High in the hills above Sanremo, Markku Alén is crouched by the left-rear of a Lancia Stratos HF. He’s staring intently at the tyre.
Running a hand over the cover, there’s a moment of contemplation. He stands, straightens his back, slides himself into the driving seat and thumbs the red button that fires fuel into the Ferrari engine which sits behind him.
Noticing a quizzical look from the man alongside him, the Finn responds.
“Checking,” he said. “Pirellis. They have to be Pirellis.”
And with a flare of revs, the road ahead is shortened.
That was 2012 and Pirelli’s launch of a new range of tyres for historic competition. That Alén was present says much about his relationship with a company which helped craft so many of his wins.
And Pirelli has been winning in the World Rally Championship from the start, from the four corners of Achim Warmbold’s Austrian Alpine Rally-winning BMW 2002tii in 1973 all the way to Sébastien Loeb’s 2010 title-winning Citroen C4 WRC, Pirelli has been there.
In addition to the Frenchman’s 2010 award, there have been another 24 championship wins and 181 individual world rally victories. The Milanese have been there, seen that and done it.
Hyundai Motorsport’s Italian team principal Andrea Adamo smiled at the question. What did he think about Pirelli coming back? Did he have any concerns that Pirelli hadn’t been at rallying’s very top flight since 2010?
“No,” said Adamo. “I don’t worry at all. This is Pirelli we are talking about. This is not a company that came yesterday; this is not a company that was baking cakes the day before yesterday, this is Pirelli. Pirelli knows about rallying. So, no, I don’t worry for them.”
While Pirelli might not have featured on manufacturer Rally1 cars in recent years, the Italian firm has maintained its presence in WRC, fitting its covers to Junior WRC and WRC2 runners since 2018.
Those credentials are further evidenced by the provenance of arguably Pirelli’s coolest cover, the P Zero. The P Zero is the ultra-high performance offeringfrom the near 150-year-old company.
But it began life as original equipment on Lancia’s Delta S4. Arguably the world’s fastest and finest rallying supercar needed a super tyre and Pirelli created and delivered the P Zero. Giovanni Tronchetti Provera, Pirelli’s senior vice president of prestige and motorsport, said: “Technology and passion are two key elements that Pirelli bring to motorsport, and these have allowed us to secure the single tyre supply for the World Rally Championship. We’ve supported young drivers in the Junior category for many years and now we’re returning to the top class as well.”
Talking of supporting young drivers, Pirelli’s head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola well remembers picking out a shy and slightly awkward looking Estonian 11 years ago.
Isola said: “It’s particularly fitting that we come back to WRC in the year that Ott Tänak – a graduate of the Pirelli Star Driver programme – was crowned world champion.”
Isola is a northern Italian rally man who has turned his attention to Pirelli’s Formula 1 programme in recent years.
To know Super Mario is at the wheel gives plenty of confidence as Pirelli goes through the gears ahead of 2021, the first of its four-year agreement as sole tyre supplier to the WRC.