups. But we made a good recovery from where we were. We finished one spot behind the No. 01 car, our main opposition, and I think we are coming forward a little bit in the points. Ryan is a good friend and an excellent driver and I know how it feels when you get your first win. I am happy for him."
The No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley ran deep in the Top 10 several times in the race only to see Fogarty and Gurney claw their way back to the lead pack. Gurney took over from starting driver Fogarty during a lap 36 pit stop and drove the rest of the distance in what turned out to be a 98-lap race.
"It's impossible to read races like this with that many yellows," Gurney said. "It's hard to anticipate. When we did the driver change, we didn't change tires, so when I got in, I was hurting there for awhile. I lost a couple of positions. On the next yellow we got tires, we were in a little bit better shape and started to move up, but really the whole thing didn't fall our way."
Gurney ripped off the team's fastest lap of the race two laps before the checkered flag and closed up on third-place Scott Pruett in the No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley in a bid to make the podium.
"We have to make up ground on the No. 01 in the championship and I did my best lap just trying to put him under pressure and see if I could make a move," Gurney said. "I did have a good run on him, but trying to pass going into Turn 6 is wishful thinking. It could have been a lot worse. Fourth-place points are OK, but the two guys in front of us finished ahead of us in the race, but that is just the way it goes. There's still a long way to go."
While the No. 99 team failed to lead a race for the first time this season, da Matta stepped up to carry the GAINSCO team in that stat category when he led 10 laps just under an hour from the finish. Fading tires later saw him drop several spots after a restart, but the biggest setback came when da Matta himself suffered a stomach illness and pitted late in the race."Man, it felt like I had a cat in my stomach," said da Matta, who was wearing a cool suit for the first time in his career and didn't have a heat-related illness. "It started feeling bad right when I got in the car on that very first yellow, but just a little bit, a very little bit. Under green, it was fine, but with all of the yellows, my stomach just started feeling worse. It was very strange. I am fine now, but I know we could have done much better, not just me getting sick, but some of the other things we did. It's just all part of racing, but for a comeback race, it went very well. It is important that I could see the performance is there now and for the future."
Da Matta was making make his first professional race start since recovering from life-threatening injuries in an August 2006 accident when he collided with a deer testing a Champ Car at Road America. His close friend and teammate Vasser was strong all weekend, ran as high as fourth in the race and handed off to da Matta on the same lap the No. 99 team made their driver swap.
"This was a great weekend for Cristiano to come back and race again, and it's always fun being a part of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings' team," Vasser said. "A finish like that is not what we expected, Cristiano got a little food poisoning, I guess, and that's unfortunate. We missed a couple strategy calls and that put us back, but in all, it was a good weekend, and a great weekend for Cristiano's return. He did a fantastic job out front. I'm looking forward to working with him again. It's on the drawing board, but we gotta find the ink for the printing machine."
With five races in the 14-race 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Championship now in the record books, Gurney and Fogarty and the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance team have moved up to third in the respective driver and team point standings. Pruett, teammate Memo Rojas and the Ganassi team lead both championships with 167 points while RumBum.com 250 second-place finishers Jim Matthews and Marc Goossens and the No. 91 Riley/Matthews Pontiac Riley are second in the respective championships with 148 points.