Pirelli has drawn sympathy from key figures around the World Rally Championship service park after it came in for some criticism from drivers due to the number of punctures on last week’s Croatia Rally.
Tires were a significant talking point throughout the entire weekend, firstly because the choice between P Zero and the wet-weather-focused Cinturato played a major role in the outcome of the rally, but punctures also afflicted many drivers.
Both M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet and Gus Greensmith ran out of fully rotating tires at contrasting points on the first day and Toyota’s Elfyn Evans was ejected from the lead fight immediately on SS1 with a flat. First and second-placed Kalle Rovanperä and Ott Tänak weren’t immune either.
As a result, some drivers were critical of the performance of Pirelli’s wet weather tire, but Toyota technical director Tom Fowler believes the drivers weren’t helping themselves by taking such deep cuts on the stages.
“The rain tire is always a difficult one because when it gets wet the drivers tend to go more off the road, and when they go more off the road they bring more s*** and then they expose more kerbs and more stones, and they make their own opportunities to get punctures,” he told DirtFish.
“It then drives you to say a wet tire should be stronger, but the way a wet tire picks up its grip is by being softer and if you make it stronger it doesn’t naturally get softer. So it’s a difficult topic. And also we don’t use it so often but when you do use it, it usually makes headlines.”
Asked if he had sympathy for Pirelli in the situation, Fowler added: “Yeah, for sure. I think on this tire yes because it’s not something that we use so often.
“We know that it works quite well as a wet tire when you’re on Tarmac. When you’re on a road that’s so narrow that we have here and you’re driven to go off the road so much… I mean when you see the stages on TV now they look more like gravel stages than Tarmac stages, so it’s difficult to say there’s a big problem when you’re driving a Tarmac car on a gravel stage basically.
“There’s never a right answer on this topic, it’s not a new topic,” he continued.
“If they made the tire stronger for here then the drivers would probably complain as that would then be the championship’s wet weather tire.
“And if you then go to Catalunya Rally and you have a wet day you’ll have to use the same tire, and if that same tire is with a sidewall which is much stiffer then it will not have the same performance in wet conditions.
“Then the teams and the drivers will say the wet tire is not the correct performance for this rally. It’s very difficult to make a compromise, not everybody’s going to be happy with it all of the time.”
Pirelli rally activity manager Terenzio Testoni explained to DirtFish that it wasn’t just the rubber that was wilting in the extreme conditions, but rims were breaking too.
“We got eight punctures with the Rally1 cars on Friday in wet conditions but also eight rims were completely broken, so what I can say is there were only five proper punctures [across the weekend],” he said.
“On Saturday in very slippery conditions, very low visibility, the rally cars were everywhere but on the road. It’s very easy with a lot of cuts to damage the sidewall of the tire which is rubber, but we also saw that a lot of rims, made of steel which is even stronger than the sidewall, were broken.
“So for me, it is something quite normal to have a puncture in this scenario.”