Happy New Year, everyone. This is Jon Fogarty of the GAINSCO Insurance racing team and I’m happy to be back on SPEEDSPORT.com to give you a behind the scenes look at our operation as we prepare for the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge road racing campaign.
It’s been tough winter at my family’s home in Bend, Ore., as we have had numerous feet of snow. I have done my share of shoveling this winter and my upper body is great shape. That’s very good for driving this year. It’s a little tough for biking though. And I was anxious to get in the testing mode for the upcoming season.
To be honest, last year we had our ups and downs in the GAINSCO team’s first PWC season in the highly-competitive GT category with the McLaren 650S sports car.
The learning curve was steep with the team and the car as well as myself with the car and the Pirelli tires. I think we were qualifying much better towards the end of the season and made some gains with the McLaren. However, GAINSCO Racing decided to move to the Porsche 911 GT3 R for this year.
We were very excited to test the new ‘Red Dragon’ Porsche and see how the new 911 GT3 R worked with the Pirelli tires. We had hoped to run two days at Sonoma Raceway but we were rained out. That was disappointing since we race at Sonoma in the Pirelli World Challenge and we could match up times from last September and with the new test.
So, we headed south to the Southern California desert and the beautiful new Thermal Club track. It is a fantastic road course with a variety of turns. It’s a country club setup for the gentleman racer but we could learn a lot of different things about the new car.
I felt a familiarity with the Porsche almost immediately. I have quite a bit of experience with the Porsche cars dating back to 2004 when I drove with the Flying Lizards team. I have driven Porsches at the Rolex 24 and Petite LeMans previously. Things feel much easier for me in this car.
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.
We want to get off to a good start in 2017 as the competition level in the GT class is very tough with the likes of GT class champions Alvaro Parente (McLaren), Patrick Long (Porsche) and Johnny O’Connell (Cadillac). Plus, the class has some of the other top auto makes like the new Acura, Bentley, Ferrari and Nissan too.
There was no doubt that guys like Parente, Long and O’Connell were very familiar with their cars. Alvaro, Patrick and Johnny have been factory drivers with their machines for quite some time. And not to make excuses, we were like rookies coming into the GT division in 2016. 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 at the team.
But our outlook has already jumped up for 2017 after that initial test at Thermal.
We will be hitting the testing trail a couple of more times before the season opener at St. Petersburg (March 10-12) and I am anxious for some more runs now in the Porsche. And I am getting a little tired of shoveling snow around the house. We will have two tests in February in the South and the weather should be nice there. I can’t wait to get back in the car.
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. I am expecting our GAINSCO team to be right in the mix with the leaders when the green flag drops in that first sprint race on March 11.