Racers gather in France for WRC qualifying runs on Pirelli tires

Jan. 1, 2020
More than 60 competitors will be using Pirelli's P Zero asphalt tire at the Sept. 30-Oct. 3 Rallye de France. France has moved its world championship qualifier from the Mediterranean island of Corsica to the mainland for 2010.
More than 60 competitors will be using Pirelli's P Zero asphalt tire at the Sept. 30-Oct. 3 Rallye de France. France has moved its world championship qualifier from the Mediterranean island of Corsica to the mainland for 2010.

Taking place in the country's Alsace region, the event will feature inconsistent surfaces, narrow and wide sections and temperature variations.

Based in Strasbourg close to the border with Germany, the bulk of the 20 stages are contained within hilly forest areas with the exception of Sunday's runs: a 24-kilometer test through the Bitche Camp military training area, and a 4.10-kilometer blast through Haguenau, Sebastien Loeb's home town.

Loeb – who can land his seventh world title by winning the event – is expected to dominate in his Citroen C4 World Rally Car. An established asphalt specialist, the last time Loeb was defeated on a pure tarmac event was in Spain in Oct. 2004 when he dropped out due to a mechanical problem.

"We saw in Bulgaria in the summer – a new rally for everybody – that Sebastien was a little bit ahead of everybody,” says Sven Smeets, Citroen team manager. "We really expect him to be up front fighting for the victory in France, where he can bring the championship home. There will probably be a little bit of pressure because it's his home town and people expect him to win, but we know his skills on tarmac and Sebastien is never really under pressure.”

 

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Pirelli is the official tire supplier of the World Rally Championship (WRC) under a three-year sponsorship. The company will provide hard- and soft-compound variants of its P Zero. The hard-compound is designed for hot and dry conditions, with the soft version better-suited for cooler temperatures and a damp surface.

Matteo Braga, Pirelli's senior WRC tire engineer, says he expects tire compound choice to have an impact on the final result.

"Although we expect Sebastien Loeb will be world champion, we know that the weather will be less easy to predict and this will influence the choice of tire compound,” says Braga. "We have seen that the soft-compound P Zero tire works well in warm and dry conditions, but in France, there is a chance of some rain so it's likely we will see more soft-compound tires being used on this event. The quantities available have been selected with rain in mind so there is no problem with supply, the only concern is if it rains very hard, which it can do in the mountains.”

The tire regulations don't allow for a specific "rain” tire, nor do they allow the insertion of artificial "cuts” into the tread pattern to provide extra grip. The measures were all designed to ensure the tire could be used on a wide variety of asphalt and in different conditions to ultimately control costs. "It means drivers will face a compromise if it rains and maybe (they) won't be able to push at 100 percent,” Braga continues.

As with all rallies using mountainous stages, there is a constant risk of changeable weather conditions and localized precipitation. But even if it doesn't rain, the stage surface is likely to be slippery in places according to George Black, the Ford team's tire technician.

Black has driven over the competitive route and described the problem of stage "pollution,” adding that "because the rally is mainly in forest areas, you have a problem of pollution with pine needles and leaves falling like snow on the road. It puts moisture on the ground and with the temperature quite cool in the morning it's going to be quite a challenge. Apart from the Bitche Camp stage, no stage on the rally has one consistent surface, (it is a) smooth, coarse and bumpy tarmac, even gravel in some places. It will compromise car set-up and make for a difficult rally.”

 

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Black also points to the variation in stage width as being another factor. He singles out Friday's 24.5-kilometer Grand Ballon stage, which reaches a peak of 1,424 meters. "You've got single-width tracks and then when you approach the ski resort the road is very wide so you can straight-line lots of the corners. Then it's narrow again through the trees and bumpy. You will also have a big variation in temperature from start to finish.”

P1 and P2 drivers can select from 24 hard-compound P Zeros and 22 soft-compounds. However, they cannot exceed 36 tires for the entire event. All the other four-wheel drive crews can select from 20 hard-compound tires and 16 soft-compounds, but are restricted to a total of 25 for the duration of the rally. Crews in the Junior WRC will use the RX tire, available in 16- and 17 -inch sizes.

Rallye de France is the fifth event of the season for the Pirelli Star Driver program, which gives the opportunity for five promising young drivers – Nick Georgiou, Peter Horsey, Hayden Paddon, Alex Raschi and Ott Tanak – to contest six rounds in identical Pirelli-backed Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Xs.

As well as counting as round 11 of the main WRC, Rallye de France is also round eight of the Production Car WRC for two- liter turbocharged Group N cars, and round nine of the Super 2000 WRC, which uses normally aspirated two-liter cars. Pirelli supplies its hard- and soft-compound P Zero tires to both support championships.

For more information, visit www.us.pirelli.com.

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