Squinting slightly, Rayyan made some mental calculations. By way of confirmation, he opened his hands and put them around the tree’s trunk. He was happy. He took out a slightly macabre-looking knife and started work on the Pirelli Scorpion that Sébastien Ogier will fit to the right-front of his Toyota Yaris WRC in Sardegna this week.
Rayyan’s been between the trees on Malayasia’s western peninsula since before dawn. The trees have been there a bit longer. And they’ve been supplying Pirelli with latex for more than a century.
With grooves cut through the bark and into the tree, white sap seeps and flows through a spout and into a waiting cup tied to the trunk.
We’re in business. The natural latex rubber is flowing.
Far away in the Far East, this process feels a long way removed from the slick process of Toyota selecting a tyre from its pristine racks and bolting it onto for the Bauxites.
“You can’t have one without the other,” offers Rayyan, via a rough Malay-English translation.
The latex is baled and sent west. Not as far west as you might think. Izmit. Turkey.
A major capital city during the Roman Empire, Izmit is equally as important to one group of Italians today. Pirelli.
In 2010, Pirelli invested €140 million in the development of its ‘factory of champions.’ It’s here that Rayyan’s latex lands.
And this is where the serious works starts. Izmit’s where the magic happens.
The natural latex is mixed with a secret blend of synthetic polymers and carbon black, with that cocktail precisely tuned to the compound desired. This being Ogier’s hard Scorpion, there’s going to be a smidge more carbon black and more synthetic than natural ingredients.
Or is there?
Eyes narrowing, Pirelli’s expert cocktail mixer isn’t about to spill the beans.
“The green tyre is our secret,” he says, almost in a whisper.
Is green the new black?
No. The ‘green cover’ is how the tyre’s known before the vulcanization process. It’s when the tyre still has a plastic look and feel to it.
Imagine a Krispy Kreme original ring doughnut. In black. Only a bit bigger.
Now it’s time for the steel belts to be wrapped around the tyre to give strength and durability. And then there’s the tread, which comes to the tyre like a long string of spaghetti to be woven across the outside – avoiding any lateral joins which could be exposed on an achingly hot and horribly harsh Sardegnian roads which sit in wait for this Scorpion.
Finally, it’s ready for vulcanization.
Vulcanization is as impressive as it sounds. In the time and temperature it would take you to reheat last night’s lasagne, the Scorpion is cooked.
When it comes out of the mould and out of the over, it looks and feels very much like the Pirelli World Rally Championship tyre it is.
Implanted into the sidewall is a barcode which not only tracks the tyre’s production through Turkey, but also allows rallying’s rule makers to keep tabs on when and where it’s being used. This tyre’s provenance can be followed pretty much as far back as Rayyan putting his knife away.
Pirelli decals applied, our tyre is one of 500 loaded into containers in the despatch area of the vast Izmit factory. And from there it’s on the road to Lamia and the service park.
Toyota supplies wheels to Pirelli’s working area and the expert fitters go to work putting rubber on rims. That done, it’s up to Ogier to decide when he wants it fitted to the car.
Work done, loop completed, Bauxites beaten, the used tyre is returned to Pirelli.
It’s journey’s not over. A selection of tyres are taken from each WRC round back to Pirelli HQ in Milan, where it’s microscopically inspected. Every aspect of the construction is investigated in an effort to better understand how the Scorpion stood up to the WRC’s toughest test.
It’s only now that Rayyan, the cocktail makers and the rest of the Pirelli team can take a step back and appreciate a job very well done.