Pirelli and Krohn Racing win at Watkins Glen
In one of the most exciting races of the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car season so far, pit strategy paid dividends at Friday night's Crown Royal 200 at Watkins Glen International Raceway. Krohn Racing's No. 76 Daytona Prototype Ford Lola co-driven by Ricardo Zonta and Nic Jonsson took the overall checkered flag in a race that saw competitors relying on the rock-solid performance and durability of Pirelli's P Zero racing slicks.
Friday's race win was the second of the season for Krohn's No. 76 Ford Lola, their first being won in the wet conditions this past May at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Acxiom GT class winners Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal once again found success at The Glen, driving their No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 to the winner's circle at the storied raceway.
Four full-course caution periods - three of those happening within the first 50 minutes of the race - saw teams in both classes revert to a variety of strategies. Most of the top Daytona Prototype teams - including the race-winning No. 76 Ford Lola - decided to make four splash-and-go fuel stops in the short, sprint-like race. P Zero's toughness and ability to post faster and faster laps as the race went on gave the top-performing teams a competitive edge as their time in the pits was a fraction of that needed to do a fuel and tire change.
Second-place finishers and new Rolex Series championship leaders Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and the No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley chased the No. 76 Krohn car to the finish line, earning a critical podium finish in their race to the championship.
"We didn't have any problems with the Pirellis at all," said Zonta, who double-stinted his final set of P Zeros. Sticking with the same set of Pirellis through the No. 76's final pit stop may have proved to be the Krohn team's winning move.
"One of the things that helped us was keeping the same set of tires on in our final pit stop for the end of the race," said Zonta, who led the final 21 laps of the race. "It was a good call from the team. We kept the same tires on in my final long stint and the Pirellis were very consistent."
In Acxiom GT action, Segal, Assentato and the FXDD team's third driver Nick Longhi won the their class in last year's Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen on the track's 3.4-mile long course. The team now has a Crown Royal 200 victory on The Glen's 2.45-mile short course to go with their 2008 victory on the long course.
"We have spent a lot of time working with Pirelli to try and suit the car to these new tires," said Segal, who, like DP winner Zonta also led 21 race laps - including the final 15 circuits. "It's definitely a lot different than last year, and it took a lot of work, but I think we are finally starting to show the results of that. We had a really good test at Barber the Monday after the last race; we learned a lot, and tonight I really tried to take care of the Pirellis in the first few laps, and that seems to be the key. In the end, the tires were awesome and just kept getting faster and faster each lap."
Segal was chased to the finish line by Dirk Werner, who continues to lead the Rolex Series GT point standings with teammate Leh Keen after finishing second in the Crown Royal 200 in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3.
"At the end, Dirk and I were trading fastest laps so that is always good to see at the end of the stint," said Segal, who drove his fastest time of the race just eight laps from the finish. "It was just good, hard racing and the Pirellis were fantastic the whole way."
Pruett, Rojas and the No. 01 Ganassi team lead both the Rolex Series Daytona Prototype Team and Driver Championship standings with 248 points. They are four points clear of the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team and drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, who finished fourth in the Crown Royal 200. Third place in the race went to the No. 55 Supercar Life Racing BMW Riley of Scott Tucker and Christophe Bouchut who gave the first-year team its best result to date.
Three races remain on the 2009 schedule; the next race is the Montreal 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on Saturday, August 29. The race will be run at 2:15 p.m. ET and live coverage starts on SPEED at 2 p.m. ET.