Pirelli has been involved in the World Rally Championship more or less continuously since the series was inaugurated (for manufacturers) in 1973, with the company’s first win that was valid for the new series coming in Poland that same year, courtesy of Achim Warmbold in a Fiat 124. The drivers’ title was instituted in 1979, and Pirelli won it a year later courtesy of Walter Rohrl in a Fiat 131 Abarth. For Pirelli, the Rally represented above all an open-air laboratory, where solutions for road use are tested, in a continuous transfer of technology from the race to the road. The modern Cinturato - which is widely used by car manufacturers as original equipment - and the P Zero, the top range Pirelli, were born from the racing fields, as well as the technologies for winter and run-flat.
Now, history reinvents itself, as for the first time since the three-year period from 2008-2010, Pirelli becomes the exclusive single tyre supplier to the championship once more. Pirelli’s latest agreement runs from next year, and the tyres for this next chapter – ready for the challenges of gravel, asphalt, ice and snow – were launched at a special event in Alghero before the start of Rally Italia Sardinia. Not only did the world’s media get to see the new tyres for the very first time – the result of an intense development campaign with experienced driver Andreas Mikkelsen and the Pirelli Citroen C3 WRC test car – but some also got to experience them personally, riding as co-driver to Mikkelsen during the event’s short shakedown stage.
In another unique demonstration, the Pirelli car with its new tyres will be driven on the rally-ending Power Stage, with none other than Pirelli’s 2003 World Rally Champion Petter Solberg at the wheel: and Mikkelsen taking the co-driver’s seat for once. Reluctantly, we assume…
So what can we expect from next year’s tyres? In three words: durability, performance, and adaptability.
The average WRC season provides a comprehensive test for any tyre supplier, beginning usually with the wintery conditions of the legendary Monte Carlo Rally. Here, the stages can be completely dry in some parts and covered in ice and snow in others. To give drivers the grip they need depending on the conditions, they can choose from Pirelli’s new Sottozero Snow tyres – fitted either with or without studs – alongside more regular asphalt tyres.
In the more extreme conditions faced on Scandinavian winter rallies like in Sweden, a full Sottozero Ice tyre is provided. Each features 384 studs that bite into the surface and provide incredible levels of grip – but the tyre has to be able to retain those studs over sections that can feature more gravel, especially when temperatures are milder.
Over the remainder of the season, the teams and drivers face a full spectrum of different gravel rallies. A single Scorpion gravel tyre, available in hard and soft compounds, has to handle the extreme heat and rocky roads found around the Mediterranean, stand up to the stunning speeds seen on Rally Finland and offer grip in muddy and wet conditions like those usually found in Wales.
There is a similar diversity to be found across the asphalt events – for which a single P Zero tyre is provided in hard and soft compounds. These can vary from the smooth circuit-like roads of Spain to more broken and dirty surfaces where grip is at a premium. All asphalt tyres must be suitable for use in both dry and wet conditions, but a full Cinturato rain tyre is also available for extreme conditions to clear standing water.
After this exclusive preview, Pirelli’s development programme will continue apace for the rest of the year, with the company making its debut as single supplier at the end of January 2021 in Monte-Carlo: the most famous rally of them all.
In creating these latest-generation rally tyres, the company has drawn not only on its rich previous experience, but also the lessons learned from Formula 1 (where Pirelli is also sole supplier): the company’s ultimate open air research and development laboratory.
And so, from next year, another record will be set too: never before has one single tyre company been responsible for the sole supply of both the Formula 1 World Championship and the World Rally Championship at the same time.
Proof, if it were needed, that Pirelli is truly the world leader when it comes to ultra high performance, working hand in hand with the industry’s best-known car manufacturers at the cutting-edge of technology.
Right in the heartland of Italy, Imola...