Championship leaders GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty – who will be making their 50th race start as teammates – will be looking for their second Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype titles in three years Saturday in the season-ending Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 12th and final race of the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Series season, the Grand Prix of Miami is a 2.5-hour sprint on the 2.3-mile, 11-turn Homestead-Miami Speedway road course. The green flag is scheduled to drop at 1:08 p.m. ET this Saturday, Oct. 10, with live coverage on SPEED beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
GAINSCO has an eight-point lead in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype Team and Driver Championships as well as a series-leading and untouchable total of four race wins. GAINSCO and its drivers have 309 points to lead both championships, the No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Max Angelelli and Brian Frisselle is second with 301 markers and the No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas is third with 299 points. GAINSCO prevailed in a three-way battle with SunTrust and Ganassi to win the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype Championships and nothing short of two more titles is the goal this weekend.
“It's hard to put into words what another championship would mean for all of us at GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing,” said Gurney, who has been with GAINSCO since before the team debuted in the Grand-Am Rolex Series in 2005. “I've been there from the beginning and it's been pretty amazing to see how the team has matured and just gotten stronger and stronger on every level. It's still a small team, very family like, and I think a great example of the fact that you can get the job done with a small group of really good people. I feel very lucky to be a part of it and can't wait as we all write the next chapter.”
Gurney and team owner and then driver Bob Stallings first drove the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley Daytona Prototype in the Grand-Am Rolex Series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May, 2005. Less than a year later Stallings shifted his focus exclusively to team ownership and Fogarty was hired to co-drive with Gurney beginning at Virginia International Raceway in April, 2006. The duo has since gone on to become the most successful Daytona Prototype driver pairing in history, winning a record 12 times, posting top-three podium finishes in 25 of 49 races and joining the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team in capturing the 2007 titles.
“I can't believe Jon and I have already had 50 races together in the GAINSCO car,” Gurney said. “That seems like a lot! He's a great friend and a fantastic teammate, and we're in a place where we can just be totally open with each other about how we approach everything on the racetrack. We just keep trying to lift each other's game and I think we've both become much better race drivers because of that. I think it makes us a very tough combo to beat.”
The next challenge will be to stave off the always competitive SunTrust and Ganassi teams this weekend. Several championship scenarios could play out in the three-way title fight, but GAINSCO can clinch the championships with a fourth-place finish or better, regardless of where the competition places. No other Daytona Prototype team has won more than two races this season, which means any championship ties will be broken in favor of GAINSCO and its four victories.
“The lead we have going into this finale gives us a little breathing room but really not too much,” Gurney said. “There are just too many variables and too much craziness goes on during a Grand-Am Rolex Series race to be over-confident of any kind of finish. We have no idea what the weather will be like but we know it could be a factor as well. We've had a great year where we feel we've done so much as a team to maximize our package and it's definitely very exciting to be on the cusp of another championship.”
While Homestead-Miami has not traditionally been a strong track for GAINSCO, the 2008 race was actually the team's best showing in just its third start on the Florida circuit. The team led their first race laps at Miami last year and matched their career-best Miami finish of sixth. GAINSCO has also broken through this year on tracks that have previously proven elusive. Three of the year's four race wins – VIR, Laguna Seca and one race ago at Miller Motorsports Park in Salt Lake City, Utah – all came on tracks where GAINSCO was previously winless. GAINSCO also won for the second time at Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala., in July.
“We definitely feel better about our performance this year compared to last,” said Fogarty, who has won a series-leading five poles this year. “Our result in 2008 was not even really a refection of our ability. We had some electrical issues and some other factors that had nothing to do with our team that hurt us. If we can eliminate those sorts of things I think our pace will be competitive, so we just need to be smart and clean and I think we have the ability to win at Homestead.”
Gurney fully agrees that a Homestead turn around is more than attainable.
“Homestead has been tricky results-wise for us because we really haven't had a good finish there,” Gurney said. “Apart from an intermittent electrical problem last year, I think we would have been on the podium. When we entered Miller, we hadn't really had good results there either but we were able to change that this last time so I'm hoping for more of the same in Miami.”
Fogarty won a pair of Toyota Atlantic Championships in 2002 and 2004 but repeat titles in premier sports car prototype racing would be even more special.
“Another championship would be awesome, incredible and have tremendous meaning to me,” Fogarty said. “I think people thought our 2007 championship came about because of some unseen ‘unfair' advantage. People just had a hard time accepting relative newcomers to endurance racing running with a relatively new team beating the establishment. We did well last year, no doubt, but another championship would cement our performance as undeniable. I don't like to thing of my self as ‘part of the establishment,' but when it comes to winning I am willing to wear that badge.”
Another badge the team willingly wears with pride is one of all-American honor. GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is the only top-to-bottom all-American team in the Rolex Series and perhaps one of the few at all in top-level auto racing in the United States. Every member of the team is U.S. born and the team's Pontiac Riley race car package is one of only about a half-dozen all-American combinations still running in Daytona Prototype competition.
“I have always been obsessed with the idea of being an American and the unique opportunity available to all of us living in this great country,” Stallings said. “I have great respect for all of the international participants in all forms of racing, but I must admit that I am especially proud of the all-American character of the No. 99 team. We aren't intimidated by anyone in racing, no matter where they hail from – and we are especially proud to have accomplished a great deal as an all-American team.”
Next on the list of accomplishments for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is the Daytona Prototype crown.
“Of course, it's good to be leading heading into the finale and it gives us some options other than a must-win situation,” Fogarty said. “It's a nice position to be in at this stage of the season but we are not really satisfied. Satisfaction will come when we take the championship. We can't be content just to be leading at any time prior to the checker falling at Homestead. We have to be leading when all is said and done. We are happy with where we are but the goal is the championship. When we reach that goal, then we will be satisfied.”