Jon Fogarty and his GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing crew kicked off the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge GT Championship with the debut of their new racecar, the Porsche 911 GT3 R, on the challenging streets of St. Petersburg.
The tight and twisty 1.8-mile street circuit features 14 turns and multiple surface types, including the fast front straight which is an airport runway. Fogarty kicked off the weekend with a strong start, finishing sixth in the first practice session, just four-tenths of a second slower than the front runners on Thursday. Heading right into qualifying on Friday morning, Fogarty set the eighth fastest lap, securing the outside of the fourth row for Saturday’s grid next to Cadillac champion Johnny O’Connell.
Saturday morning brought surprising changes to the race course. Several drivers made contact from a large bump in the surface of turn three. Track officials decided to make a last-minute change to the circuit, forcing the Pirelli World Challenge drivers to start the race without the opportunity of practicing on the new layout.
Fifty GAINSCO guests cheered Fogarty on to a great start as he took the green flag Saturday and immediately improved two positions. Heading into turn one, Fogarty’s luck changed as he was hit by former teammate and friend Ryan Dalziel in the No.2 AMG Mercedes. Fogarty drove off track to avoid continued contact and re-joined the race in 13th position. Shortly after, the No. 11 Ferrari suffered an engine failure and caught fire on track, causing a nearly 20-minute caution period in the 55-minute race.
Once the oil was removed from the track, the green flag fell and Fogarty fought hard to work his way back into the top ten. His Porsche was slightly damaged from the early race contact, but Fogarty continued his charge with two goals in mind…1) Position himself to set a fast lap time to secure a strong starting spot for Sunday’s race. 2) Recover as many championship points as possible with a top-ten finish.
By the time the checkered flag fell, Fogarty was 10th and had set the 10th fastest race lap. He and his team were disappointed with the result, but optimistic for a better day on Sunday. After the race, Ryan Dalziel ran straight over to the GAINSCO garage to apologize for the contact (pictured), “It was an unfortunate turn one incident. I had a good start going up until that point,” said Fogarty. “We lost a lot of positions and once you’re down in the middle of the pack, it’s tough on a street circuit like this with very little time to make it up. It wasn’t the show we wanted for the GAINSCO agents today, but I am glad we were able to recover with a top-ten.”
The crew worked diligently Saturday night to repair and prepare the car for Sunday’s race two. Still familiarizing themselves with the new car, multiple changes were made to the set-up in anticipation for Sunday’s race. Unfortunately, something was amiss in the reassembly, and Fogarty was unable to take the green flag in race two. During the formation lap, the No. 99 Porsche 911 GT3 R suffered issues related to the rear axle and Fogarty was forced to park the car on circuit.
RESULTS: GT START GT FINISH TIME SPEED
Practice 1: 6th 1:13.228 88.49 mph
Qualifying: 8th 1:14.316 87.19 mph
Race 1: 10th 1:14.717
Race 2: Did Not Start (Mechanical)
Bob Stallings on the weekend: “It’s not what we were hoping for. On Saturday, we had a good car and Jon had a good start from eighth to sixth. Then, the No. 2 car made a very unfortunate move and took us out of contention and basically took himself out of the race. It’s too bad because we had a top-five car easily; it could have been a podium car. It’s St. Pete…anything can happen and that first corner is everybody’s nightmare. I want to thank all of the agents who worked so hard to win the trip to join us this weekend; we appreciate their support and it’s really special for the team to have them here.”