a Rare Retirement in Sunday's Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park
Faulty Clutch While Gurney Leads Forces First DNF since 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona
Alex Gurney led a race-high 35 laps in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley but a fading clutch finally gave up on Lap 80 of Sunday's Porsche 250 presented by Bradley Arant at Barber Motorsports Park and forced GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing to take its first race retirement in more than 18 months.
After starting driver Jon Fogarty moved to third from fourth on the grid at the race start and later jumped to second, Gurney took over on a Lap 22 pit stop and took the lead for the first time on Lap 30. Despite the front-of-the-pack performance, both drivers noticed the clutch trouble early in their stints.
"The clutch was slipping right when I got in the car," Gurney said. "It's a really big shame because the car was excellent. I really think if we didn't have that problem we would have taken it. I couldn't believe we hung on to the lead for that long given what was happening in the car. We really got the car working very well, and that's encouraging, but it was too bad. We had a similar thing happen to us at Laguna Seca in 2007 and that same problem crept up again. It was just a slipping clutch the whole way. I am surprised it held on for that long."
The GAINSCO team missed the final 23 laps of the race when Gurney pulled the stricken Pontiac Riley off in a safe location on the track. They were classified 16th in the 18-car Daytona Prototype field and walked away from a race that they won last year with just 15 points for the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Championships.
"It's strange," Fogarty said. "Under the yellow conditions, the clutch would get worse for Alex and that was really the demise of it. The car just wouldn't go when we had to slow and it eventually gave up entirely. It's been really a tough season so far. It was shaping up to be a good day but this one obviously wasn't ours. There are still five races to go after this and we are going to keep our heads up, isolate the problem and figure out what it was so it doesn't happen again. The speed is there. We just need to get it under control a little bit and come back and get these guys next time."
Sunday's DNF (Did Not Finish) was GAINSCO's first since the team parked the No. 99 at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January, 2007, a span of 23 races.
"We were hoping the clutch was going to last to the end like it did at Laguna Seca two years ago," said team owner Bob Stallings. "Actually, it started fading when Jon was in the car and he was nursing it, and all during Alex's stint he could not go to full power. In fifth gear we had to lay off everywhere. In fact, I am surprised we held on to first as long as we did. Both guys just did a terrific job. At the end, these yellow-flag restarts were killing us. Once it cools down, the clutch just had a tendency to go away. On that last restart, Alex just told us there was nothing left."
Despite the setback, The No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley is still second in the team championship with 235 points. The same number of points also has Gurney and Fogarty with the second highest total in the Rolex Series Driver Championship. Sunday's winners Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and the No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley now have 295 points to lead both championships.
Gurney led 23 laps in his first stint up front and, after falling to as far down as ninth after a pit stop, came back to lead 12 more circuits between Laps 64 and 75. He was still in the top four in the ailing race car when the third of the day's five caution periods came on Lap 78. On the restart on Lap 80, Gurney couldn't get any power to the engine through the decimated clutch and GAINSCO's race was over.
"We've got five races to go and a lot of chances to win races," Gurney said. "You never know what can happen. The Ganassi team doesn't seem to make too many mistakes and they have had a lot of very good luck this year, so maybe they are due to have a DNF at some point."
Next up for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is Round 10 of the 2008 Rolex Series at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, August 1. The Canadian race is the first of a stretch-run of four races in five weeks in August.
Among GAINSCO's guests at the Porsche 250 were more than 40 independent insurance agents from the Southeastern region in addition to a local couple form nearby Moody, Alabama that are now GAINSCO fans for life. Alan Ballenger was the grand-prize winner of a special promotion coordinated with event organizers, Grand-Am and the Birmingham television station CBS 42 and attended the race with his wife as honorary VIP crew members of the GAINSCO team. Before they came to the track on Sunday, however, the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley replica show car was brought right to the driveway of the Ballenger home where family, friends and neighbors got an up-close look at a real Daytona Prototype race car.