Phoenix: Chris Gleason to drive with The Racer's Group

Gleason to Race at PIR this weekend in The Racer's Group Porsche. JOHNSTOWN, Pa., April 29 - Late last week the wheels were put in motion for Chris Gleason to compete in Saturday's AJ's Fine Foods 250 Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race at ...

Gleason to Race at PIR this weekend in The Racer's Group Porsche.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa., April 29 - Late last week the wheels were put in motion for Chris Gleason to compete in Saturday's AJ's Fine Foods 250 Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, so the popular insurance executive will jet off to Arizona on Thursday morning to be there in time for practice at the 1.51-mile, 11-turn road course Thursday afternoon.

Saturday's 2.75-hour race, which begins at 6 p.m. local time or 9 p.m. Eastern, will be broadcast live on SPEED Channel.

The Johnstown, Pa.-based driver will be behind the wheel of one of the cars everyone in endurance sports car racing has been talking about this year. He and teammate Marc Bunting of Monkton, Md. will represent The Racer's Group, the Porsche team that won this year's prestigious Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. This is the same team that Gleason drove for - with excellent results - at this year's 12 Hours of Sebring American Le Mans Series race and at Road Atlanta Motor Sports Park in events organized by the Porsche Club of America.

Gleason said that the team's owner, Kevin Buckler, will be attending the trials for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France this weekend, but he wanted to field a team at Phoenix to support the Grand Am Rolex Series too.

"Kevin won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, so he feels an obligation to Grand Am to try to compete in all of its events this year," Gleason said. "They made a strong pitch to him to be at all the races. He has a date conflict with the Le Mans trials though, so he asked Marc and I to do it.

"It'll be the #66 car," Gleason added. "It's an older GT3 RS but they put a new engine and transmission in it, and I'm sure it's going to be competitive. The newer cars are either at Le Mans or sold or whatever. Neither Marc nor I have driven this particular car before, but our goal is to be on the podium on Saturday at Phoenix."

Gleason said the competition will be stiff.

"They have a rather large entry of GT cars," he noted, and 24 of the 34 cars on the entry list at press time compete in his class. "The Ferrari is always tough and there are some other Porsches there that will be tough too.

"But Marc and I both like the Porsche and we both like Phoenix, and we did get sixth at Sebring," Gleason added. "The last time I drove at Phoenix we had a torrential downpour, which isn't something you expect in the desert, but it's a fun event. I always like going to Arizona."

Buckler, caught just before he was off for Europe, said "I have a lot of confidence in Chris's ability to lead the team this weekend. He's a great driver with a lot of experience and he knows how to take care of the car.

"This is the first time any of my race cars and my team have raced without me, and let me tell you, it makes a team owner nervous," Buckler added. "The last time I was this nervous, my wife was delivering a baby. But I'm putting it all in Chris and Marc's hands. I told Chris that I want them on the podium, and that's what he wants too."

The race will be 250 miles or 166 laps in distance. Since it will start at 6 p.m., the different angles of light in a Phoenix sunset will play a role with visibility, as will the glare of lights later on.

"That will be the same for everybody though," Gleason noted.

There will be two practice sessions on Thursday; one at 3:20 p.m. and one at 8 p.m.

On Friday there will be a practice session at 1:55 p.m. followed by the 15-minute GT class qualifying session at 4:15 p.m.

Saturday's action gets underway at 12:30 p.m. with a warm-up session, and the race starts at 6 p.m.

For more information on the series, see www.grandamerican.com, which will also provide Zippo live timing and scoring starting with Thursday's practice sessions. More information on Gleason can be found at www.gleasonagency.com and www.restartcommunications.com. The team's Web site is at www.theracersgr oup.com.

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Series GRANDAM