For Scott Dixon, Saturday was a bittersweet day of sorts at Sonoma Raceway.
It officially marked the end of his one-year reign as 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champ. A new driver – either Simon Pagenaud or Will Power – will ascend to the IndyCar champion’s throne in Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Dixon came into Saturday’s qualifying round with high hopes and expectations that he could make the Firestone Fast Six. And things were looking that way until a mechanical issue cost him a top qualifying spot by a mere .003 of a second.
“We had some major vibration,” Dixon told NBCSN. “I thought I felt it on the black (tire) run and when we switched to the reds, it was really bad. I was really surprised we managed to scrape through there.
“All in all, I think in Q2 the car felt good, we’ve just been struggling with our grip all weekend.”
As if the vibration wasn’t bad enough, the competition made things worse. Still, Dixon managed to qualify seventh for Sunday’s race.
“The times were just so close,” he said. “The Verizon IndyCar Series right now, the competition is just so cutthroat. We missed by a little bit: .003 of a second, which would have gotten us into the Fast Six.
“But I think in a lot of ways, I’m fairly happy where we qualified considering where we started the weekend.”
Even though disappointed he didn’t make it into the top 6, Dixon in a way has history on his side for yet another potential win Sunday: his three previous wins at Sonoma have come from qualifying efforts of third, fifth and ninth (last year).
The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.
The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.
GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.
The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.
Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.
Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.
A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.
“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.
Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.
“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”
“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are. This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”
Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.
“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery. There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.
“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to. They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant. I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”
JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.
Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.