MONTEREY, Calif. – Alex Gurney looks forward to returning to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for Saturday’s Continental Tire Sports Car Festival Presented by Mazda, the lone California stop on the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16.
The last time the Rolex Series raced at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Gurney watched co-driver Jon Fogarty take the checkered flag, one of four 2009 victories in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance “Red Dragon” that carried them to their second Daytona Prototype championship.
“I was so happy to learn that we are going back to Laguna Seca,” Gurney said. “As one of the premier road races with so much history, it seems only natural that GRAND-AM should be racing there.”
One of the Irvine, Calif., driver’s earliest racing memories came at the circuit, when American motorsports icon Dan Gurney showed his young son what he once did for a living.
“When I was about eight years old, my dad drove me around Laguna in a Cobra at speed,” Gurney recalled. “I remember it being incredibly loud and scary, and at one point I was sure that we were upside down. I’m guessing that was the Corkscrew!”
Gurney made an excellent first impression when he first drove the red No. 99 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, back in 2005.
“Coming away with the quickest time in practice back in 2005 was a big thrill,” Gurney said. “It came on the GAINSCO team’s debut day in the series.”
Fogarty started the No. 99 on the inside of row two for the 2009 event, directly behind pole sitter Memo Rojas. He ran near the front throughout his shift, then pitted to turn the car over to Gurney. Following the stop, GRAND-AM ruled that Fogarty pitted a few seconds too early to satisfy the 30 minutes needed to score points. While Gurney drove to the lead, the team decided to put Fogarty back in the car for the final stint so that both drivers could score points – and ultimately share the championship.
Fogarty held the lead following the pit stop before being passed by Scott Pruett. Fogarty held his ground, following Pruett for a few laps before making a daring pass for the lead in the Corkscrew. He went on to lead the final 22 laps, beating Pruett to the checkered flag by seven seconds for their second of four victories that season.
“I think watching Jon’s pass on Pruett for the lead in the ’09 race was the most sketchy moment, that was awesome!” Gurney said. “That was very big day for us. We had always run well at Laguna but a win was always elusive, so to finally come through was very important.”
Of his 13 Rolex Series victories – all co-driving with Fogarty – that was the only time he was not driving at the checkered flag.
While the “Corkscrew” is the signature turn on the 17-turn circuit, it’s not the most important one for Gurney.
“I love Turn 6, that turn is an enigma,” Gurney said. “Every once in awhile you think you have it figured out but it is incredibly hard to duplicate a very quick run through there. When to let off, how much to brake, how much curb to use, how to come off the throttle, when to downshift, when to get back to the throttle, how much throttle to use? these are all the questions I’m asking as I approach this corner.”