Pirelli on pace to break more records after debut performance in 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series

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Continuing with the high speed and performance demonstrated throughout its inaugural season in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series earlier this year, Pirelli didn’t miss a beat in the debut of its 2009 specification P Zero racing tire in a two-day test this week at Daytona International Speedway.

Pirelli joined the Grand-Am Rolex Series as its "Official Tire" in the 2008 season, and its legendary P Zeros quickly proved their performance and longevity with new records set at nearly every race. This trend may continue in 2009 as the new Pirelli P Zero proved fast right out of the box during their Daytona test sessions on November 11–12.

Although official Grand-Am times were not distributed, several Daytona Prototype and GT competitors lapped the 3.56-mile Daytona road course at speeds within range of the existing track records. Unofficially leading the way was Michael Valiante, who has switched to the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing (MSR) Ford Riley with John Pew for 2009 after driving the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara this year.

In addition to winning the 2008 season-ending 1000, the No. 6 car also shared the front row at Daytona last year with its pole-winning No. 60 sister car of Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson. The MSR drivers frequently gave credit to Pirelli for playing a key part in the increased speeds and performance last year and new teammate Valiante agrees.

"The Pirellis are fantastic," Valiante said. "Ever since we started racing on them, I've always enjoyed running them. They hold up and they're consistent. I think it will be a great tire for 2009."

Winning sports car star Andy Wallace also put the latest Pirellis through their paces in the No. 4 Childress-Howard Motorsports Pontiac Crawford with Rob Finlay. A three-time Rolex 24 winner, Wallace was impressed with the Pirelli P Zeros.

"From the first time you leave the pits, you have absolutely no surprises with the new Pirellis," Wallace said. "They have grip from when they are cold and get slightly better when they are warm, and have good traction and braking. You can stand on it anywhere on the track and there’s little wheel spin. They’ve done a real good job."

The 40-car entry at the test was split equally among Daytona Prototypes and GT teams. Among the 20 GT participants was the No. 14 Foametix/Mac Papers/PWR/MESCO Building Solutions Porsche GT3 from Autometrics Motorsports. The team has traditionally run well in endurance races and won the 2005 Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen. The driver lineup for the Rolex 24 at Daytona includes Cory Friedman, Jack Baldwin, Claudio Burtin and Mac McGehee.

"Honestly, the tires are quite similar to last year and at this point I don’t see a whole lot of difference, which is fine by me," Baldwin said. "I think the Pirellis are great. I really like them and liked them the first time I ran on them. They are very consistent and they stay the same throughout the run and as far as grip, they are very linear that way. I would choose a Pirelli tire to run on the car even if they weren’t part of the series. I really like running on them."

While this week’s test marked the debut of the 2009 P Zero, it also marked the end of Pirelli's official 2008 on-track activity. Next up is the annual Rolex 24 Daytona Test Days in early January. Paddock move in is on New Year’s Day with three full days of testing beginning the morning of Friday, Jan. 2.

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