Pirelli gets ready to compete in Portugal
According to legendary Finnish rally driver Markku Alen, "everything is possible." The former Fiat and Lancia factory pilot has 20 World Rally Championship wins under his belt. He has dominated the rallies in Portugal, victorious a record five times, taking the laurels more than any other driver.
This week, Alen returns to Portugal for Round-six of the WRC, scheduled for May 27-30.
While Rally de Portugal has undergone significant transformation in the intervening years, including a wholesale move south to Faro in the country's Algarve region, two factors remain unchanged according to Alen.
"The Portuguese fans are still the most enthusiastic in the world, which makes it a pleasure to go there, and the stages are quite mixed and difficult, which means that you have to be good everywhere to win."
This year’s stages are some of the most challenging in the world championship. A mixture of medium-fast, open roads plus narrow and technical sections, the gravel tracks are characterized by their abrasive surface, which can lead to increased tire wear, particularly in high ambient temperatures, which are being forecast for the duration of the rally.
"Conditions look as if they will be hot and dry and that will be tough for the tires," said factory Ford Focus driver Mikko Hirvonen. "On the second pass, once the loose stones have been swept away, the grip will be good, but abrasive, so we'll have to manage our tires well."
That's a view shared by Pirelli engineer Matteo Braga, who says the onus is firmly on the drivers to preserve the Pirelli Scorpion tire, which is available in a hard compound only under the terms of the championship regulations and cannot be modified.
"We saw in Portugal last year that some drivers would complete a stage with 40% more wear than other drivers, even though the tire is the same for all and they were not the fastest," said Braga. "Like Pirelli's road car tires, the WRC tire is designed to be very durable while maintaining a strong level of performance.
"On hard and abrasive roads, we have to expect significant tire wear and some damage to the tread pattern, but it really does depend how the drivers use the tires."
Of the 75 drivers entered for Rally de Portugal, 71 will use Pirelli tires. Puncture risk is not as high as on some gravel rallies, although Braga has said there could be some instances of deflations being caused by drivers damaging wheel rims on rocks, leading to a loss of air in the tire.
Rally de Portugal marks the second event of the season for the Pirelli Star Driver program, a joint initiative between Pirelli and the FIA -- motorsports' world governing body.
The event is also a counting round of the FIA Super 2000 and Junior world championships. As part of its three-year deal as official supplier to the World Rally Championship, Pirelli also supplies the support championships, which underlines the performance of the Italian rubber on a wide range of machinery as well as a wide range of different surfaces.
Rally de Portugal starts with a super-special stage in the Estadio Algarve near Faro on the evening of Thursday, May 27. Crews tackle a total of 220.785 competitive miles before the finish in Faro on the afternoon of Sunday, May 30.
For more information on Pirelli tires, visit www.us.pirelli.com.