The popular No. 99 “Red Dragon” car is back for its first full season in three years, as the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team is fully committed and preparing for the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge season, albeit with its third different car in as many seasons.
Memo Gidley’s devastating accident in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona took the team’s Corvette DP out of action for good. Gidley continues his incredible recovery from his injuries; meanwhile, team principal Bob Stallings worked to ensure the core of his team stayed intact even though the racing program temporarily ground to a halt.
The 2015 season was meant to see the newly built Hyundai Genesis for most, if not, all the World Challenge season in GTS. But the car only appeared twice, with Jeff Harrison debuting the car at Sonoma and Jon Fogarty back for the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca season finale.
For 2016, it’s a return to the top class for the first time in several years, as the team has purchased a new McLaren 650S GT3, with Fogarty the sole driver for the season.
As Stallings explained, the business case made sense to move up to GT.
“GAINSCO felt very strongly that the GT class was a more appropriate class for them to entertain their independent agents, and I agreed with that,” Stallings told Sportscar365.
“I was personally invested in the Hyundai Genesis, but from a business side it made sense to go into GT.
“We did our due diligence from there. Where’s the best chemistry? Who had the best platform? What indicated to us a strategic focus to us and a dedication to win? That led me finally to the decision of the McLaren.
“It has a great history of racing, being technologically astute and advanced with a commitment to winning. The U.S. market is very important to McLaren and McLaren GT. I felt that was the best way for us to roll.”
The McLaren choice sees the GAINSCO team join the K-PAX Racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports squad with the 650S GT3 in World Challenge. Kevin Estre won four races for the Lizards last year.
The natural relationship between Stallings and Darren Law, Flying Lizard’s program manager, helped sway the decision. Law drove for Stallings on a number of occasions at the Rolex 24.
“Darren has a lot of high credibility with me,” Stallings said. “I talked with him about his view of McLaren, and how they perform. They did well, and could have done even better if Balance of Performance had been steadier, and maybe a little more even-handed.
“Whether we’ll share information? We might share with each other anything and everything, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the competition between the two teams.”
Stallings, who had the opportunity to view most of the 2015 season from the sidelines before the team returned to race action at Sonoma, is bullish on World Challenge’s improvements for 2016.
“It’s a much more economical way for a factory to display their product,” he said. “Also, I think we live in a very impatient world. The fact there are two less than one-hour races per weekend really hits what people are looking for.
“Pirelli World Challenge has a great opportunity. They’re a younger organization, but it’s been more successful than anyone really anticipated.
“I think the leadership and board of directors are sensitive to the opportunities they have, and want to be focused and careful not to lose this opportunity.”
As for whether Stallings would consider a return to IMSA, while he didn’t rule it out entirely, he said 2017 would present more of an opportunity. But the McLaren program is planned for at least two years in World Challenge.
“I’ve had some conversations with McLaren about that idea,” Stallings said. “I can’t get into too many details. I can say IMSA is on their radar screen.”
The Hyundai GTS program, according to Stallings, isn’t dead either. It will likely run later in 2016, but was moved down the priority list owing to the GT chance.
“I think we will run it this year,” he said. “The chassis is very impressive. We built that car and at Laguna, John Ward (engineer) determined the chassis itself was the fastest chassis on the track, pretty much everywhere on the track except for the straightaways.
“I’m on a national dealer council. I know the type of products coming. So I’m eager to run a Hyundai program, and I will run a Hyundai program. If we were closer to the rollout of Hyundai performance line, we’d want to run all year. But that won’t be until the first quarter of 2017.”
“It’s highly likely we’ll run a Hyundai high performance type vehicle in 2017 in GTS, along with the McLaren in GT.”
The team recently did a shakedown at Motorsports Ranch in Cresson, Texas – both Fogarty and Stallings drove, the latter only for eight laps – and both were thrilled with the car’s performance.
Additional testing is planned for the middle of January at Sebring, with the possibility of a test at Circuit of The Americas in February prior to the season opener in March. Stallings anticipates some 500 to 600 GAINSCO agents and guests will be on site for their home race.
All told, Stallings thinks wins are possible early on, with a championship the target no later than 2017.
“It’s very exciting in an emotional way, because I love all those guys. But it’s great to have everyone back together,” he said.
“But I’m excited from a practical point of view. I’m not predicting a championship (this year). But we will win a championship, and I think we’ll win it in this car.
“I hope that doesn’t sound braggadocious. I just have high expectations. I think we can get it done.
“When you’ve won championships, you learn how to win. It’s hard to win in any of these series because of great competition. I’m really excited about our prospects.”