In 2021, Pirelli will become the sole tire supplier to the World Rally Championship, having won the tender for the supply deal in 2019. The deal covers the WRC machinery and R5 class cars, marking the end of open tire choice in the category, which in recent years has been dominated by Michelin.
Pirelli has begun track testing of the first prototype 2021 tires, using 2019 specification Citroën C3 WRC cars, which are currently not competing following Citroën’s withdrawal from the championship at the end of last year.
The initial two tests took place in mid-July on WRC stages around Sardinia, with Andreas Mikkelsen and co-driver Anders Jaeger. Pirelli says the Norwegian, a former Volkswagen, Citroën and Hyundai factory driver, will be spearheading the development of its Scorpion tires for gravel and P Zero tires for asphalt. Although its test program was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Pirelli claims it is still on course to deliver tires for next year’s championship, due to kick off in Monte Carlo in January.
Overseeing the test program is Pirelli’s rally activity manager Terenzio Testoni. He said that Pirelli’s objective from the first tests was to establish a baseline and assess how the increased power and downforce of the latest WRC cars affect tire wear, performance and degradation.
“That’s going to be particularly important when it comes to gravel,” explained Testoni. “In the World Championship, around 80% of the events are on gravel. Luckily, the gravel roads we are testing on – which were previously used on the Rally d’Italia – are among the most demanding gravel stages in the world.
“It’s important that we work methodically in order to measure our progress accurately,” added Testoni. “We start with the basis of a tried-and-trusted tire, then we’ll be running a series of prototypes to see where we can add performance and durability. The task is particularly tricky when it comes to rallying, because unlike a circuit, the road and grip conditions are constantly changing. But we’ll come back to these roads in future, to see how the changes we make to the prototype tires improve their performance.”
Pirelli’s test team aimed to cover around 200km per day, comfortably surpassing the daily distance seen in a World Championship rally. Speaking after the tests, Testoni said, “The test helped us to understand the development path for 2021 on both gravel and asphalt. Despite the very hot and challenging conditions in Sardinia, which were exactly what we were looking for, we were able to get through our entire test program with no setbacks at all.”