1 January 1901
Grand-Am: I felt like piñata, claims Gurney
Such was the battering the #99 car took during its fraught attempt to convert pole position into Rolex 24 victory, Alex Gurney insisted that he was beginning to know how a piñata felt under assault from stick-wielding children.
The polesitter took the GAINSCO-backed Riley-Pontiac into an early lead, but a series of accidents and mechanical failures conspired to defeat the Bob Stallings Racing team. The frustration began in freak circumstances just seven laps into the race, when Gurney clipped a GT car which slowed suddenly when its bonnet had flipped over the windscreen. That incident was followed by an axle failure, more contact, a gearbox malfunction, another axle failure and, finally, a broken rear wing - with the team making lengthy and repeated repairs in an effort to keep the #99 running to the finish and using two spare noses, a spare tail clip, the spare gearbox and spare drivetrain along the way.
However, the effort proved to be in vain as, despite climbing slowly back up the order, a second gearbox failure with less than two hours to go sealed the team's fate. The car was officially retired with 493 laps to its credit, being listed in 46th place overall and 22nd in the Daytona Prototype class. The result was a bitter pill to swallow for Gurney, team-mates Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser, and team owner Stallings, who had come into the race as one of the favourites after Gurney set a track record in qualifying.
“It was a really rough day and we're pretty disappointed with the result,” Gurney admitted, “I'm really proud of all the guys on the team who just worked their butts off to keep our car on track – we threw everything we possibly could at them - but we just didn't have any luck today and tore up a lot of equipment along the way. There's a lot of racing left this season, though, and we believe we can contend for the title. We've just got to lick our wounds and move on.”
Fogarty was equally sanguine about the team's struggles.
“These 24-hour races are difficult to win and we just had so many unfortunate incidents that took us out of the running,” he said, “A lot of things happened tonight and it seems to me like they all happened to us."
Stallings agreed that, while this year's season-opener had had a similarly disappointing result, the 2007 edition had little to do with mistakes on the #99 team's behalf. Their efforts, he said, were simply negated by a surplus of bad luck and mechanical misfortune.
“Last year, we created a lot of problems for ourselves - either the drivers or the crew made mistakes - but that didn't happen today,” he said, “Everyone on our team did their job, but we got caught up in an unfortunate sequence of problems.
"We had some gearbox problems and we need to get to the bottom of those issues before Mexico City, but it's a long season and this is just one race out of 14. That's why we kept running as long as we could, to get some points.”
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