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McLaren ‘Red Dragon’ Set To Light Up Sebring

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 18 2016
Driver Jon Fogarty and the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren will be on the track at Sebring this week. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

Driver Jon Fogarty and the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren will be on the track at Sebring this week. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

One month after a successful shakedown session, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is scheduled to continue development of its shiny red McLaren 650S GT3 on Monday, the first of a two-day test at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.

Team-owner Stallings joined championship driver Jon Fogarty in lapping the McLaren during a systems check at MotorSport Ranch in Cresson, Texas, last month in preparation for the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge season. The latest iteration of the No. 99 “Red Dragon” will compete in the series’ GT category in 2016 after a two-race stint last year in the PWC’s GTS class with a Hyundai Genesis Coupe.  

“There’ll be some cars we compete with on the track in Sebring,” Stallings said after turning eight laps around MotorSport Ranch’s 1.7-mile layout south of Fort Worth. “I don’t think we’ll be highly competitive. We’ll spend two days working on different setups and try to figure out things about the car.”

That process began last month with delivery of the McLaren, a seat-fitting for Fogarty and two-hour video detailing the car’s various systems. An engineer from McLaren Group in Woking, Surrey, England, was on-site and will continue to work with John Ward, GAINSCO/BSR’s race engineer.

“This car is amazing,” said Stallings, a former SCCA champion who competed in the team’s Daytona Prototype before retiring from the cockpit in 2006. “Take the Prototype and think three or four times the sophistication. This is a very forgiving car. I really haven’t driven a car at speed in 10 years, so I was a little nervous. I waited until about the fourth lap to get into it. I got a little ahead of myself in a left-hander and thought I was going to run out of track. I was worried I was going to lose the rear, and the car said, ‘OK, you just relax and I’ll take care of you.’ It’s like having a babysitter. Pretty amazing. In the Prototype I would have been off the track.

“And the factory is very impressive. Before I signed the contract I spent a lot of time talking to the guys who run the company and they’re really smart about what they’re doing in terms of building the retail car. They have all this technology and intellect that they’ve gotten from F1 because that’s what their roots have been _ they’re real racers. Very impressive. We’re real racers, too.”

Since its inception in 2001, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing co-drivers Fogarty and Alex Gurney have collaborated to win GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series championships with GM-powered cars in 2007 and 2009, along with 16 victories and 31 poles.

With the exception of a radio glitch, the team checked-off all its to-do boxes at MotorSport Ranch. “The car is awesome, it ran flawlessly and it was an educational day for our crew, learning the ins-and-outs of this incredible car,” said Terry Wilbert, team manager.

Fogarty was equally impressed. “I was able to turn some laps in anger and push and we already have things we can work on as far as car balance just in a quick shakedown,” Fogarty said after turning approximately 40 laps. “It’s testament to the piece that McLaren delivers. If you can start working on car balance in a half-day shakedown test, it’s testament to how ready-to-race the piece is.

“It’s fun to drive; it’s amazing how quick it is while not being a beast. It’s quite refined _ ABS braking, a nice traction control system _ it’s pretty forgiving in that regard. That’s nice when you’re trying to come up to speed in a car. It’s comfortable. It’s obviously work to get a lap time out of it, like any race car, but not excessive.”

The McLaren is powered by a twin-turbocharged, 3.8-liter V8 producing an estimated 550 horsepower. That power is accessed via a six-speed transmission operated by paddle-shifter. “The motor itself runs at a significant discount, if you will, to what it’s really capable of doing,” said Stallings, alluding to the PWC’s focus on maintaining a balance of power among the series’ various manufacturers.  As per its customer agreement with McLaren, BSR’s mechanics are not allowed to work on the engine.

In contrast, Stallings’ Dallas-based team spent the bulk of the 2015 season homologating the Hyundai Genesis Coupe for Grand Touring Sport class competition without corporate factory assistance.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we ended up racing it this year, but not the whole season,” said Stallings, majority shareholder of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and the company’s executive chairman. “We may find opportune times to get it on the track. We’re working on one small modification to the (V6) motor that I think will make the Hyundai competitive. Based on the data we have, the chassis at Laguna Seca was the fastest on the track. John Ward thinks we need around 47 horsepower to make the car competitive.

“Jon could run that car, so it’s not DOA. Before we retire it I’d like to win a race with it, kind of like Howard Hughes with the ‘Spruce Goose.’ I’d like to see the car get on the track and win.”

Meanwhile, Stallings is considering the purchase of a second McLaren either as a backup or rental after hits and inquiries on Facebook from a number of drivers _ including Gurney. “Alex sent me a text and a picture of the car he saw and he said, ‘That picture wants to make me come out of retirement.’ If he wanted to run, I’d buy a second car because it’d be fun to run both those guys (Fogarty and Gurney).”

Fogarty said he’d welcome Gurney’s return. “That’d be pretty cool,” Fogarty said. ”Alex has a longer history with Bob and GAINSCO Racing than I do. He’s pretty busy with his family business at AAR (father Dan’s All American Racers)…but I’ve always wondered if he might start missing it. Maybe he is now.

“This is my car. I absolutely think we can win. The car has won, I believe, four races in 2015. So unless there is some sort of dramatic shift in the balance of performance among the GT3 cars it should still be just as competitive. We’re going to tracks I’m comfortable at; it’s a competitive group and competitive field of drivers and teams so it won’t be easy but I think the GAINSCO guys and myself are more than capable of winning.”

GAINSCO/BSR has another two-day test scheduled in February at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, site of the 20-race/11-event World Challenge season-opener on March 3-6.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 18 2016
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  • Ron Pessia says:

    I’d love to see Alex come back and run with John. Good luck to the team this year, we will be watching!