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Fogarty On Pole at Grand Prix of Miami

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 5 2011

Jon Fogarty won the Daytona Prototype pole for the Miami Grand Prix. (Photos courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Jon Fogarty extended his GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype pole record Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where tire wear dominated conversation for today’s Grand Prix of Miami.

Fogarty posted a hot lap of 1:13.655/112.416 mph around the 2.3-mile/11-turn “roval” to earn his record-extending 17th career series pole, and second with Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing in the last three years at HMS.

Fogarty, driver of the No. 99 Gainsco Auto Insurance Chevrolet/Riley, will be joined in the front row by Memo Rojas, a member of the lineup that won the season-opening 49th Rolex 24 at Daytona on Jan. 30. Rojas was timed in 1:13.838/112.137 mph in the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley he will share with Scott Pruett.

Race time today is noon (ET) with live television provided by SPEED. Live radio coverage for the second of 12 events on the schedule will be provided by Motor Racing Network (MRN) and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128 beginning at 11:45 a.m.

The pole represented a nice turnaround for the Texas-based Gainsco team, which finished a disappointing 15th overall at Daytona International Speedway.

“If I can extend my lead in anything, I want to extend it,” said Fogarty, who will co-drive with Alex Gurney. “Whether that’s on the racetrack or for a pole position record, I like that aspect of it.

“We were really close (at HMS) last year, and we’ve been capable of turning quick times here, but I’m encouraged by some of the longer runs we did in the previous practice session. We were able to maintain a pretty good pace on old tires. We want to put the whole package together and I think we‘re coming close this weekend. We’re in a good position, starting up front, and we didn’t put too may laps on our qualifying tires.”

The top seven DPs were separated by less than one second; the top six DPs all featured different engine/chassis combinations.

Rojas was followed by Paul Edwards in the No. 99 Spirit of Daytona Chevrolet/Coyote (1:13.888/112.061 mph) he will share with Antonio Garcia. Ricky Taylor was fourth in the No. 10 SunTrust Chevrolet/Dallara (1:14.060/111.801 mph) he will co-drive with Max Angelelli, while Brian Frisselle was fifth in Doran Racing’s No. 77 Office Depot Ford/Dallara (1:14.170/111.635 mph) he will share with Henri Richard.

In GT qualifying, Jan Magnussen gave both Stevenson Motorsports and the Chevrolet Camaro their

A Camaro is on the pole in Miami.

first pole position in the class. The Dane ran a lap of 1:19.772/103.796 mph in the No. 57 Camaro co-driven by Robin Liddell. Boris Said qualified second in a new No. 31 Whelen Engineering Chevy Corvette with a lap at 1:20:301/103.112 mph.

Fogarty moved to the top of the speed chart at 1:13.665 on his second flying lap during the 15-minute qualifying session before locking down pole one lap later.  Fogarty also was on-pole at HMS in 2009. This pole was the first for the team since August in Montreal. The “Red Dragon” now has captured 22 series career poles since Gurney posted the team’s first in 2005 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. Gurney, the team’s “closer,” has earned five poles during his DP career.

“A great run by Jon, really consistent over his laps, and it looks like we improved the car a little bit,” said Gurney, who will drive the final stint today. “We’re excited and I think we’re going to have a helluva fight at the end of the race with everybody. We’re in a place that we haven’t been _ maybe ever _ setup- wise, but we’ve been trying hard to get it right at Homestead and it looks like we got it right.”

Although Gurney and Fogarty drove to a third-place finish last year at HMS and a championship-clinching fourth-place result in 2009, the combined oval/road-course circuit has been among the team’s toughest challenges. “We want to conquer the place,” Fogarty said. “I am ready to put this one to rest.”

The configuration includes all but the first two turns of Homestead’s NASCAR oval track along with a tight, tricky infield road-course section. It is the oval-track sections, however, that put a heavy load on race car suspensions through the progressively banked corners and a premium on horsepower down the straights. And South Florida’s tropical conditions are notorious for being harsh on tires.

With that background, Taylor was pleased with a qualifying effort he described as “conservative.”

“I only got six or seven laps in practice so, considering that, to have the SunTrust car fourth is really good,” said Taylor, son of team-owner Wayne Taylor. “I really played it conservatively at the beginning; I think I have a bit more in the driver. For sure, when we get the SunTrust car to Max at the end of the race, we should be there.

“I was being really careful with my brake points and everything because if I would’ve flat-spotted a tire at the beginning, qualifying would’ve been over before it even started for us. So I was taking it easy at the beginning, trying to get my brake points down on these (new Continental) tires because they’re so different from 20-lap tires I drove on for a limited time in practice. I think tire wear is still ‘the’ concern. We’ve improved over the last couple of years to where the severity of the drop-off (tire wear) is a lot less. We’ll see how everybody is able to manage the tires.”

Gurney said that story will begin to unfold quickly. “It’s going to be brutal, actually, and within 10 laps you are going to be really, really struggling on the tires,” Gurney said.  “We have some ambitious plans setup-wise we’re going to experiment with, so I’m very much looking forward to that. We are all solely focused on this year’s championship so we realize we need to get the best possible result at Homestead.

“We’ve also been going to counseling to try to get over our Homestead-phobia, so I think soon it will be our favorite track.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 5 2011
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