Adaptability shines through for Pirelli in FIA GT debut
Pirelli has made a successful return to endurance racing at the opening round of the FIA GT1 World Championship, which this year is combined with the GT3 European Championship for the first time. At the first round of the season in Nogaro, which concluded on Easter Monday, the tyres had to battle mixed conditions that ranged from wet weather to a dry track. Despite an enormous variation in grip, car types and driving styles, the newly developed Pirelli tyres coped admirably with every unexpected situation at the demanding French circuit.Just one type of P Zero DH slick tyre and WH wet tyre is available to the cars that race in the GT Championship. These are characterised by models from some of the world’s most prestigious car manufacturers, such as Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and McLaren: all of which use Pirelli P Zero tyres as original equipment on their road cars. Although there is just one compound and pattern for each type of tyre – wet and slick – these covers have proved themselves to be extraordinarily adaptable: not only to different weather conditions but also to the range of car configurations seen on the championship. Front-engined, rear-engined and mid-engined cars are represented on the series, but despite the huge variation in loads on the tyre that this entails, the tyres were extremely effective on each type car right from the opening test session on Friday. The tyres were also able to perform quickly out of the box during qualifying, with a rapid warm-up time, but were equally at home during a longer stint in race conditions, exhibiting a near-perfect compromise between performance and durability.For the rain-affected qualification race on Sunday, the cars all started on the P Zero wet tyres and although conditions dried out in some places on the straight, most runners – including the winning Audi R8 – chose to stick with the wet tyres on a drying track, with no significant drop-off in pace.Pit stop strategy played a vital role in deciding the outcome of Monday’s championship race, with the Audi that started from second place on the grid taking the lead in the pits. However, the crew of Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor – which won both races – was able to overcome the sister car of Frank Stippler and Oliver Jarvis, which finished runner-up on each occasion. Meanwhile, the Ferrari 458 of Toni Vilander and Filip Salaqarda claimed pole in qualifying on Saturday.Pirelli senior engineer Matteo Braga, who oversaw the Italian firm’s activities on its return to GT racing this year, commented: “The key conclusion that we can draw from Nogaro is that our racing tyres are just as adaptable to a wide range of cars and track conditions as our equivalent P Zero road tyres. With all the different configurations and drivetrain layouts of the competing cars on this championship, the weight distribution and therefore forces acting on each tyre is completely different from model to model. Despite this obvious disparity, the performance of the tyres was just as effective on every car – with little to choose between the competitors in equal conditions, as can be seen from the qualifying and race results. While our P Zero WH tyre is designed primarily for wet surfaces, we were very encouraged to see its performance on a drying track during Sunday’s race. It came very close to matching the pace of the P Zero DH slick, without compromising too much on durability. Even though this was the first event with our new product and the conditions were mixed, competitors were able to adapt to our tyres very quickly, appreciating their consistency and performance from the very first test session.”The ten-round FIA GT1 World Championship takes places over a wide range of exciting new circuits, with races in China, Russia and India, as well as at traditional venues. Pirelli – whose GT racing heritage includes a win at Le Mans and exclusive supply agreements with some of the most prestigious one-make formulae – will be the sole provider to both series, adding to the Italian firm’s portfolio of more than 50 motorsport championships all over the world this year.The next round of the FIA GT1 World Championship takes place at Zolder in Belgium from 20-22 April.