GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's Alex Gurney topped the times sheets Friday in opening practice at Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park, where the team's morning session lap of 1:16.969 (105.237mph) in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Riley-Chevrolet held up as the fastest time of the day.
Gurney and the No. 99 GAINSCO “Red Dragon” team were the only competitors Friday to lap the 2.25-mile Thunderbolt road course under the one-minute and 17-second mark. Gurney and co-driver Jon Fogarty won their first race of the year two weeks ago at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Just like that winning weekend, the No. 99 was fast off the trailer today at NJMP.
“It's definitely good and we are happy with it,” Gurney said. “I think we even made another gain there in the second session, so we are happy with that side of things.”
Fogarty, who will qualify tomorrow, also had ample practice time in the No. 99 on Friday.
“I think we are good,” Fogarty said. “We're pretty happy with the balance. We made a change there at the end, which I thought was an improvement, and that was on an older set of tires. That's going to be more like race conditions, so I was pleased with that. We'll keep tuning, just small changes, and that's great. The team did a nice job coming up with a good starting setup, so we are not making any big adjustments. We're just on top of it and that's where you need to be.”
Friday's activity at NJMP was run in brutally hot and humid conditions with temperatures reaching a high of 98 degrees. It is expected to be just a tick cooler this weekend, but GAINSCO and its competition are still preparing for a hot, humid and harried race.
“It's been close at Barber in Alabama, but I do think this will be the hottest run we have ever had,” Gurney said. “It's going to be rough out there, really rough. We are still working on it, throughout the weekend, to come up with a better solution to keep us cool, because right now it is going to be tough.”
Friday was the hottest day in which Fogarty ever remembers driving in Grand-Am. “This is the hottest it has ever been” Fogarty said. “Race day looks like it will be a little bit cooler, but there's something about this track, it just seems to heat soak. There's just no escape out there. It's pretty physical, too; there's not much straightaway. You're just working hard and it is going to be an issue for everybody. We are just going to focus on that because if you can't get through a stint it doesn't matter how quick you are, you're done.”
It doesn't help that the fully enclosed Daytona Prototypes are known for being notoriously hot...
"Getting through the race is going to be the big deal, and how cool the cars are on the inside,” Gurney said. “This is the ‘Red Dragon,' for sure – it's hot as heck in there.”
Another factor to deal with this weekend is tire management. The American Red Cross 250 is the only Sunday race of the year and one of the few true three-day weekend events on the 2011 calendar.
“This weekend there is a lot of track time,” Gurney said. “The way it has worked out with the tire schedule, pretty much for everybody, is that you have to use one set for all of the practices and the warm-up, so you have to save a little bit if you want to even run the next day.”
The American Red Cross 250 is a 2-3/4-hour timed sprint race and airs live on SPEED this Sunday, July 24, at 1 p.m. ET.