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Pirelli tackles Watkins Glen a second time this season

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Pirelli’s P Zero Racing Slicks and Racing Rains stand ready for a short-course race challenge this week that promises to be long on high-speed performance and close competition. Pirelli and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 return to Watkins Glen International for the Crown Royal 200 – and for the first time in two years, both Daytona Prototype and GT teams will race side-by-side in the event.  Pirelli has proven itself an extremely durable and fast racing tire - one that the Grand-Am teams have relied on to deliver them to victory in some of the most exciting, challenging and competitive races on record.  Friday’s two-hour sprint is Round 9 of the 2009 season and begins a four-race run to the Grand-Am Rolex Series Championship.

P Zero has an impressive record at The Glen, and this contest should be no different.  Last year's contest saw speed records fall and many teams dig deep for tire durability - each driving the entire event on one set of Pirelli P Zeros.  Following practice and qualifying this afternoon, the twilight-time race is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. ET this Friday, August 7, and can be seen in same-day coverage on SPEED at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT).

Unlike June’s annual Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen that is held on the traditional 3.4-mile long course, the Crown Royal 200 is run on The Glen’s 2.45-mile NASCAR short course.  Although the smaller layout is comprised almost entirely of track sections that Rolex Series teams race on in the Sahlen’s Six Hour, the shorter configuration creates an entirely different set of technical demands on the Pirelli P Zero’s which, in turn, alters a team’s tire strategy decisions.

The fact that the Crown Royal 200 is among the shortest races of the season at two hours also adds to a team’s strategy mix.  Amid light rain and cool conditions in last years race, some Daytona Prototype teams that finished in the top five relied on the proven durability of Pirelli P Zeros to run the entire race distance without a tire change.  The 2008 race was won by Mark Wilkins and then teammate Brian Frisselle in the No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford Riley. Wilkins credited the Pirellis with playing a major role in the victory.

“It was a fantastic thrill to take Watkins Glen by storm and win our second race of the season in commanding fashion last year,” said Wilkins, who defends his title in the No. 61 this weekend with 2009 co-driver Burt Frisselle, racer Brian’s older brother.  “The Pirelli P Zero tires had tremendous grip and gave me the confidence to push the No. 61 Ford Riley to its limit right to the checkered flag. The entire AIM organization is looking forward to getting back to the winner’s circle on Pirellis on Friday.”

Rolex Series GT competitors will join the Daytona Prototype teams and drivers in the Crown Royal 200 for the first time in two years.  One GT team looking forward to the challenge is the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R team of Andrew Davis and Robin Lidell.  Team Manager Mike Johnson is in charge of race strategy and has guided the Stevenson group to victory lane on more than one occasion through a single pit stop/one tire change tactic.

“This will be our team’s first visit to the Watkins Glen short course, so we really don’t know what to expect,” said Johnson, who called the shots for the team’s victory one race ago in the Porsche 250 presented by Legacy Credit Union at Barber Motorsports Park.  “The weather should be in the mid-70s so I once again expect the Pirelli Tires to hold up perfectly.”

Johnson and the Stevenson team are hoping to avenge a missed set up in the Sahlen’s endurance race two months ago.  They worked on the car throughout the race to optimize the set up with the Pirelli P Zeros.

“During the six-hour race in June, we ran the car a bit too stiff in the rear, causing us to have some issues we had not seen in practice,” Johnson said.  “But we were able to dial the issue out of the car during our race and make it work with the Pirellis.”

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