The 2008 season in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series not only brought new cars and teams to the series but also welcomed in a new tire provider. Pirelli's P Zero racing tire has been fitted to all Daytona Prototype and GT cars, replacing ...
The 2008 season in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series not only brought new cars and teams to the series but also welcomed in a new tire provider. Pirelli's P Zero racing tire has been fitted to all Daytona Prototype and GT cars, replacing Hoosier's three-year stint as the exclusive tire provider. Teams at this weekend's season-opening Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona have been spending time coming to grips of the new tire compounds.
Most drivers got their first taste of the new tire at Daytona's November test, followed by the Official Test Days earlier this month. Some teams also helped develop the tire in closed tests last year. But Thursday marked the first time the P Zero ran in anger: in practice and qualifying for Saturday's race.
"The Pirelli tire is a magnificent improvement over our previous tire supplier," driver Mark Patterson said. "It's better for the pro drivers and better for the amateur drivers by far. It's almost like a formula tire coming out of the corners so you can get the power down quicker. Everyone's running better times. I'm running better times than the qualifying times last year and as an amateur driver. Everybody's moving up two-two-and-a-half seconds. A lot of that is the tire."
Patterson's co-driver, Oswaldo Negri Jr., snatched the pole for Saturday's race in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley. Negri's time of 1:40.793 was nearly three seconds quicker than Alex Gurney's pole lap set here last year.
"The Pirellis were a huge plus for us. It suits my driving style very much," Negri said. "Since we made the change (to Pirellis), we worked on the car, but immediately found that it is what I wanted. I can now get it out of the car easier. I think we have a strong car - a strong racing car."
Patterson further noted the strengths of the tire: "I think the wall height is marginally shorter and firmer, so you get a more rigid feel of the tire. It doesn't walk out from under you coming out of a corner. The tire doesn't bend. This Pirelli tire is much, much more rigid. You get a feeling that the car's firm underneath you so you can get the power down quicker."
The new tire provides more overall grip, resulting in quicker laptimes. However, Patterson noted that the P Zeros take longer to get up to full temperature, which could catch some drivers out in the heat of the battle.
"The only issue with these tires compared to the previous supplier is (warmth)," he said. "Coming out of the pits, they are lethally, lethally, dangerous. You cannot go to full power for a gearshift. The car will spin on a straight line. It takes a good two laps to get to where you can push it."
Guy Cosmo, who co-drives the No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Porsche Fabcar, feels that the new tire will help close the gap to the frontrunners.
"It's been holding up great," he said. "It's an improvement from a grip standpoint. I think it's going to bring the competition a lot closer because there's more to work with. It seems to last pretty well also. It's going to be some good racing."
DP and GT drivers alike agree that when more rubber gets built into the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course, laptimes will continue to get quicker. This was proven Thursday afternoon in qualifying as SpeedSource's Sylvain Tremblay clocked a lap over a second faster than in the afternoon session. With that lap, the owner/driver of the No. 70 Mazda RX-8 took the GT class pole for the race.
"The track really has not come to its own yet," Tremblay explained. "So as more rubber is laid down, it will make a big difference. The Pirelli tire has been extremely consistent.
"We were involved with all of the testing last season with them and they've been really methodical with really wanting to have a good product with all the cars," he added. "They've been really meticulous with their research and they have a great product. We're looking forward to racing it for 24 hours."
One of the Mazda's chief rivals, defending GT Series Champion Dirk Werner, also noticed increased speed but will not make any conclusions about the tire until after the first race.
"I drove the Pirelli tire for the first time at the November test days and it was when the tire was completely new to us," Werner said. "We really didn't know what direction to go. Directly from the beginning, it was obvious that the tire was much better than the old ones concerning the lap times. We will see how it is over a race or stint distance."
Time will tell whether Pirelli's new P Zero tire makes a significant impact on the racetrack, but Saturday's race will prove to be the ultimate test for all 66 teams tackling the twice-around-the-clock road racing classic.