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Pirelli prevails at cold Daytona Test

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With just under three weeks to go until the first race of the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season begins, Pirelli and its P Zero Racing Slicks proved they could deliver speed, safety and durability even in the coldest of temperatures during the Roar Before The Rolex 24 At Daytona Test, held January 8 - 10.

Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype and GT competitors descended on Daytona last weekend for the annual three-day test prior to the Rolex 24 At Daytona at nearly the same time as a massive, record cold front hit central Florida.  Pirelli’s P Zeros have capably handled record heat in summer racing, and have now proven task-worthy in the bitter cold thanks to last weekend’s unprecedented temperatures at the Roar Before the 24.

Overnight temperatures regularly dipped into the 20s while the coldest running conditions on track came during Saturday’s night practice with the thermometer hovering right at and below the 32 degree freezing mark.  Saturday morning’s sessions were cancelled due to a wintry-mix of sleet and snow flurries which created a slight wet and icy glaze around the 3.56-mile Daytona road course facility.

Despite the challenges, neither the teams nor Pirelli reported any tire related issues, and everyone worked together to overcome the extreme cold.  The low temperatures didn’t prevent teams and drivers from putting down some fast lap times though, and teams were able to build on positive first test of the 2010 specification Rolex Sports Car Series P Zeros held last December at Daytona.

“We have said many times in the past that we are privileged to work with so many professional and outstanding teams in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, and it was proven once again last weekend at Daytona,” said Rafael Navarro III, Pirelli Tire North America’s Director of Motorsports and Media Relations. “Whether it is in oppressive heat and humidity or extreme cold and wintry conditions, we know the Pirelli P Zero is up to any challenge Mother Nature can throw our way. The tires will only work in extreme conditions, however, if the teams and drivers work closely with our Pirelli engineers and an open line of communication is maintained by all.  We were able to achieve that at Daytona and it is a credit to our talented technical staff and the incredible competitors in the Rolex Sports Car Series. We are proud to work with them and look forward to another record-setting season in 2010.”

Grand-Am Road Racing officials were also impressed by the performance of both the Rolex Sports Car Series competitors and the Pirelli P Zeros at Daytona.

“The Pirellis did well and the teams did a good job of using the tires the way they are supposed to be used in these conditions,” said Mark Raffauf, Grand-Am Managing Director of Competition. “This is the worst cold weather temperature situation we have raced in at Grand-Am and it is the worst I have seen at Daytona in about 30 years. Way back into the 70s we had a couple (days) like this, but nothing completely like this and then only just for a little while. We did three full days in temperatures you would not normally race in but both the Pirellis and everybody using them did a good job.  The teams were doing really good times without getting the normal temperatures up on the tires so that is a pretty strong statement for the fact that the Pirellis work pretty good even when it is 30 degrees outside, which is not normal for a race tire to be operating in.  Overall, you have to step back and say ‘no big issues.’ It was fantastic.”

As he was in the December test, Max Angelelli was the overall quickest driver in the Daytona Prototype category aboard the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara with a Friday lap of 1:40.466 (127.566 mph). Quickest overall in GT was reigning class Co-Champion Leh Keen, who ran 1:49.214 (117.348 mph) in his debut in the No. 41 Global Diving & Salvage/Team Seattle/Dempsey Racing Mazda RX-8 during Saturday night practice.

Oswaldo Negri joins Angelelli as a favorite to win the Rolex 24 pole in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley.  He once again found the Pirelli P Zeros to his liking during the Daytona test.

“Zero problems,” Negri said.  “I actually really like this tire.  Besides suiting a little bit more my driving style, it lasts longer and we can work on setup longer with the same set of tires.  The whole three-day test, we used three sets of Pirellis up to final practice.  For sure and 100%, this is definitely the best Pirelli we have had.  It has got the grip, it has the endurance and we are really, really impressed with it.  Pirelli, for sure, did a really good job.”

The battle for the GT win in the Rolex 24 is forming up to be a classic between several top Porsche and Mazda teams with formidable BMW, Pontiac GXP.R and GTO and Chevy Camaro and Corvette efforts also certain to factor into the competitive mix.

“Saturday evening I went out on basically cold tires at night and literally did one timed lap and I was surprised at how quickly the Pirellis came up to temperature,” said Anthony Lazzaro, who is part of the No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT team with co-drivers Emil Assentato, Jeff Segal and Nick Longhi.  “Granted, it is still pretty diabolical for any tire company in these conditions, but I think Pirelli has done a really good job.  I was here at the December test and, again, the tire was fantastic.  The grip comes in quick and the mileage that we have been able to do on a set of tires is really longer than a fuel stint, so we are good there as far as wear and performance.”

The 2010 Rolex Series season kicks off with the 48th Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 30 - 31. The green flag drops at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, January 30 followed by the checkered flag 24 hours later. Live coverage on SPEED begins at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday and resumes at 7 a.m. ET until the finish.

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