No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley places third in 2011 championship
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, and drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, locked down third place in the 2011 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype Team Championship with a third-place finish Saturday in the season-ending EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It’s the fifth straight GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Series season – including championships in 2007 and 2009 – in which GAINSCO has recorded a top-three finish in the year-end team point standings.
After winning a record-extending 19th career Daytona Prototype pole in Friday’s qualifying session, Fogarty jumped to an early lead in the No. 99 GAINSCO “Red Dragon” and joined Gurney in leading 32 of the race’s 97 laps. The team’s second consecutive and third overall win of the 2011 season even seemed likely in the final hour of the timed 2-3/4-hour race only to have a poorly timed caution flag close the pits a few seconds and half a lap too early as Gurney was set to make the No. 99’s final stop.
“It was an interesting race with the different strategies, and we had a car capable of winning, but it just didn’t go our way 100% of the time today,” Fogarty said. “I’m still proud of the guys, and Alex did an awesome job. He had some issues with the car, something came apart in rear suspension, and he definitely had to fight the last half hour of that race. I just kept it clean in the opening stint, but just a tough race and a battle of strategies to a certain extent.”
Fogarty led the first nine laps of the race while Gurney set the pace for 23 circuits as the race moved through the two-hour mark.
“It’s good to be on the podium but definitely not what we were looking for,” Gurney said. “It was certainly a wild and exciting race from the driver’s seat. Starting out on the pole, we definitely had the goal of winning, but our strategy didn’t work out for us. When things kind of shook out, I was behind the leading 10 car, they pitted, and we didn’t. At that point, we are on a different strategy and we needed for it not to go yellow. We were pitting on a specific lap, and about halfway around that lap, the race went yellow. It destroyed our strategy.”
After pitting from the lead, Gurney and GAINSCO returned to the race in fifth. He immediately began to work back to the lead pack only to encounter a rear suspension or related issue just less than 40 minutes from the finish.
“We fell way back when everybody pitted,” Gurney said. “I was trying to work my way back through the field and something let go in the right rear, I am not sure what it was, but something definitely broke. The car was still quick, I had a really good fight with Joao Barbosa, which was a lot of fun at the end, and with Scott Pruett a little bit too. Congratulations to all of the winners.”
Pruett, co-driver Memo Rojas, and TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing won the 2011 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype Championships while the No. 10 SunTrust team finished second. GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing will join both teams when they will be recognized as the top-three finishers in GRAND-AM Road Racing’s premier Daytona Prototype division this year at the Rolex Awards Banquet two Mondays from now in Las Vegas.
As the team usually does, the No. 99 GAINSCO “Red Dragon” came on strong in the second half of the 2011 season. Including Saturday’s Mid-Ohio result, GAINSCO scored six top-three finishes in the year’s final seven races, including victories at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in July and in the penultimate round of the season last month in Montreal. Along with an early-season second-place finish at Barber Motorsports Park, GAINSCO finished on the podium in seven of 12 races this year, a record that included the two victories, two runner-up finishes and three third-place showings.
GAINSCO ran its final race in the proven Riley XX chassis Saturday, the same car the team has relied on, through two slightly different versions, since entering the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season in 2005. A new “DPG3” Riley chassis will the car of choice next season. “The Riley has been a fantastic race car in both iterations,” Fogarty said. “Just look at the record. Per the rules, much of the development has stopped in the last few years for the Riley, which has been a little frustrating as the Coyote and Dallara continue to find pace, but we still more often than not had a car more than capable of winning. That has been the way since the start, and as a driver that is exactly the car you want to be in. I am looking forward to having the Riley chassis under us again as we head into 2012. It may look different next year, but beauty is more than skin deep.”