Gurney, Fogarty, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Set for First 2008 Win as Season Hits Halfway Mark at Mid-Ohio EMCO Gears Classic
Reigning Rolex Series and Mid-Ohio Champs Ready to Repeat Last Year's Dominance
Returning to the site of what may have been their most convincing victory in a season of domination that ended with the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Championships, Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing will be looking for their first win of the season as they defend their victory in the EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Saturday, June 21 (Live on SPEED at 5 p.m. ET).
Last year, Fogarty won the pole at Mid-Ohio with a new track record of 103.718 mph (1:18.374), and he and Gurney co-drove the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley to a victory that stood out even among the team's six other 2007 wins. A virtual flag-to-flag romp, the duo lost the lead only when the field twice cycled through green flag pit stops and ended up setting the pace for 105 of the race's 111 laps. Gurney took over from Fogarty on Lap 31 and went on to open up to an enormous 31.629 second margin of victory at the finish. The winning average speed of 100.389 mph for the caution-free race was a new Rolex Series record for the 250-mile race distance at Mid-Ohio.
"No doubt, we left Mid-Ohio feeling like we were hitting our stride," said Fogarty, who earned his first professional race win at Mid-Ohio in Barber Dodge Pro Series competition back in 1998. "When you have a race like we had last year, it really makes you feel that all the hard work is paying off, and that is what we are shooting for again this weekend. We are going to use this year's race to get back on track and shake off some of the bad luck we have been having."
The EMCO Gears Classic is Round 7 of 14 races on the 2008 schedule. The No. 99 GAINSCO team has been in hunt at the majority of events this season – leading in five of the six races run prior to Mid-Ohio – but has hit the top-three podium only once with a second-place showing in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. The team has dealt with almost every type of on-track setback this season, from routine racing maladies to obscure component failures.
"We have had it all and then some as far as what can go wrong in the year's first few races," Fogarty said. "Hopefully all of our bad luck will have been used up long before we get to Mid-Ohio."
Gurney has also had success at Mid-Ohio, taking two Barber Formula Dodge victories in 1997 and winning the Rolex Series Daytona Prototype pole in the GAINSCO team's first appearance at the track in 2005. In fact, the GAINSCO team has never started off the front row in three appearances at Mid-Ohio. Fogarty qualified second and he and Gurney finished third in the 2006 event after leading 31 laps.
"Mid-Ohio is another fantastic race track on the Grand-Am schedule," Gurney said. "I've got a lot of miles there and it seems like there is always another little nuance to learn about the track each year. When they resurfaced it and changed the curbs, there was again a whole other approach that was possible. We won the race last year with a huge margin, so I expect that we'll be very tough to beat again this year. We feel we've been in a position to win the last four races, but we've just had little problems that kept us back. With that in mind, we are very hungry to get our first win of the year."
Despite the challenges, the No. 99 GAINSCO team is third in the Rolex Series Team Championship with 153 points. The same number of points also has Gurney and Fogarty with the third highest total in the Rolex Series Driver Championship. Leaders Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and the No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley have 202 points while Marc Goossens, Jim Matthews and the No. 91 Riley-Matthews Pontiac Riley are within GAINSCO's reach at 166 points.
Following the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen two weeks ago, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing joined several other Rolex Series teams for a test on the facility's NASCAR Short Course, which will be used for the upcoming Crown Royal 200 on August 8. The GAINSCO squad turned in the third-fastest time of the productive session, but one of the key findings was just how tough the Pontiac engine was that was used in the Sahlen's Six Hour. The engine was overheating for the majority of the second half of the six-hour race but held together until the end as the team climbed back to a lead-lap finish in eighth place. The plan was to use the same engine for the Monday test but a swap was made after the team was amazed to find three cracked cylinders in a post-event inspection. "We had to be down at least 50 horsepower and it speaks to Alex's talent and how strong these Pontiacs are that we even made it to the finish with all of the heat we were running," said Team Owner Bob Stallings. "These Pontiacs are super strong,"
Gurney said. "The water temps were way off the charts, but it hung in there. We were impressed." ... The EMCO Gears Classic is an important event for GAINSCO even though the company doesn't sell its insurance policies in the Buckeye State. Mid-Ohio was chosen as an incentive reward trip for GAINSCO employees Nicole Luciano and Ramiro Villegas, who were nominated by their peers and selected by management to represent the company as GAINSCO's first "Circle of Champions" employees of 2008. The pair will serve as honorary pit crew members during Saturday's race in addition to participating in VIP experiences throughout the day …
Cristiano da Matta, who led 10 laps in his return to racing in a second GAINSCO Pontiac Riley he shared with Jimmy Vasser in May at Laguna Seca, will be part of the team this weekend at Mid-Ohio. Da Matta is not scheduled to drive but will be onsite to continue to work alongside and become familiar with the GAINSCO team. He also attended the Sahlen's Six Hour and will be on-hand at the Brumos Porsche 250 at Daytona International Speedway, July 3. The May 17 event at Laguna Seca was da Matta's first time racing since recovering from a near-fatal August 2006 testing accident at Road America …
A rain race this Saturday wouldn't bother Fogarty in the least. His 1998 Mid-Ohio Barber Dodge win came in a wet race. "I spun on the formation lap and started dead last and then passed the whole field. My dad's family is from Ohio and they were all there, which made it better." Among Fogarty's competition in that race was current teammate Gurney.