‘Red Dragon’ To Fly Porsche Colors In ’17
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
After consecutive Pirelli World Challenge campaigns run with a Hyundai and a McLaren, sports car team-owner Bob Stallings has decided there is no substitute.
Dallas-based GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is in full test-mode of the Porsche 911 GT3 R Jon Fogarty will pilot in the series’ GT Championship in 2017. The latest iteration of the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance “Red Dragon” is the result of a partnership with Porsche Motorsport North America that Stallings suggested was inevitable.
“I’ve come close to forming a relationship with Porsche several times over the past 10 years,” Stallings said during a telephone interview with RacinToday.com. “Frankly, my relationship with General Motors was so strong that it just made it impossible to do; we never could find the right opportunity to complete a relationship. They (PMNA) sat down with me towards end of the season last year and threw out some ideas that really made a lot of sense to me and demonstrated their willingness to make a pretty strategic commitment to the team for me to switch over (from McLaren).
“I’ve known the leadership of Porsche Motorsport for a very long time and raced against them in the Rolex Series and more recently in PWC and hold them in high regard. So I’ve had sort of a kinship with them. I’m really excited about being a part of their program and so are all of the guys on the team.”
Fogarty, the 2007 and 2009 Daytona Prototype co-champion in the former GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, again will work with team manager Terry Wilbert and team engineer John Ward. The group concluded its latest test, a two-day session at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, La., on Wednesday.
“We had a very good test in New Orleans,” Stallings said. “Had to dodge some tornados and quite a bit of rain, but getting time in the new car is a good thing.
“There’s no question that everybody on the team is of the opinion that the Porsche is just a little more compatible with our experience and our skill sets…and nothing against McLaren. It’s just that it (Porsche) fits our personalities better and our abilities better. John Ward and Jon Fogarty have had significant experiences with racing Porsches in the past, both from an engineering and a driver’s point of view, so they’re pretty comfortable with the cars. It’s slightly different than the ones that they ran _ but a Porsche pretty much is a Porsche.
“I got to drive it just a little bit in a shakedown test in Bakersfield…it’s a fun car to drive. Actually bought a (2015) GT3 for myself a couple of months ago and it’s a similar car. Obviously, the race car is a little different but it’s a sweet car.”
As the world’s largest race car manufacturer, Porsche has forged a lengthy history of winning. The Porsche 911 GT3 R scored five victories en route to second place in the PWC GT Championship in 2016. “Customer racing is the foundation of Porsche Motorsport,” said Jens Walther, president/CEO of Porsche Motorsport North America. “We are always delighted when an organization as successful as GAINSCO chooses to race with us, and we welcome Bob Stallings and the entire team to the Porsche family.”
Led by Wilbert and Ward, the team spent time learning about the car at Porsche Motorsport North America headquarters in Carson, Calif., during December. Fogarty completed a four-hour shakedown program at Buttonwillow Raceway Park northwest of Bakersfield, Calif., just before Christmas, a session during which Porsche factory driver Pat Long tutored the crew. That was followed by a two-day test at the new Thermal Club in the Southern California desert.
Fogarty is familiar with Porsche products, having driven similar cars in endurance events including the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Petite Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Prior to joining Stallings’ team fulltime in early 2006, Fogarty drove a Porsche 911 for Flying Lizard Motorsports in 2004. Fogarty believes the new Porsche, shod with Pirelli tires, will make him a contender for the 2017 GT point championship.
“I know the Porsche better and the new car felt good,” Fogarty said after Thermal test. “I thought the feel of the wheel, seat and pedals were very good and we worked through quite a good number of setups in just one day. I think my being familiar with the Porsche gives our team a much better start to the 2017 year than last year, when we were all learning about the McLaren.”
Fogarty admittedly struggled in the team’s first PWC season in the GT category with the McLaren 650S GT3. “The learning curve was steep with the team and the car as well as myself with the car and the tires,” said Fogarty, a 41-year-old resident of Bend, Ore. “I think we were qualifying much better towards the end of the season and made some gains with the car.
“And not to make excuses, we were like rookies coming into the GT division. It was our first time in the class and with the new car. So, it was hard. We have a very good team that has won sports car championships before. It was frustrating for everyone here.”
GAINSCO/BSR announced its switch to the McLaren and the PWC’s GT category in November 2015, abruptly shelving a year-long program to develop the Hyundai Genesis Coupe in the series’ manufacturer-heavy Grand Touring Sport class.
Stallings’ business interests include Bob Stallings Hyundai, a state-of-the-art facility in Dallas. Stallings’ switch to McLaren came less than a year after his decision to develop the Genesis Coupe _ without corporate assistance from Hyundai _ for competition in the PWC’s sedan-style GTS class. Stallings’ team spent most of 2015 homologating the Hyundai, with the red No. 99 Genesis Coupe making its delayed debut in August with Texan Jeff Harrison at the wheel at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
Fogarty scored three top-five finishes with the McLaren last year, highlighted by a third in the season-opener at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. “The big setback for us was the wreck in Long Beach,” said Stallings, recalling a heavy hit that bounced the McLaren off the famed street circuit’s concrete walls. “That just did a lot of things to our team…we got a little lost on the setup after that. Toward the end of year we regained the handle on engineering the car and Jon got comfortable with driving the car and had a really nice qualifying session at Laguna Seca in the last race. So we got quick in the car toward the end of the year, but it was an effort to get that done.”
Including his two Daytona Prototype titles shared with Alex Gurney, Fogarty captured four professional championships in the span of seven years. The Palo Alto, Calif., native won Toyota Atlantic Championships in 2002 and 2004. Fogarty exited the GRAND-AM Series as the all-time Daytona Prototype pole-winner with 25, including a record seven consecutive in 2007.
Since its inception in 2001, Stallings’ team has earned two championships, 16 victories and 31 pole positions. GAINSCO/BSR’s legacy of drivers includes two-time Daytona Prototype champs Gurney and Fogarty, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, CART champions Jimmy Vasser and Cristiano da Matta, GT champion Darren Law, American road-racing specialists Memo Gidley and Rocky Moran Jr. and the team-owner.
Keeping business local, the Porsche GT3’s red livery was applied last week at Gardner Paint & Body by David Gardner in Colleyville, Texas. The team’s final scheduled test will take place next week at Sebring, Fla. The PWC season-opener is set for March 10-12 with the GT/GTA/GT Cup divisions and GTS categories competing on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. That event will be run in conjunction with the 2017 opener for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“I believe the GT class will be as competitive as ever and we have to be ready to go when the cars roll off the trailers at St. Pete,” Fogarty said.
“We’re counting on doing better than last year,” Stallings said. “The competition will be intense…the guys that are running up-front, there’s no slouches. They’re all pro drivers, the cars are turned-out well. I think you’re going to see the same bunch running up-front. I think the difference, hopefully, might be that the Red Dragon will be in that club, too.”
As for the McLaren, Stallings said, “I still own it, and we’re happy to sell it to you for a discounted price.”