Pirelli prepares for Turkish delight

On the face of it the all-new gravel-based Rally of Turkey has little in common with driving on ice. Or does it? With heavy rain having fallen on the rally route recently, the rapid stages east of Istanbul could well turn into a muddy skating rink. As the Formula One season so far has proved, a little bit of adverse weather can change everything. For Pirelli, the official supplier of tyres to the FIA World Rally Championship, such extremes of unpredictability are all part of a day's work. The more tricky the conditions are, the happier Pirelli's engineers become, because it gives them a chance to push the Scorpion tyres to their limits and improve the product for road car drivers all over the world. George Black, the Ford team's tyre technician, explains: "The Turkish stages are fast but if it's wet, like it has been recently, it's very, very muddy. You find the type of clay that fills up the tyre tread and it feels like driving on ice. But when it's dry it gives you an almost cement-like base." Not only that, but while Rally of Turkey is a gravel event, 12 per cent of this year's route is run on asphalt, with 40 kilometres of Tarmac roads featuring on the second day. Citroen's Sebastien Loeb, the winner of the previous two rounds of the World Rally Championship in Mexico and Jordan, points out: "Obviously we'll have gravel tyres for everything, but we didn't have too many problems with this combination of gravel and Tarmac in Cyprus last year. We'll just have to find the right rhythm when passing from one surface to another." These are just a few examples of how the WRC is the toughest, most varied and most challenging environment for tyres in the world. By subjecting the rubber to hugely varying weather conditions, surfaces and levels of grip, Pirelli is able to make sure that its products for both motorsport and normal road use can cope with literally anything. Rally of Turkey will be a brand-new event for the bulk of the competitors, having moved 700 kilometres north from its previous home in Kemer on the Mediterranean coast. The new route is extremely fast and flowing, not unlike the legendary Rally Finland in some places, with wide stages that reward commitment. There is also a brand-new spectator superspecial on Friday night in Istanbul; a metropolis that is home to 12 million people and divides Europe from Asia with the famed Bosphorus River. Just as they did in Jordan, the competing crews will run on Pirelli's hard-compound Scorpion tyres, which proved remarkably resistant to punctures and extremes of temperature. For five young drivers, this year's Rally of Turkey will be the most important event that they have contested in their careers to date. Turkey is the opening round of the 2010 Pirelli Star Driver programme: a collaboration between the Italian tyre manufacturer and world motorsport's governing body, the FIA. The drivers have been carefully selected from the FIA's regional championships over the world and in Turkey, plus five other WRC rounds this year, they finally get the chance to go head-to-head with their rivals in identical Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Xs. The 2010 Pirelli Star Driver programme will be formally launched at the Pirelli Hospitality Unit in the Pendik service park at 1845hrs on Wednesday April 14. Rally of Turkey is also the opening round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, which is for drivers under the age of 28 in two-wheel drive cars. Pirelli also supplies the JWRC competitors with tyres, which have to work even harder without the benefit of four-wheel drive. Mario Isola, Pirelli's rally manager, commented: "Along with Bulgaria and France, this will be a totally new rally for us, but our tyres are adaptable enough to perform well even on territory that is not totally familiar to us. Turkey is an extremely important rally for Pirelli, as we have been active in the local market for a number of years, and manufacturer our motorsport tyres there. "Also, it is the opening round of this year's Pirelli Star Driver programme, which has given five people a unique opportunity. Turkey is a big challenge to begin with, but all the Star Drivers start on a level playing field and I have every confidence in their talent."