The GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team will take the first step towards recapturing the Grand-Am Rolex Series title when it embarks on this weekend's Daytona Test Days with former champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty being joined once again by Jimmy Vasser and Jimmie Johnson.
Although Johnson is not likely to be available until Monday's final session, the un changed squad believes that it not only has a chance to aim for a second title in three years, but also capture its first Rolex 24 victory later this month. The Daytona Test Days mark the first official on-track activity of 2009, and sees the GAINSCO team's first appearance at the famous Florida circuit since last July's Brumos Porsche 250, where it mirrored its runner-up spot in the 2008 Rolex 24.
The same four drivers will return for the 47th annual running of the season-opener fully determined to finish one position higher than last year, and an unchanged squad is a definite advantage according to one of its regular pilots.
"Having the same driver line-up back for the 24 is a big advantage," said Gurney, who won the pole with GAINSCO for the 2007 Daytona classic, "Most teams don't have a full understanding of what the race demands, from small things like how the seats fit each driver to big things like how the pit sequences work. We have the advantage of having figured all that out. We know that everyone on our team works well together and is super-focused on a win."
Gurney and Fogarty return as GAINSCO's lead drivers in 2009, their fourth year together and third full season as team-mates. They joined the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings crew in winning the 2007 Rolex Series titles and finished second in both championships last year, and know that a strong result in the Rolex 24 always makes a championship run easier.
"Getting the same team back together again is a big deal," Fogarty agreed, who led several laps in last year's Rolex 24, along with Gurney and Johnson, "It just smoothes things out in terms of the learning curve. That's a big strong point of this team, not only for the 24 but from season to season.
"We have a good formula for winning, but that shouldn't be misconstrued as complacency. When you find something that works, you stick with it. The competition always forces us to push ourselves, but we can do it in an environment we're comfortable with."
Strong comfort levels have also been established with Vasser and Johnson, who have proven just as important to GAINSCO's success as their team-mates. Vasser has been GAINSCO's primary 'hired gun' in endurance races for the past three years - the team has never raced a Rolex 24 without him - while Johnson was impressive in the rain, leading 14 laps on his debut with GAINSCO in last year's Rolex 24.
"The race is an awesome experience and challenge," admitted the three-time reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, "Two or three of the years I've raced I've been in the car as the sun has come up, which is one of the coolest things a driver can experience. I've always been a fan of endurance sportscar racing, and this environment has always been appealing to me. I'm extremely interested in other forms of motorsports, and I love how different the Daytona Prototype cars are. It allows me to go back to my world and see things a little differently."
This year marks Johnson's fifth Rolex 24 start in a DP, while Vasser brings more experience of the race than his younger team-mates, including an IMSA GTP Lights class victory in 1992.
"We learned last year that Jimmy and Jimmie don't make mistakes, so we can hopefully look forward to trouble-free runs from everyone," Gurney concluded, "I'm very excited about it and I think we're in as good a position as anyone. I think the formula was right last year and, other than fine tuning a few things, we should be in good shape."