A pair of strong runs at New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP) the last two years and improved performance recently from the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley bode well for a solid showing from GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, and drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, at this weekend’s NJMP 250 presented by Crown Royal, July 16–18.
The New Jersey race is Round Nine of 12 events on the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series schedule and will be run on NJMP’s 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway circuit for the third consecutive year. Practice and qualifying take place Friday and Saturday while Sunday’s 2-3/4-hour timed race can be seen live on SPEED, July 18, at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT.
“New Jersey is one of the tracks where we haven’t had any success, although I think we've had a car good enough to win there the last two years,” Gurney said. “We had a flat tire and lost a lap early in 2009 but the car was very quick in the wet. I think the lap times showed that we were at least as quick as the leader for the duration of the race, but we had no real chance to get our lap back. In 2008 we were leading much of the race before Max Angelelli punted us off the road.”
Gurney and Fogarty finished sixth in last year’s rain-soaked race and recovered from the late punt-and-run in 2008 to finish fifth. A top-three podium result and possibly even GAINSCO’s first win of the 2010 season in the No. 99 “Red Dragon” could be in the cards this weekend.
“I’m very positive about this upcoming weekend,” Fogarty said. “We’ve had good pace in our last two races and our package now is quite different from what we ran at New Jersey last year. In 2009, we didn’t really hit full stride until mid-season, and as New Jersey was earlier, we didn’t show well last year. We have more data on the track, and a better car, so I’m confident about running up front.”
Gurney, Fogarty and GAINSCO are the two-time reigning GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Driver and Team Champions but the 2010 season has been a challenge since January’s season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. The highlight has been a single podium with a third-place finish in March’s Grand Prix of Miami, but new Chevrolet powerplants from ECR Engines, combined with GAINSCO’s usually strong setup, have given the team renewed optimism in the second half of the season.
“I feel very good about the direction we've been going with the setup of our car recently and I really think we can win some of these last four races if we can get all our ducks in a row,” Gurney said. “It feels like a long time since we've been able to pull off a win, so we are all very eager to make it happen.”
GAINSCO was in a position to win or at least hit the podium in the last two races at Daytona and Mid-Ohio but was hampered by miscues in the pits and on the track.
“I think we can win all of the remaining races,” Fogarty said. “We need to execute, make zero mistakes and have a little bit of luck. Not too much to ask for considering how rough we had it in the first three quarters of the year.”
Gurney enjoys Thunderbolt, but like all great race circuits, the 12-turn course is not without its challenges.
“The NJMP course is fun to drive with lots of very different and interesting corners,” Gurney said. “The track has a nice rhythm to it but the last sequence is a little strange because it is a completely single-lane, follow-the-leader type section and this makes for some awkward moments with the GT cars. That took some getting used to when we first arrived.”
Fogarty is of the opinion that NJMP still requires some getting used to in as much as the inaugural race was run in warm and dusty conditions in August, last year’s race in May was one of the rainiest in GRAND-AM history, and this time around teams and drivers will have to contend with extreme July heat.
“Still feels like a new circuit to me,” Fogarty said. “I would imagine the track surface is not fully ‘seasoned’ and may be different from our previous visits. Just like the facility has evolved from our first visit, we have to evolve with it and make the most of what we’re challenged with. We have a greater amount of data to draw from this third time around, but we’ll have to rely on our on-the-fly information as much or more than the historical data we have. It’s the same for most teams, so we’re at no disadvantage there. I really think all of these factors may be to our advantage.”
Even the heat wave that has hit the East Coast the past two weeks may work in GAINSCO’s favor if it continues into the weekend. The team has traditionally performed well in extreme heat conditions.
“It looks like it’s going to be a very hot race again with temps in the mid-90s, so we can probably expect the inside of the car to be somewhere around a million degrees,” Gurney said. “I've been trying to do my workouts on the surface of the sun so I should be well prepared. Anyway, I think our car will respond well to the heat, setup wise. We're still shooting for second in the championship at this point, and I think now is when we need to start putting some big points on the board.”
The No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley is currently fifth in the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Series Daytona Prototype team championship with 196 points, but trails the second place No. 10 SunTrust Ford Dallara of Angelelli and Ricky Taylor by just 14 points.