The No. 99 GAINSCO/Riley at the 2011 Rolex 24 - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, the two-time Grand-Am Rolex Sorts Car Series Daytona Prototype champions are preparing to win the 50th anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona by amping up the driving quotient.
Regular drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty will share their No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Corvette Daytona Prototype at its debut with versatile and accomplished driver Memo Gidley. The Californian replaces Jimmie Johnson, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup titleholder in the driving lineup. Johnson asked for a break after racing the last four runnings of the Rolex 24 in the team's "Red Dragon."
"As soon as Jimmie told me he wanted to take a year off from the 24, I immediately thought of Memo," said team owner Bob Stallings. "We have known him a long time; he's a really solid driver, he's an American from California and I've always held him in high regard.
"Memo is just a terrific person," Stallings continued, "and gets along really well with Alex and Jon. He is awesome on the track, rarely lays a tire off the track. We just had a test in Texas last week and Memo was just as solid as expected. We feel very good about our driver lineup."
Memo Gidley has vast experience in nearly every form of US racing, including Formula Atlantic, Indy cars (CART), is a master karter, races on personal watercraft and, of course, in Daytona Prototype competition. He joined then-teammate Michael McDowell for a victory in the season-ending race at Mexico City in 2005, driving a Finlay Motorsports BMW/Riley. Gidley has driven for other top DP teams over the years.
"I am super pumped to be racing for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing," Gidley acknowledged. "They have been a team that is always in contention for a win or a championship, and as a driver this is a great environment to be in. It was very exciting to get a call from Bob asking if I would be interested in driving for him in the [Rolex] 24; his first question was whether I am ready for this and I told him I was ready last year, last month, and I'm ready now, so let's do it!"
In his short time talking with Stallings Gidley realized, "he is a great motivator and has fantastic energy that I believe is a key to his team's success. I am really looking forward to being a part of the 50th Rolex 24 with such a great team." Gidley has raced in the midwinter classic in the GT class the past few years.
"We are very excited to have Memo join our team," Gurney said. "He has all the attributes we look for in order to help us with the Rolex 24 at Daytona: he is very quick; he is a team player; he has lots of experience in Daytona Prototypes and stays out of trouble on the race track. Memo is solid in all conditions and is a nice guy on top of all that. When he showed up at our shakedown test, he fit in right away," Gurney noted.
"I am really happy to have Memo aboard for this year's 50th anniversary Rolex 24," Fogarty chimed in. "Memo has proven his speed, not only in Daytona Prototypes but in all categories of cars, from Indy cars to sedans. He has the pace, 24-hour experience in both DP and GT and he is another West Coast American, so he fits right in."
Gidley's hiring continues an unintentional but uncanny trend for the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team. Only drivers from California have driven the No. 99 Red Dragon since Stallings stepped out of the cockpit. Gurney is a native of Irvine in southern California; Fogarty was born in Portola Valley in central CA, Johnson comes from El Cajon near San Diego.
Former team drivers Jimmy Vasser and Rocky Moran are from Canoga Park and Pasadena, respectively - both in southern California. While Gidley was actually born in La Paz, Mexico, he considers central California his stateside home, as he and his family lived on a sailboat in San Francisco Bay when he was a boy.
GAINSCO's new Corvette turned its first laps last week at Texas World Speedway. All three drivers - Gurney, Forgarty, Gidley - put in some laps in what was primarily a shakedown exercise.
"The Texas test went extremely well," Stallings said. "Obviously this is a [new] car that we have to get familiar with. There are things we have to learn about it and I suspect it will take two or three races for us to get a good handle on the car. Beyond that, the manufacturers themselves are doing a lot of learning. They have done a terrific job so far. When you think about how far they went from design to putting the car on the track, it was a pretty short period of time."
When Gidley first saw the new Chevrolet prototype standing next to last year's Riley at the team's shop, "It immediately made the old Riley look like a vintage car. It was exciting to take the car out for laps for the first time at Texas, and I really liked how it felt. I do feel the potential to be very fast is there; I expect the race to be an interesting mix of performance from both the new and old cars, but in typical GAINSCO team fashion, I expect the No. 99 to be at the front."
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing completes its on-track test schedule for 2011 at Daytona International Speedway on December 20th; it will return for the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona test days set for January 6-8. The 50th anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona takes place on January 26-29.
© 2011 Anne Proffit