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Pirelli Motorsport

Formula 1, Superbikes and WRC carry the logo of the Milan based company around racing circuits on all continents

Pietro Paolo Marziali

One of the best forms of promotion available to anyone who manufactures tires is to take part in motor racing, sticking the company’s logo on the bodywork of racing machines (2 and 4 wheels) or banners all around racing circuits. Given the budget needed for this kind of exposure, the presence of the brand logo is linked to the economic power of each manufacturer and the area of ​​greatest commercial importance to them. This is why anyone who reads European sports journals will most often see the logos of European companies, while exotic brands, or logos completely unknown to us can be seen on images of motorsport events in countries like Australia and New Zealand. If you recognize to Formula 1 the importance that the average reader gives it, then you must know that the first banner to appeare near the start of a world motorsport event belonged to the company we are considering in this article, Pirelli. Nino Farina was the first winner of a World Formula 1 Championship in 1950 with an Alfa 158 and then 159, followed a year later by Juan Manuel Fangio still in an Alfa Romeo. "Ciccio" Ascari won two World Championships with Ferrari back to back in 1952, and 1953. With Farina, Ascari and Fangio Pirelli won four consecutive F1 World Championships at the start of the 50’s.


Pirelli did not, however, remain faithful to this type of advertising, leaving its place over the years to Englebert, Dunlop, Firestone, Michelin and Bridgestone. In recent years, however, the Pirelli management has reconsidered the efficiency of the system previously mentioned, and so has agreed with FIA ​​(International Automobile Federation) to a new partnership agreement, from 2014 to the end of 2016, for the exclusive supply of its tires to Formula 1. This was based on the positive results of the previous three year agreement, that between 2011 and 2013 saw the return of Pirelli in the F1 world championship after 19 seasons of absence. The agreement includes several clauses, some of which are left to the secrecy between the two parties, while among the others is included a mutual commitment to allocate at least one test session for wet tires before the start of the season.


The first tests at Jerez in late January were followed by two sessions in February in Bahrain. The intensity of the tests was justified by the changes introduced by the FIA ​​regulations for this season: new 1,6 Lt V6 turbo engines, new systems for energy recovery, smaller spoilers and the need to finish the race with a set quantity of fuel. After these test sessions Pirelli was ready for the start of the new season, with totally new tires compared to the previous year. For the 2014 season, new and heavier slick tires with new compounds. New full wet tires with new compounds and new tread pattern now capable of expelling a record amount of water. As in the past, Pirelli continues to define the characteristics of the tires and to manage all aspects of their development, in close cooperation with the FIA ​​and the teams. The first session, held last January, allowed the press and rival teams to understand the characteristics of the new cars and tires before the start of the racing season a couple of months later, with the Australian Grand Prix on March 16. Since 2011, F1 Pirelli tires are highlighted by a broad colored stripe on the tire’s sidewall. The color choice is clearly visible, the first reason for this is to give viewers an immediate visual recognition of the type of tire that is equipping a particular car, and the second is to help mechanics during the turbulent pit stops. To help television viewers and more passionate fans we summarize here the colors that distinguish the different tires:


Blue: Wet – standing water (or heavy rain)

Green: Intermediate- wet (no standing water)

Red: Super-soft- most grip, least durable

Yellow: Soft- good grip, good duration

White: Medium- good compromise

Orange: Hard- most durable, for abrasive surface or extreme heat


According to the rules, only two compounds can be chosen and used in each race; in case of rain, teams are allowed to use wet or intermediate tires. In order to better understand how the various Grand Prix unfold, we need to know that every team has, this year, a maximum of 135 sets of tires for testing. Particularly, for the three pre-season test sessions each team has been able to count on a maximum of 85 set: Jerez 25 and 30 for each of the two sessions in Bahrain. The rain fell on the second day in Jerez and gave the teams the opportunity to try the wet tire, Bias-belted full wet and intermediate thus relieving Pirelli from the responsibility of wetting the circuit in the absence of rain. To clarify even more the effort that Pirelli has had to face in the last few years of its exclusive supply contract, the company has collected data in a file that was distributed and commented by Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director: "This time we preferred to collect the data from the period 2011-2013, the last period of our participation to Formula 1 - said Hembery- and I’m impressed by the figures we have collected. We have supplied a total of 112,200 tires; of these 93,600 for racing and 18,600 for testing. Of the 93,600 tires used for racing, 68,800 were slick and 24,800 were wet. Only in 2013 the slick tires used were 23,300 and 2,400 were the wet ones. To respond to those who accuse Formula 1 of being boring, we point out that overtaking totaled 3,274.

The maximum speed reached by a P Zero Racing tire was 341.1 km / h at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, with Sebastian Gutierrez behind the wheel. Putting together the total kilometers traveled (races and tests) with all the types of tires, we arrive at the considerable number of 358 784 km. The total number of people traveling to each event was 55, of which 10 are of different nationalities and speaking 14 different languages. In the Pirelli hospitality 12,500 meals were served, 900 kg of pasta was cooked and 6,000 desserts were consumed. "And this culinary note concluded Paul Hembery’s comments on the demanding, technically and financially, participation of Pirelli to the Formula 1 World Championship.

COMMITMENT FOR THE TWO WHEELS                             

But Motorsport for Pirelli, does not mean only 4 wheels. The Milan company is in fact committed to compete even with motorbikes: with the firm’s participation in the Superbike world championship, Motocross and AMA Supercross.


To compensate for the small number of competitors (mainly for economic reasons), it was decided that, along with the factory Superbikes, also the SBK EVO take the track, which differs from the factory bike in the electronic and engine set up; this results in a lower power output of the bike, making it more similar to a "Stock" bike. The International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) has ruled that the maximum number of tires available for each rider for the entire race weekend (Friday to Sunday) is 24, including 10 front and 14 rear tires. For each rider, the maximum number of tires available for each session should not be higher than 13, with no distinction between front and rear. All the riders of the two classes, Superbike and EVO have 4 types of 17” tires depending on weather conditions and the test session (depending on whether it is practice, qualifying or racing):


Diablo Superbike: slick tires for dry conditions. The front tire (size 120/70) are available in the following types- SC1 (soft) and SC2, while for the rear tire (size 200/60) the types are SC0 (soft), SC1 (medium) and SC2 (hard).

Diablo Rain: for wet conditions. Every rider has 8 sets of tires available.

Diablo Wet: intermediate tires for not fully wet or fully dry conditions. Every rider has at least 3 sets of tires available.

Diablo Superbike qualifying: supersoft tire for Saturday’s superpole.


Pirelli emphasizes that rear slick tires may be different between the riders of the Superbike and EVO class, to balance the two categories guaranteeing more competition and spectacular races. Depending on the circumstances the EVO compounds could be softer, because of the difference in power, the type of wear and the working temperature.

Also this year the SBK class has four rounds of free practice before the actual race: 3 rounds of 45-minute timed practice, valid for qualifying for the Superpole and one free practice session to fine-tune the set-up of the bikes after the above mentioned tests, plus 2,15-minute timed sessions to determine who will contend for the Superpole (ie the starting grid order).

Before qualifying, all riders receive two tires for the Superpole battle, but they can use only one per session. It is understood that the tires remain the property of Pirelli and after the race must be returned to Pirelli. The situation is similar to that in force in Formula 1. Pirelli has also thought of those who prefer to race on sand, earth and mud. The 58 World titles demonstrate also how off-road is a source of great pride for Pirelli, with twice as many wins as the closest competitor with its Pirelli Scorpion MX.


The display cases are filled with Pirelli cups and trophies won in the many championships in which the Milan company has participated over the years: only the experience of Pirelli in rallies, which began in the 70s, has now about 200 titles to its credit. This season Pirelli is back in the race for the World Championship after the 2008-2010 seasons as the sole supplier for the WRC and after a long history dating back to 1973-the first season of the world rally championship – where Pirelli has often finished first (well over 100 times) with an extensive list of world titles. From this year, Pirelli has joined Michelin, Hankook and DMack in supplying its tires to the most famous off-road championship (by the way, DMACK, very little known to us, is a Chinese company that started to participate in the World Cup a few years ago). Following the presentation of the Rally models, which took place late last year in Birmingham, Mario Isola, Pirelli's Racing Manager has identified as a characteristic of the new range its versatility. The new tires are the RK for tar roads and Scorpion for dirt roads, suitable for all terrains, while other solutions have been designed for races with unusual conditions, such as the Monte Carlo and Swedish rally. The RK road tire comes in a 235/40R18 size and can be adopted by the fastest cars; the hard compound is dedicated to dry conditions, while the Soft compound can be used in wet and low grip conditions. Then, just for the Monte Carlo Rally, Pirelli issued the Supersoft, designed for the special climatic conditions of that race, along with the Sottozero, in the same size mentioned above, available with or without studs according to the need. For racing on dirt roads, here is the ScorpionXr 205/65-15, with symmetrical tread and a reinforced structure. The two compounds have been conceived for the different conditions around the world, with the Soft tire suitable for Finland and England while the Hard compound is perfect for rougher roads. The Sottozero Ice model, finally, was designed expressly for the Swedish Rally, and is offered in size 205/65-15.The tread pattern is symmetric, while the all-new technology (especially the 380 stud cavities) is patented by Pirelli for the retention of the studs in the most demanding conditions. The tire intended for a more challenging use is the RK, in size 235/40R18, for all the top cars. Dedicated to tar roads, this product has two longitudinal grooves, in line with the regulations, making it usable on both dry and wet roads. The two grooves are positioned in the inner part of the tread, to ensure a greater water displacement, avoiding hydroplaning, and at the same time guaranteeing the best grip around corners, when the vehicle uses the outer part of the tread. "The number and specific use of the tires needed to compete in the WRC- Pirelli management declares - shows the commitment, both human and financial, required by a company that wants to participate in the World Championship with hopes of victory".

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