31 Dec 07
Formerly, the teams involved in the sport have done everything in their power not to let on what tyres they're running for a particular stage. A different compound here or tweaked construction there was always enough to keep the opposition on their toes. Well, not any more. Welcome to the new world of a level playing field and the same 'Pirelli' boots for all. It's going to be a fascinating ride.
Not only has the control tyre taken away one of the biggest performance variables around, it has also placed Pirelli in a unique position in the sport on two fronts. Pirelli already has a vast presence in domestic rallying across the globe, but that now carries through to the highest level.
"How many companies get to see the sport from the grass roots to the pinnacle of the World Rally Championship?" asks Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery, rhetorically. "Certainly none of the car manufacturers, but, now, we do. This is giving us an incredible insight into the sport at all levels and it's all going to help what we're doing within the WRC."
The other exclusive opportunity for Pirelli is that of the Italian firm taking advice from an American gent who was also had more than a passing interest in both the motor trade and the sport, namely Henry Ford. Ford famously talked of the winning on Sunday and selling on Monday. That's just what Pirelli is aiming for now.
Hembery explains: "Of course, we can't sell the genuine asphalt rally tyre which will be used in the WRC - the FIA's regulations prohibit that - but we will be launching a range of tyres for the road which are derived from the WRC. So, for next year, fans will be able to watch Sebastien Loeb winning on that tyre in Catalunya on Sunday and they can then go and buy, essentially, that same tyre, bolt it on their car and drive to work on it on Monday.
"The control tyre has reinforced the link between road and competition tyres - which is popular with the [car] manufacturers. It's helping areas like run-flat technology. The mousse inserts which were formerly used in the sport was unusable from a road car point of view. But as I've mentioned, there will be strong and obvious association between the asphalt tyre and a road tyre."
The loss of the competitive element between opposing tyre manufacturers is something which Hembery admits he will miss, but he is now keenly aware of the new role Pirelli has taken on within the sport. Hembery adds: "Instead of spending money on making products go faster, we're going to be spending money on the development of the sport. That might take people a while to get used to, but the sport needs it and we're really excited about our opportunity to be the ones who work within the World Rally Championship."