Pirelli stars rise to mixed surface challenge in Spain

The PortAventura theme park, where the Rally de Espana service area is based, is home to holidaymakers, a bright blue woodpecker that is the park mascot and, for this weekend, around 2000 Pirelli tyres. All these tyres came to Spain because the Italian team faced a mixed-surface rally for the first time this year and at the same time hosted the Pirelli Star Driver Global Shoot Out: a joint initiative with world motorsport's governing body, the FIA, that will provide six drivers with a drive on selected rounds of the 2011 FIA World Rally Championship. The six Pirelli Star Drivers will run within the recently-announced WRC Academy, which will use identical cars running on Pirelli tyres next year, ensuring that Pirelli continues its participation on the World Rally Championship that dates back to the very beginning of the series in 1973. A total of 16 young drivers from Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East - including a woman nominated by the Women & Motor Sport Commission - were assessed by an international panel of judges that included Pirelli's motorsport manager Mario Isola, driver manager Timo Jouhki, rally organiser Joao Passos, noted journalist Guido Rancati and former driver Michele Mouton. The candidates were judged over an asphalt and a gravel stage, which they drove in identical cars equipped with Pirelli tyres, and they were further evaluated through a series of interviews outside of the car. The drivers selected were Fredrik Ahlin from Sweden (aged 19), Craig Breen from Ireland (aged 20), Jan Cerny from the Czech Republic (aged 20), Andrea Crugnola from Italy (aged 21), Brendan Reeves from Australia (aged 22), and Molly Taylor from Australia as well (aged 22). Pirelli's motorsport manager Mario Isola said: "It's really exciting to see the next year of Pirelli Star Drivers coming through. Once again, I think we have found some real talent. Having drivers coming from across the world for the Shoot-Out has made this a very interesting event for us. Pirelli is proud to have backed the FIA's young driver development initiative and we are delighted to see this continue into next season, maintaining Pirelli's presence in the FIA World Rally Championship and furthering our rich history at the pinnacle of world rallying." The Rallye de Espana meanwhile was won by newly-crowned seven-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb, racking up his 61st career victory and his 25th on Pirelli tyres. He beat Citroën privateer Petter Solberg by 35.3 seconds while the second factory Citroën of Dani Sordo was third; breaking a remarkable pattern of one-two finishes in Spain for Loeb and Sordo that stretches back to 2006. The opening day of the Rally de Espana was run on mixed gravel and asphalt stages, with the emphasis on gravel. Crews had hard-compound Pirelli Scorpion tyres available to them for the first day and the shakedown, before being able to choose between hard and soft compound PZero asphalt tyres. In view of the weather and road conditions, all the competitors opted for hard compound tyres. Matteo Braga, Pirelli's senior WRC tyre engineer, said that the event could not have gone better for the Italian tyre company. "Our tyres worked extremely effectively under an incredibly wide range of conditions: gravel, damp asphalt following some fog in the morning, and dry asphalt in the afternoon. The wear rate was good and we had absolutely no punctures. Really, we couldn't ask for any more." As well as supplying tyres to the main WRC field as part of a three-year agreement with the FIA, the governing body of world motorsport, Pirelli's tyres are used as standard by competitors in the Junior World Rally Championship, which was wrapped up by Suzuki Swift S1600 driver Aaron Burkart* from Germany with a fourth place finish in class using RX tyres today. The JWRC category was claimed in Spain by local man Yeray Lemes at the wheel of a Renault Clio S1600 The World Rally Championship resumes for its final round on the gravel-based Wales Rally Great Britain from November 12-14. Pirelli will provide its Scorpion tyre in soft compound only to take into account the cold and damp conditions that characterise the Cardiff event. (* subject to official publication of the results by the FIA)