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Stallings: Moving To McLaren Was Biz Decision

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, December 4 2015
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings will move its colors to McLaren next year.

GAINSCO/Bob Stallings will move its colors to McLaren next year.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Businessman/racer Bob Stallings says the decision to abandon his Hyundai Genesis Coupe project and move up the Pirelli World Challenge ladder as a McLaren customer in 2016 was all about activating and elevating the brand.

buganalysisGAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing announced on Nov. 20 the Dallas-based team will campaign a McLaren 650S GT3 in the Pirelli World Challenge’s GT category next year after entering its Genesis Coupe in a pair of late-season GTS class races in 2015. In doing so, Stallings _ the majority shareholder of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and the company’s executive chairman _ deferred to the wishes of an independent five-member board.

“It wasn’t the car or the development,” Stallings said in an interview with RacinToday.com. “It was GAINSCO’s perspective of where the sponsorship would have its greatest value for its profile and entertaining its independent agents. They felt the GT class was much more appropriate and a better deal for them. That was the primary reason. I was also enamoured by the GT class and the sophistication of the cars out there. The whole GT3/FIA world-wide project…I found intriguing. It made more sense for GAINSCO and the race team to step-up to the top class.”

The 20-race/11 event 2016 Pirelli World Challenge season is scheduled to begin March 3-6 at Circuit of The Americas in Austin _ a key “hometown” Texas event Stallings’ team did not enter last year while the No. 99 Genesis Coupe was being assembled. Andy Jordan, GAINSCO’s senior vice president of marketing and business development, said the company plans to activate its sponsorship program at nine of 11 venues this season.

Stallings’ team recently took delivery of a British-built McLaren 650S GT3, latest generation of the track-focused racer from McLaren GT. Jon Fogarty, a two-time sports car champion with Stallings’ organization, is scheduled to shake down the latest iteration of the “Red Dragon” in mid-December.

The switch to McLaren comes less than a year after Stallings chose to develop the Genesis Coupe _ without corporate assistance from Hyundai _ for competition in the PWC’s sedan-style Grand Touring Sport (GTS) class. Stallings’ team spent most of 2015 homologating the Hyundai, with the Genesis Coupe making its delayed PWC debut in late August at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway’s 2.52-mile/12-turn circuit with Texan Jeff Harrison at the wheel.

Harrison started the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma 20th but was sidelined after 16 laps when a fuel pressure sensor failed. Harrison _ “Club Pro Driver” at Jeff Farr’s MotorSport Ranch in Cresson, south of Fort Worth _ran as high as 18th and recorded a best lap of 80.971 mph. Harrison and the team continued to develop the car during a test at Thunderhill Raceway, just north of Sacramento, immediately after the Sonoma race.

Fogarty made his first start in the Hyundai during Round 17 of the series on the 2.238-mile/11-turn Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California on Sept. 13. Fogarty started 20th and finished a lead-lap 15th, a little over a minute behind winner Kris Wilson and his Aston Martin Vantage GT4.

“We were quite pleased with the chassis, the gearbox,” Stallings said of the Hyundai. “It was the engine that needed more development and that would have been an easy fix. When Jon was in the car at the last race the chassis, by all the information we had, was probably the quickest chassis on the course in the braking zones and fast corners, and in the low-speed corners we were at least equal.

“We were definitely down (on speed) on the straightaways and that was our own mistake. We misjudged the power/weight combination needed to run up-front. We had a fix engineered on paper to make it go…and I told them to hold off because we were probably going to make a change.”

Stallings said the Hyundai’s V6, which began life as a 3.8-liter, was race-prepped to 4.4-liters by a vendor in California. Stallings said an increase in airflow theoretically would have produced the projected 47 horsepower needed to run-up front.

Stallings termed the homologation process, which began in February, a “labor of love” that unfortunately began to wane as early as July. “I really underestimated what it was going to take to build this car, because we had never built one from scratch,” Stallings said. “I was emotionally attached to the project…and frankly it took me as long as it did to make the decision. We had all the options available and the last few weeks were me dragging my feet because I didn’t want to make the decision.

“It was difficult but really more on an emotional basis than a practical basis. Whenever I get started in something I’m pretty reluctant to turn away from it, especially if the prospects are good. And the prospects were very good. On a practical side, it basically will take another 24 months _ another 18 to 24 months _ for Hyundai to come out with their project on this new, high-performance (halo car) program they’re going to introduce in 2017. In the meantime, we’d be spending money on something that would be outdated pretty quickly. Beyond that, the important thing is GAINSCO wanted to step-up to GT and it would have been virtually impossible to get the Genesis homologated into that class.”

Stallings’ business interests include Bob Stallings Hyundai in Dallas. The dealership’s grand opening last winter was attended by Dave Zuchowski, president/CEO of Hyundai Motor America, who expressed interest in Stallings’ self-supported Genesis project. “They were always enthusiastic about the project…but they understood my circumstance,” Stallings said. “So there’s no acrimony or disappointment because it was more my project than theirs. They were incidentally involved.”

Since its inception in 2001, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing has compiled GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series championships with GM-powered cars in 2007 and 2009, along with 16 victories and 31 poles.

Stallings said he began talking to various manufacturers in August about campaigning a GT car in 2016. “I basically spoke to one German company and two English companies,” said Stallings, who added he is prohibited from disclosing those manufacturers under a confidentiality agreement. “I had preliminary conversations with just about all the manufacturers, but a lot of detailed discussions with just three.”

McLaren GT is the race car manufacturing arm of McLaren Group established to develop, build and support the GT racing and track derivatives of the 12C sports car and the 650S GT3. Based in Woking, Surrey, England, at the former home of McLaren Racing, the company is responsible for the design, development and production of GT3 variants of the 12C and 650S, the 12C GT Can-Am Edition and the 12C GT Sprint.

“The company itself has a very long and very rich history and tradition in racing, coming out of F1,” Stallings said. “The racing technology that exists in that company probably exceeds most other manufacturers except for maybe the top three. Their whole approach to designing and building a car and their focus on the technology was totally impressive. They also are really interested in winning…and now the U.S. market is important to McLaren. They’re already into the retail business of selling cars. Add all those up and their willingness to support us from an engineering point of view was impressive.”

GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing will face stiff in-house competition from K-PAX Racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports, which posted four wins and eight podiums last year in the McLaren with a lineup featuring factory driver Kevin Estre.

“Darren Law (program manager) runs that operation; he has driven for me and we’re pretty good friends,” Stalling said. “I was interested in how he felt about the McLaren and the support and he really likes them. I’m guessing we’ll share some information but since we’re competitors there’ll likely be some things they do we aren’t aware of. After the race is over, we’ll know their set-ups. And same thing with us, they’ll know our set-ups.”

The McLaren customer agreement comes gift-wrapped with an engineer(s) scheduled to arrive from England on Dec. 14th. Stallings’ longtime engineer, John Ward, team manager Terry Wilbert and Fogarty will go through the car on Dec. 15, as well as pour a seat mold for Fogarty. The team’s first test is scheduled for Dec. 16 at MotorSport Ranch.

“The agreement we have with McLaren, protecting their brand and technology…there’s aspects of the car we can’t get full knowledge of,” Stallings said. “There’s little we can do to the car, a fairly low percentage of engineering changes. We can focus on the attitude of the car _ the brakes, shocks, camber, caster and springs _ really only fine-tuning what’s already available on the car. We get only a glimpse of what’s going on in how the car’s making power. A McLaren engineer plugs in and downloads the information and once it’s out we work with the guy. We don’t see what’s going on in the guts of the motor.

“The great thing about this car…we won’t have to teach the car anything; we have to teach ourselves about the car. With the Genesis, we had to teach the car how to go fast. So it’s (the McLaren) more a one-way transaction. I anticipate we’ll go to Sebring (Fla.) in January for a couple of days of testing on a different kind of track and there will probably be a test in February the series will run at COTA in advance of the race there (in March). That will be a real good test for us because all of our competitors will be on the track and we’ll be able to get a much better sense of how we’re doing.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, December 4 2015
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