22 Jan 09
Is this going to be the biggest technical challenge of the year?
Probably yes. Normally we are used to preparing for hard rallies like Greece - and working out how to minimise the risk of punctures and so on. This sort of challenge is something we know a lot about. But getting a solution for this year's Cyprus Rally is challenging because it's completely new. We can imagine that the gravel compound tyre will warm a lot on asphalt and perhaps blistering will be a problem. That is why we have to test it.
Drivers are used to tackling smooth surface Super Specials on gravel tyres. If it comes to it in Cyprus, how do you think they'll cope driving full length stages?
I think the biggest issue will be how easy the car is to drive, because if the grip is very poor but the tyre is easy to drive, the driver can manage the situation. The problem comes when you have a tyre that doesn't have the performance but is also difficult to drive. I can imagine drivers like Loeb or Hirvonen will easily manage, but some less experienced drivers might have problems. For us it's important that everybody arrives at the end of rally without any problems.
Compared to last year's, what is different about the tyres this season?
Very little. The vast majority are exactly the same. We produce and supply them in big batches so they have the same quality and characteristics. The only exception this year is the snow tyre for Rally Norway which is brand new. It is similar in character to the previous SottoZero snow tyre, but now fits a wider, standard gravel wheel. In common with the previous snow tyre it has almost 400 metal studs, and the tread pattern is similar but obviously a bit wider. We tested it, and so have the teams, and the results are okay. As you would expect the performance is slightly worse than the old one - its about 0.5sec to 1.0sec per kilometre slower - but that's about it. After years of seeing them on narrow snow tyres the cars look a bit strange, though.
In 2008 some drivers lobbied for extra cuts in the tyres to cope with very wet or muddy conditions. Will this be allowed this year?
The discussion is still open. But any rule changes need to come from the FIA. Our position remains that we have no problem to cut the tyres, but we need to know in advance in order to prepare the tyres in Italy, in the proper workshop, in the proper way and with the proper machinery. That way we can give them cut tyres all with the same pattern - not hand cut them in a hurry.
When will we see the Pirelli Star Driver winners in action this year?
This is the first year of the scheme where we have five young Pirelli supported drivers on certain events. The first event for them will be Rally Portugal and I hope it will be a good show. An extra bonus is that some of the winners are also competing in the P-WRC. Martin Semarad is one of them. Thanks to the help of our project he was able to find some private sponsors to pay for the extra rallies to make up the whole P-WRC season. That's a good result because without the support of the Star Driver scheme he probably wouldn't have been able to compete at such a high level.