Friday at Daytona International Speedway, as part of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Continental Tire Company made two announcements. It will become the official tire of Watkins Glen International Raceway, as well as be the race title sponsor for the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge races at WGI. No details were given as to the length of the relationship.
Continental will also become the official tire of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. KEVIN HINDSON, Grand-Am Vice President of Marketing & Communications, confirmed that the contract for the Rolex Series is for four years with an option for an additional two years. This will be a long, extended contract, more so than in the past.
The contract for the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge started this year and runs for five years, with a two year option.
The Challenge Series had been the Koni Challenge through 2009. That series still runs Koni shocks as the official shocks.
Hindson said all decisions regarding official or spec parts are based on Safety and Cost Control, in that order.
Sometimes Grand-Am limits the number of ‘approved’ vendors, to keep the suppliers healthy, as well as for cost control.
Grand-Am is looking at spec parts for the Rolex Series, but no decision has yet been made.
Pirelli Tire North America advised Grand-Am last year that it wouldn’t be renewing its official tire status at the expiration of the existing three-year contract at the end of 2009.
TOM GRAVALOS, Pirelli Vice President Marketing, Motorsports & OE Sales, said that “Pirelli wanted to make a bigger impact in racing, which is why it partnered with Grand-Am.” Pirelli has been in business for 103 years. Gravalos emphasized that it has been a “wonderful, enjoyable and mutually beneficial relationship with Grand-Am. It’s been an excellent experience with Grand-Am and NASCAR.”
Grand-Am said the official tire had to be the same tire, the same compound for all tracks for the entire season. It was a cost containment measure, so there was to be no tire development or evolution.
Pirelli is also involved, to a lesser degree, with the American Le Mans Series, which has an open tire policy. Running with both ALMS and Grand-Am provides a variety of tracks; there are more tracks with Grand-Am.
Pirelli reviewed its program and felt it was in its best interest to “look at a wider foot print.” Pirelli is involved with several smaller series including the Ferrari Challenge, the VW Jetta TDI Cup, the Pirelli Porsche Drivers Cup Series, and other things yet to come – which can’t be discussed at this time.
Pirelli wanted to “redeploy its assets.”
Gravalos said “People know what we make. We don’t need to say tire. Everyone knows who and what we are.”
Gravalos said Continental is brand building. It’s an exercise for Continental to be the track sponsor at WGI. Continental makes private label race tires. There is no Continental tire technology in its tires.
Gravalos said the Rolex Series teams knew over the holidays that there would be a new official tire in 2010 and got the schedule for the tire development. Continental spoke of a private tests with five cars (two DP’s and three GT’s) including one the Monday after the race at Homestead Miami Speedway. Last year’s Rolex Series champion, No.99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley DP, will be one of the teams testing at that time. There will also be a test at Barber Motorsport Park in March and two open tests after Lime Rock Park and Watkins Glen.
The testing will be 75 percent on track and 25 percent virtual.
At the tests, the teams will get two free sets of tires to run, to provide feedback for development.
Gravalos said the teams will have to detune their cars for the new tires.
Pirelli was an evolutionary tire, and with each additional venue continues to break/set records, up to three seconds.
Pirelli is proud of winning its third consecutive Dow Jones Sustainable index, an automotive index. Pirelli has a focus strategy.
Pirelli is promoting its Green Performance, making tires without the aromatic oils which aren’t environmentally friendly. These oils are banned in Europe. Pirelli likes to say it has a green tire only available in black.
During the race, Pirelli ran an advert - “Power is nothing without control.”