On the face of it, Pirelli’s job is a simple one in Croatia this week. If it’s hot, drivers will want the hard P Zero. If it’s not hot, they’ll want the soft. And if it’s rainy, that’s what the Cinturato wet tire’s there for.
How deceptive the face can be…
And how different can the task of the tire strategist be from one event to the next.
Round two took the World Rally Championship to Arctic Rally Finland in the depths of a Lapland winter. The choice there was three times more straightforward, with the J1-compound Sottozero the single selection available. The only option in Rovaniemi was how many spares you wanted in the car.
In Zagreb, it’s all very different.
For 20 stages, the drivers can fit 24 tires. Those 24 tires come from 28 hard P Zeros, 20 softs and eight Cinturatos. Additionally, there are four more covers available for shakedown.
Currently, we don’t know too much about the roads that lie in wait inland from the Adriatic’s east coast for the Pirelli-shod world championship field, but we do know the surface is fairly abrasive in places. Abrasive asphalt is great for grip, but it will offer the Pirellis a proper workout – especially the softer of the two options.
So, what does a driver do with that selection?
This is where consistency is their best friend in terms of weather. Ideally, Pirelli, the teams and the drivers would like to manage out any risk and that’s easiest done when we have 95F and wall-to-wall sunshine. In that case, the hard is the only option.
But what about now? It’s been raining for days. It might rain again tonight. Or tomorrow. A couple of days ago, it was snowing. The mornings are chilly, the afternoon’s warmer. But the ambient’s one thing, the road takes longer to cook. What to do? What to take?
And what if the cuts really cut up rough and the road gets down and dirty? Are they dirty enough to warrant the heavily treaded Cinturato, which would cut through and clear the mud? If yes, how long does that muddy section last? And what about the next stage? And the one after that? Are they muddy?
The Cinturato will give astonishing traction in mud and rain, but much of that adhesion is derived from compound grip. To generate compound grip at that level means a tire so soft, it won’t last a loop in anything other than the perfect cold, wet and muddy conditions.
Everybody has the same choice. It’s up to the driver, the team and their engineer to make the best strategyTerenzio Testoni, Pirelli rally activity manager
So, tell me, as we stand in a dry service park on Friday morning, looking out into the gathering gloom in the hills on the horizon (where SS1 has a 54% chance of rain on 38% of its competitive route; SS2 and SS3 are bone dry and SS4 is currently engulfed in a monsoon) what do we bolt to each corner and what goes in the boot?
Put that scenario to most folk and watch them wilt. Put that scenario to Pirelli’s rally activity manager Terenzio Testoni and watch the smile widen. It’s moments like that where men like Testoni fall back on data gathered from decades in rallying.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Testoni told DirtFish, “but you know one of the key parts of our preparation for this year was the development and testing program of the asphalt tire. We spent three months driving in extreme conditions in 40 and 50 degrees [celsius] on some of the most abrasive roads we could find.
“And when we saw the stones in the road, we drove over them, we didn’t drive around them. And we didn’t get any problems. It’s because of this that we can be confident for Croatia.
“The weather can be a challenge, but we have engineers working with all of the teams and, don’t forget, the big thing here is that everybody has the same choice. Nobody has anything different, so it’s up to the driver, the team and their engineer to make the best strategy.”
It’s such knife-edge, pivotal moments that keep Testoni on his toes. And add a thrilling storyline to this week’s Croatia Rally.
Make no mistake, this week’s going to be an absolute thriller.