GAINSCO makes it in Mexico
4 March 2007
The GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team finally broke its Grand-Am hoodoo by posting a first Daytona Prototype victory in round two of the Rolex Series at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.
Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney drove a hard race to chase down the polewinning Krohn Racing Riley-Pontiac Riley and, having swapped the lead with the green car three times in the final 13 laps, put their similar #99 GAINSCO machine in a position to snatch the lead of the Mexico City 400k with two laps remaining.
The Max Angelelli/Jan Magnussen SunTrust Riley came through from sixth on the grid to claim the final podium position while, in GT, the pole winning Sylvain Tremblay/Nick Ham pairing gave the Mazda RX-8 its first win in the series.
After taking over the #99 machine from Fogarty during a lap 60 pit-stop, Gurney found himself trailing Krohn's Max Papis by as much as twelve seconds. Without the benefit of a full-course caution, Gurney managed to chip away at the deficit and finally caught the Italian with 15 laps remaining to the chequered flag. Taking advantage of slower traffic that bottled Papis up, Gurney first took the lead with a door-banging pass in turn six on lap 88 of the scheduled 100.
Former Daytona Prototype champion Papis was not about to give up the lead lightly, however, and quickly took up the chase. When Gurney was then slowed by lapped traffic coming onto the front straight, the Italian pounced and won a drag race with the #99 to retake the lead with five laps remaining.
Just as Papis had done, however, Gurney also kept the pressure on, ensuring a fight to the finish and, on lap 97, Papis succumbed, spinning out in turn five and handing the lead to the American, who went on to win - at the same circuit where father Dan had triumphed in F1 in 1964 - by 7.359secs.
“Jon handed the car to me in second so we knew we had a chance,” the Daytona 24 Hours polewinner said, "The track was working well at the beginning of my stint but, after I got by Max, I though I was going to pull away.
"Max was super-quick after that though and, when we caught a GT car in turn eight and he got by, it was like a dagger in my heart. Unfortunately for him - but lucky for us - he had a little problem a few laps later, and we were able to get back by. I couldn't be happier for Bob Stallings, GAINSCO and the whole team.”
It was also the first Rolex Series victory for Fogarty, who ran the bulk of his stint in second position, chasing teenage polesitter Colin Braun and only getting a sniff of the lead for three laps when the Krohn driver pitted before him.
“On the start, Colin and I got away pretty good,” Fogarty reported, “I wasn't able to close the gap to him, so we decided to conserve the fuel a bit. With that, we could give Alex the car with fresher tyres. It was a wild race and I let Alex do all the dirty work. Hopefully, wins will come more frequently from now on.”
Papis had enough in hand over the rest of the field to recover from his indiscretion and bring the #75 car home in second place after he and Braun had combined to lead a race-high 86 laps. Braun led throughout his 56-lap stint before turning the car, and was rewarded with a second consecutive runners-up finish in Mexico City.
“It's great to get another podium here, and the Krohn car was great all day,” Braun said with no hint of disappointment, “I think Max did a wonderful job. Everything was pretty smooth and the team had the car set-up pretty good. I wish we could've won, but that's racing.”
Papis, meanwhile, was a little more repentant, apologising to the team for his off, which came after he had spent 30 laps at the head of the field.
“The Krohn Racing car was hitting the mark every time, so I feel bad for Colin and the team,” he sighed, “The problem we ran into was that we hit traffic at the wrong time. I saw Alex coming and couldn't do anything. When I saw the three-wide in turn eight, I thought it was my opportunity and was able to get by him, but I have to congratulate the entire #99 team for their victory.”
Magnussen and Angelelli put the #10 SunTrust entry onto the podium despite the Dane making contact with the rear of Bill Auberlen's #05 Luggage Express Sigalsport Riley-BMW early in the race. Magnussen had run inside the top five for the first 31 laps before the incident, but was subsequently given a drive-through penalty for what officials determined to be avoidable contact.
“We had a very good start and I was just trying to maintain the pace of the #05 as the leaders were pulling away a little bit,” Magnussen said, “I had an issue coming out of turn four and, unfortunately, made contact with him.”
While the #10 team only lost one position as a result of the penalty, Magnussen lost considerable track position, but turned the car over to Angelelli on lap 48 and the Italian brought it home in third, completing a top-three sweep for Pontiac, despite reliability proving to be a problem.
“It was a difficult race for me without power steering,” Angelelli revealed, “Grand-Am is a very tough series - you have to be flat-out the whole time to keep up with the top guys so, for us, it was a good finish for the championship.”
Last year's race winner, and current points leader, Scott Pruett had to make do with fourth position this time around, but did enough to retain top spot in the Daytona Prototype category, albeit now by just three points over Magnussen and Angelelli.
Pruett was sharing the #01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Lexus with local favourite Memo Rojas for the first time, but saw the Mexican drop back a few positions from third on the grid in the early stages. Although Rojas subsequently battled back before handing the controls to Pruett on lap 52, the American veteran only assumed fourth place following the round of pit-stops and could not improve further during his stint.
Patrick Long and Jörg Bergmeister completed the top five in the #23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Crawford-Porsche, finishing one lap behind the race winners but rewarding the team's hard work making substantial repairs to the car's front suspension after Bergmeister crashed in Thursday practice.
The Brumos Racing team secured another solid finish, this time with the David Donohue/Darren Law Red Bull Riley-Porsche coming home in sixth spot, ahead of the #61 Exchange Traded Gold/AIM Autosport Riley-Lexus of Brian Frisselle and Mark Wilkins, which earned the SunTrust 'Improve Your Position Award' after starting 18th.
The second Krohn entry of owner-driver Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson claimed eighth ahead of the two Michael Shank Racing cars, the #60 Mark Patterson/Oswaldo Negri Jr machine just getting the better of the #6 driven by Ian James and Henri Zogaib.
There was disappointment, however, for the second Brumos entry, crewed by Hurley Haywood and JC France, and the Cheever Racing car of Christian Fittipaldi and Harrison Brix, which were both forced to retire before half-distance.
GAINSCO's historic first win was matched in the GT class as SpeedSource team owner Tremblay and co-driver Ham scored their first-career victory with the #70 Mazdaspeed RX-8.
Tremblay took over from Ham on lap 55 and led a class-high 42 laps to beat Dominik Farnbacher's #85 Farnbacher Loles Porsche GT3 by 22.284secs after 92 laps of typically close-fought GT action. The race ran without a full-course caution, putting extra pressure on the SpeedSource crew during the driver change and pit-stop. But the Florida-based team worked flawlessly, sending Tremblay - the most successful driver in Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series history - back on track with a comfortable lead.
“Taking on this Rolex Series programme was a big challenge,” Tremblay admitted, “All of the people at SpeedSource that put in all these hours to get this programme to where it is so, to come here and win for Mazda is a great achievement. This was a great weekend.”
Ham started the #70 machine from the class pole, but quickly fell to fourth in the opening laps. The Englishman battled back, however, gradually moving back up the leader board, before retaking the point position on lap 13 and leading 37 laps until the changeover to Tremblay.
“The main concern at the start was not to get into any racing battles,” Ham explained, “We knew we had a really good car here, and we knew that once we got heat in the tyres, we'd be fine. I just wanted to run clean laps during my stint and hand Tremblay the car with a chance to win. This Mazda RX-8 really loves this track - [engineer] David Haskell did a great job setting it up, and the whole team did an awesome job all weekend.”
For SpeedSource, Mexico City marked a first Rolex Series class triumph in just the team's sixth start, having made just four outings in 2006 with an eye towards a full schedule in 2007. The programme is already seeing the reward of extra preparation as the #70 pairing now carries a seven-point lead over team-mates Emil Assentato and Nick Longhi in the standings.
“With the effort by the SpeedSource team and the support of Mazda, this is truly a full team operation,” Tremblay continued, “Last year, we agreed that we needed to take a step back and we decided to focus a lot on testing. When we came to Daytona this year, we thought we had a great shot to win, and we're continuing to improve every day.”
Farnbacher and co-driver Leh Keen - who held the GT class lead for the first eleven laps - finished second in the #85 Porsche, while Assentato and Longhi gave SpeedSource a second podium finish, coming home third in the #69 RX-8.
Bryce Miller and Dirk Werner made it two Farnbacher Loles Porsches in the top four, with Werner also leading two laps, while Nathan Swartzbaugh and Andrew Davis completed the top five in the #72 Tafel Racing Porsche.
Andy Lally and RJ Valentine took the 'most improved' award after climbing from 14th to eighth, unaided by yellow flags as the race became the first Rolex Series event to run without a full-course caution since the 2005 season finale, also at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.