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‘Interesting Feelings’ Greet Stallings On Return To The Rolex 24

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 26 2018

The No. 99 ‘Red Dragon’ of Bob Stallings is loaded into place at Daytona International Speedway where it will compete in this weekend’s Rolex 24. (RacinToday photos by Martha Fairris)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of reports from the Rolex 24 At Daytona on the return of Dallas businessman/racer Bob Stallings and GAINSCO Auto Insurance to Prototype sports car racing.)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Long before he drove through the Eisenhower-era tunnel funneling traffic into the infield at Daytona International Speedway Thursday, Bob Stallings was experiencing flashbacks to January 2014.

“Before we landed at the airport I was talking to my wife (Linda) and said, ‘Look, I’m just remembering the last time I was here I was at the hospital for a week with Memo,’^” Stallings said. “And it brought back some interesting feelings.”

GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing was a two-time GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype champion when it suspended operations in February 2014, one month after Memo Gidley suffered devastating injuries in a crash less than three hours into the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Four years later, and following a nomadic journey through the Pirelli World Challenge series, Stallings and GAINSCO Auto Insurance have returned to Prototype racing at “North America’s Most Prestigious Sports Car Race” in a revised capacity. Dallas-based GAINSCO has partnered with JDC-Miller MotorSports as primary sponsor of the No. 99 ORECA Gibson LMP2 machine shared by Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller.

Simpson qualified the latest interation of “The Red Dragon” 14th after a hot lap of 1 minute, 37.124-seconds/131.948 mph around the 3.56-mile/12-turn DIS layout for the 56th annual Rolex 24, the 2018 season-opener for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar

Bob Stallings has returned to the site of American sports car racing’s biggest event.

Championship (FOX Network pre-race at 2 p.m. (EST), green flag at 2:40 p.m.) And the 40-or-so GAINSCO staff and executives here for what’s being billed in-house as “Rolex 24 Winning Weekend” are taking their cues from Stallings, executive chairman of GAINSCO.

“When I got in the rental car on the way over here I started to relax,” Stallings said at the back of the No. 99 team hauler in the NASCAR garage area. “There was a lot of excitement, a sense of expectation and anticipation. A bunch of people have said ‘hi’ and ‘welcome back’ and that’s been really neat. And a bunch of fans asked me to sign autographs and it’s neat to be recognized and remembered.

“And I feel really good about these guys. This team reminds me a lot of our team’s focus. Yeah, they didn’t qualify well (14th out of 17 Prototypes)…but it’s a lot of fun to be back.”

Minnesota-based JDC-Miller made an impressive debut in the 2017 IMSA LMP2 Prototype Championship, finishing fourth overall. JDC-Miller led four events and was the only LMP2 team to complete every race in ‘17.

Led by team principal John Church, JDC-Miller methodically has mastered the open-wheel and sports car “Ladder System,” earning 18 championships since its inception in 2011. Goikhberg and Simpson are entering their third full season of driving together. It’s been a successful pairing, having won the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona and Long Beach street race in the Prototype Challenge class before transitioning into LMP2 in 2017.

Second-place finishes at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and Mosport in Canada highlighted the season, which included six top-five finishes, and made JDC-Miller MotorSports the most successful non-manufacturer LMP2 team in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

JDC-Miller’s sister car to the No. 99 _ the No. 85 ORECA LMP2 _ will start 12th after Simon Trummer qualified it at 1:37.005-seconds/132.110 mph. Trummer will share the car with Robert Alon, Devlin DeFrancesco and Austin Cindric.

For comparison, the overall pole was won by Renger Van Der Zande at 1:36.083-seconds/133.378 mph in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi V.R. he will share with defending race and series champion Jordan Taylor and Verizon IndyCar Series regular Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“This is a new team,” said Stallings, downplaying the No. 99’s qualifying effort. “What I’m really more interested in is can they finish the race, will the car be set up so all the drivers are comfortable. It’s a 24-hour race and the main thing is can the drivers keep the car on the track and if you can finish this race anywhere near close to the lead lap, you got a shot.

“Most people, by the time the race is over, are multiple laps down and generally speaking not because they’re slow but because something happened to the car _they laid a tire off into the grass or something happened during the race. Don’t misunderstand me _ you’ve

The GAINSCO JDC-Miller ORECA LMP2 entry at Daytona.

got to be fast to win the race but this is the first time they’ve run two cars as a team so what I’m looking for is how they all will do when something remarkable happens. That’s the part they will learn.

“By the way, John Church has been around the horn; he knows what’s going on. The drivers are all pretty experienced and in fact all the drivers have won in some class here. All that’s good stuff. You’re always disappointed when you’re not close to the front, but I get it.”

In fact, GAINSCO/BSR recorded a second-place finish in this event in 2008, a race won by the Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus-powered Riley featuring an all-world lineup of Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Dario Franchitti and Juan Pablo Montoya. While Stallings’ all-championship winning team of Jon Fogarty, Alex Gurney, Jimmy Vasser and Jimmie Johnson finished two laps down to the winners, there were mitigating circumstances.

“During that race our car was behind the wall for I want to say eight laps,” said Stallings, referring to the No. 99 Corvette Daytona Prototype. “We had to change the gearbox _ and this is what I’m talking about _ this is the stuff that matters. My guys, my team did an amazing job getting that car in here, getting that car jacked up and changing the gearbox and getting it back out on the track. And we made up laps in the process.

“Actually, the chances are pretty good if that race would have lasted 30 more minutes, we might have won because the Ganassi car had an overheating problem and they had to keep coming in to put water in the radiator. So, I was hoping they’d have a real heat problem and honestly, I think 30 more minutes we probably would have won the race.”

And then there are the indelible memories of the 2014 Rolex 24. Gurney qualified the No. 99 Corvette DP on-pole, teamed then with Fogarty, Gidley and Darren Law. Gurney started a race that went horribly wrong less than three hours into the 52nd edition of the twice-around-the-clock classic.

Gidley was running in fourth down a high-speed section of the 3.56-mile “roval” between Turns 3 and 4 _and heading into the sun _ when he slammed into the No. 62 Ferrari driven by Matteo Malucelli. Moments before the impact, Malucelli _teamed with Olivier Beretta, Giancarlo Fisichella and Gianmaria Bruni _ radioed to his pits that the Prancing Horse had lost power and he was pulling over to the left.

Upon impact, the No. 99 Corvette DP sustained massive front-end damage. The race was red-flagged as emergency personnel worked through a debris field to remove both drivers from their cars. An experienced CART open-wheel and sports car driver, Gidley was awake despite suffering fractures to his lower back, left arm, left leg and left heel. He underwent three surgeries at Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach over the five days following the crash.

Stallings recalled that for the first 20 minutes after the wreck, no one along pit road knew if Gidley was alive. When Gidley was cut out of the car, he was not moving. Stallings said he kept calling Gidley over the car’s radio but received no answer.

“John Ward, my engineer, he finally came over and said, ‘Bob, there’s a good chance he can’t hear you and never will answer you,’^” Stallings said. “Pretty devastating experience.”

Stallings said that crash drained the team emotionally and prompted the decision to leave the Prototype class for what turned into three seasons of sedan racing in PWC in, respectively, a Hyundai Genesis Coupe, McLaren 650S GT3 and Porsche 911 GT3 R.

But the GAINSCO racing legacy clearly is linked to Prototype racing. “Obviously, the Cadillac is very, very strong, the factory support is superb over there,” Stallings said. “Wayne Taylor knows what he’s doing and he’ll be a formidable competitor. And Penske with Acura and the factory behind that program, they’ll be a very, very strong competitor.

“But we showed you don’t have to have all that to win. It’s good to have, but you don’t have to have all that to win here. I think what this team wants to do is something similar to what our team did, where you show the capabilities of the team and your commitment to having a championship team and then all of a sudden you start getting all kinds of support. That’s what they’re all about.”

Stallings said he will know much more about this No. 99 team after this weekend. “I was talking to John Miller and one thing I learned here is it really is about the whole team _ the guys that are building car, the engineer, the pit crew, the driver _ it really is all those things that make you win, especially here,” Stallings said. “I found that out by losing races here.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 26 2018
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  • Joyce Muir says:

    Visited Daytona today to see the new Gainsco sponsored JDC Red Dragon. GEORGE and I have been Gainsco Fans for many years. Although we were unable to see the Stallings we did meet the terrific JDC Family- owner, wife and children. We observed a beautiful family business and wish them much success in their partnership with Bob and Linda Stallings. Joyce and George Muir.