The #99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Riley-Pontiac kept its streak of 2007 Grand-Am front-row starting spots alive on Saturday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as Jon Fogarty put the #99 machine on the pole position for Sunday's U.S. Sports Car Invitational.
Fogarty broke the existing Daytona Prototype track record by nearly three seconds with a lap at 1:20.787 (99.729 mph) to qualify on the pole position for the first time in his Rolex Series career. The previous record of 1:24.357 (95.508 mph) was set by Oswaldo Negri Jr. in 2005, and the huge gap between Fogarty's time and the previous record can be attributed in large part to a number of improvements made to the racing surface since the last Rolex Series visit to the facility in 2006.
While Fogarty and co-driver Alex Gurney have started every race this season from the front row, the top five qualifiers were covered by less than two-tenths of a second. Fogarty and Gurney enter the race looking for their second career Rolex Series victory and first since the Mexico City 400k in March.
“It's great for the GAINSCO Auto Insurance team to be consistently as quick as we are in qualifying,” Fogarty said. “We need to be that consistent in the races, however, if we want to contend for this championship. Our engineer, Kyle Brannan, has given us a great car to work with. Both Alex and I have been quick behind the wheel, so we're excited for the race. I think we have a real good shot at keeping it up front this weekend. It's really tough in a field as competitive as this. I think today's times are indicative of how close the race is going to be. Starting up front is going to help. We've seen time and time again that qualifying up front does not necessarily guarantee you a podium spot. We're just going to have to play the race strategy correctly, and that's what it's going to take, along with being quick.”
Starting alongside Fogarty will be current Daytona Prototype points co-leader and 2005 co-champion Max Angelelli in the #10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley. Angelelli posted a best lap at 1:20.834 (99.671 mph) and has combined with co-driver Jan Magnussen to finish inside the top five in their past 11 races together, a streak that began with their victory in last year's event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
“Obviously, it's a very nice feeling,” Angelelli said of his front-row starting position. “My attitude will not change. We want to win, and we need to win, in order to win the championship. We're going to push as usual. I'm pretty pleased with the front row. It's nice and I'm happy. Our target was that we needed to finish in the top three in all the races. That was our feeling, because this championship is so competitive. It's so close, you cannot miss a race. Basically, it takes five or six races to recover, and you don't know if you can ever make it. We want to be there. We want to be consistent, and I have to thank my teammate, Jan Magnussen, who shared the car with me since the first race. I mean, you need to have both parts engaged.”
Patrick Long was third in qualifying with a lap at 1:20.856 (99.644 mph) in the #23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team Porsche Crawford, matching the car's best starting position of the season to date. Long and his co-driver, 2006 Daytona Prototype champion Jörg Bergmeister, are looking to end a victory drought of more than a year for the #23 team in Sunday's race. The team's last victory came in the 2006 VIR 400 with Long sharing the spoils of victory with then-co-driver Mike Rockenfeller.
“It seems like we've been making steady progress since the beginning of the season,” Long said. “The race was a little bit tough for us at VIR, but we've put that behind us. We're here at a much different circuit at Laguna Seca and so far, so good. We thought we might have had a chance for a front row there. I got a little bit held up with a few different bits of adversity. I ran out of fuel on our last flyer, which was looking pretty good. That's all behind us now and it's onto the race. This is one of the most difficult championships I've ever been in and it's only getting stronger. As we progress, guys like the #10 and the #99 (teams) are doing their homework, so it's sort of a moving target. But the boys are real positive and I am as well.”
Christian Fittipaldi qualified fourth in the #39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Crawford with a lap at 1:20.882 (99.612 mph). Fittipaldi is co-driving with Harrison Brix, who hails from nearby San Jose. Memo Rojas completed the top five with a lap at 1:20.894 (99.597 mph) in the #01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley he shares with 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champion Scott Pruett.
The #75 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley, which Max Papis originally qualified sixth, as well as Burt Frisselle's #61 Exchange Traded Gold/AIM Autosport Lexus Riley, Ryan Dalziel's #11 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley and the #05 Luggage Express Team Sigalsport BMW Riley qualified by Matthew Alhadeff, were all sent to the rear of the field due to technical infractions discovered in post-qualifying technical inspection.