The opening dirt road round of the FIA World Rally Championship season presents drivers with the first opportunity to sample the Scorpion rubber in earnest following the Italian company’s return as exclusive supplier to the series this year.
Pirelli’s rally manager Terenzio Testoni said the Matosinhos-based event would offer the first true indication of where the pace is likely to sit among the cars through the 2021 season – with six of the 12 rounds running on gravel.
Testoni said: “Portugal presents the first full gravel round of the season, the most common surface on the WRC, and as such it’s probably the first indication of the how the cars perform relative to each other under ‘normal’ circumstances.
“Our testing programme last year placed an emphasis on gravel, so it’s going to be interesting to see how this translates into competition this year.
“The surface in Portugal is especially tricky, with a hard and rocky base covered by softer and more sandy gravel. This is why we have chosen the hard compound as the main tyre this weekend.
“The Scorpion KX makes its debut for the top class of World Rally Cars, while the K used for the RC2 cars is a tried and tested product that has already been used extensively in competition.”
Pre-event testing in Portugal has delivered varied results depending on the conditions.
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Drivers who have done their early running in the wet feel they could have done with more time on dry roads to understand how the hard tyre works in its optimum conditions.
Championship leader – and road opener in Friday’s first leg – Sébastien Ogier was one such driver.
The Frenchman said: “We know we will probably have to face tough conditions opening the road, but Portugal is a place where we can have rain at this time of year, and that is always what you hope for in this situation.
“We actually had pretty wet conditions during my pre-event test day. It means I haven’t yet driven the new Pirelli gravel tyres so much in dry conditions, and we know that being clever with the tyre choice and managing them as well as possible is going to be an important part of this rally.”
The Scorpion KX comes in hard and soft compounds. The hard will be the first choice and is designed to cope with the most abrasive surfaces and offer durability over longer stages. The soft will be an alternative providing optimal grip in cooler or damp conditions.
• Full coverage from Vodafone Rally de Portugal will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.