Pirelli-supported WRC Academy enters second year

After a highly successful inaugural season, where Irishman Craig Breen was crowned as champion on the very final stage of the year, Pirelli will continue to support the FIA WRC Academy as the 2012 season gets underway at Vodafone Rally de Portugal this week (March 29 – April 1). For the second year running Pirelli will provide its K4 tyre on gravel to 10 rising stars and their co-drivers in Portugal, although other drivers may join them later in the season. For asphalt, Pirelli will supply the RX5 as well as the RE7 tyre. The season will feature three gravel events: Portugal, Greece and Finland, followed by three asphalt events: Germany, France and Spain. Representing seven countries worldwide and with an average age of 22.2 years, competitors will pilot identical Pirelli-branded Ford Fiesta R2s, each prepared by Cumbria’s M-Sport operation from a facility in Krakow, Poland. Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s motorsport director said: “At Pirelli, we firmly believe in investing in the champions of the future, which is why we launched the Star Driver scheme in conjunction with the FIA during the time when we were exclusive tyre supplier to the World Rally Championship. That legacy lives on today in the form of the WRC Academy, which marks a vital first step of any young driver’s career at the top level of world rallying. With equal cars and identical tyres, the spotlight is firmly on driving talent, and we look forward to helping the latest generation of rally stars make their names this year, after what was an absolutely thrilling 2011.” The WRC Academy drivers will only take part on the first two days of each event and will spend the final day of the rally analysing their respective performances in a debrief session. Various other training seminars and workshops will take place during the course of the season to give the drivers the knowledge needed to take the next steps in their careers. With a dedicated programme including expert tuition on pre-event preparation and mental coaching, the WRC Academy is the ideal place for preparing rallying’s future stars for competition at the highest level. Pirelli has developed a version of the K4 tyre specifically to suit the Fiesta R2 in 175/70-15 K4 size. Based on the vastly successful Scorpion cover that was used on the World Rally Championship from 2008-2010 (which had a failure rate of less than 0.02% over all three years), the K4 WRC Academy tyre is lighter than the Scorpion with a focus on performance as well as outright durability. However, their resistance against punctures has not been compromised. A maximum of 18 K4 tyres will be available for the 13 crews, including pre-event testing, on every gravel event. For the sealed surface rounds in Germany, France and Spain, the WRC Academy competitors will be allowed to use a maximum of 20 tyres, out of 18 P Zero RX5 tyres and between 8 and 12 P Zero RE7 wet-weather tyres available, depending on the event. 2012 FIA WRC Academy entrants (in Portugal) 101 Chris Duplessis (USA)/Karl Atkinson (USA) 102 Jose Antonio Suarez (Spain)/Candido Carrera (Spain) 103 Alastair Fisher (UK)/Daniel Barritt (UK) 105 Pontus Tidemand (Sweden)/Stig-Rune Skjaermoen (Norway) 106 Brendan Reeves (Australia)/Rhiannon Smyth (Australia) 107 Timo van der Marel (Netherlands)/Erwin Berkhof (Netherlands) 108 John MacCrone (UK)/Stuart Loudon (UK) 109 Elfyn Evans (UK)/Andrew Edwards (UK) 111 Joao Silva (Portugal)/Jose Janela (Portugal) 114 Fredrik Ahlin (Sweden)/Morten Erik (Norway) 2012 FIA WRC Academy calendar Round one: Vodafone Rally de Portugal, March 29 – April 01 Round two: Acropolis Rally, May 25 - 27 Round three: Neste Oil Rally Finland, August 02 - 05 Round four: ADAC Rallye Deutschland, August 24 - 26 Round five: Rallye de France, October 04 - 07 Round six: RACC-Rally de Espana, November 08 – 11 The drivers: Fredrik Ahlin Having impressed during the inaugural WRC Academy intake as part of the Pirelli Star Driver programme, the Swede returns in 2012 with Norwegian co-driver Morten Erik Abrahamsen. Ahlin was a podium finisher in Sardinia last term and will be looking to build on the experience gained - and the pace shown - in 2011 when he returns for a second season. Prior to taking up rallying in 2008, Ahlin raced karts for a five-year stretch. Christopher Duplessis Duplessis was given a brief taste of WRC Academy life when he took part on the 2011 season-closing Wales Rally GB. He’s back for a full campaign this season with Irish navigator Karl Atkinson. Duplessis began competing in 2005 and has been a rapid performer in two-wheel-drive events in his native United States of America. Elfyn Evans Young British driver Elfyn Evans might be new to the WRC Academy for 2012, but he’s not lacking in international experience having taken a Ford Fiesta R2 to its best finish in the WRC to date when he came home 16th overall on Rally de France - Alsace last October. With significant success in one-make Fiesta SportTrophy championships to his name, Evans - whose father Gwyndaf took part on 33 WRC rounds as a driver - is one of his country’s best prospects for the future. Alastair Fisher Fisher’s exposure to rallying came at a young age: his late uncle Bertie was an Irish rallying legend and his cousin Mark had made his WRC debut before their untimely deaths in a helicopter accident in 2001. Fisher’s own career began in 2005 and has produced several significant results both in two-wheel drive and four-wheel-drive machinery. Third in the inaugural WRC Academy standings in 2011 following a late-season surge, which included a maiden category victory in France, the hugely talented Northern Irishman possesses an abundance of pace and potential, not to mention a university degree in construction, engineering and management, achieved last year. John MacCrone MacCrone’s ability behind the wheel of a rally car first gained international recognition when onboard camera footage of him competing on his native Isle of Mull - an island off the west coast of Scotland - in an ageing Peugeot 205 emerged online. Scottish junior rally champion in 2009, MacCrone has progressed through to the World Rally Championship via the prestigious British Rally Championship. His loyal supporters have worked tirelessly to find the funds for MacCrone to be at the start of the WRC Academy season two in Portugal. Brendan Reeves Reeves - or Brendo to his growing army of followers - returns to the WRC Academy in 2012 having impressed as one of six Pirelli Star Drivers last season. Co-driven by his sister Rhiannon Smyth, Reeves’ ability has been recognised by the FIA Institute’s Young Driver Excellence Academy training initiative. Prior to his switch to the WRC Academy in 2011, Reeves had forged a strong reputation in his native Australia, where he impressed in four-wheel-drive machinery. Outside of rallying, Reeves keeps busy by driving trucks for his family’s earthmoving business and working as a driving instructor for a rallying school in his homeland. Joao Silva Portugal’s first WRC Academy representative is a double junior rally champion in Madeira and Portuguese two-wheel-drive title-winner in 2011. He lists his overall victory on Rali do Maritimo in 2010 as his most memorable moment during his five-year driving career. Jose Suarez Suarez, who hails from Oviedo, the birthplace of double Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso, took up rallying in 2009 and claimed his best result to date one year later when he won the gravel-based Rallye de la Rioja in Spain. He also demonstrated his pace on asphalt when he claimed the R3 and junior Tarmac titles in his homeland in 2010. He made his world championship debut on RallyRACC Rally de Espana later that season and returns to the WRC Academy for 2012 following an impressive debut campaign last year. Pontus Tidemand Pontus is the youngest-ever Swedish Rally Champion and the latest in the new generation of young flyers from Norway. The 21-year-old, who is Henning Solberg’s stepson, clinched the Swedish Championship at the wheel of a Super 2000 Ford Fiesta last year, and he put on an impressive showing at the wheel of an ex-Andreas Mikkelsen Super 2000 Skoda Fabia on Rally Sweden this year, finishing third in the S2000 rankings and 18th overall. So far, Tidemand has also won the opening two rounds of this year’s Swedish Championship. Timo van der Marel With backing from the Dutch motorsport association KNAF’s Talent First initiative, which helped Kevin Abbring and Hans Weijs Jr break onto the world stage, returns to the WRC Academy for a second season. Van der Marel’s rallying career began in 2008 and his debut in the world championship followed in Germany the same year when he took victory in the N3 class. He is a member of the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy and lists Tommi Makinen as his all-time rallying hero. The tyres Pirelli will use three different patterns of tyres throughout the 2012 FIA WRC Academy Cup season: the K pattern (for gravel), the RX pattern (for dry asphalt) and the RE pattern (for wet asphalt). Just one compounds of the gravel tyre will be used, along with one compound each of the asphalt tyres. Both tyres will be used for the season-closing Rally de Espana, which is a mixed surface event. The WRC Academy drivers are allocated 18 tyres per event for the gravel rounds and 20 tyres per event for the asphalt rounds. On asphalt, their allocation is made up from a total of 18 dry-weather tyres and 12 wet-weather tyres available for each crew. Vodafone Rally de Portugal: K4 Acropolis Rally: K4 Neste Oil Rally Finland: K4 ADAC Rallye Deutschland: RX5, RE7 Rallye de France Alsace: RX5, RE7 RACC-Rally de Espana: K4, RX5, RE7 The K pattern Size: 175/70-15 This is one of Pirelli’s best-known gravel tyres, using technology learned from the Scorpion range of gravel tyres that Pirelli supplied to the World Rally Championship during its exclusive supply deal from 2008-2010. The dense asymmetric tread pattern of the K is designed to provide the best possible traction and braking, even when grip levels are low. The tyre is built with a rigid structure, and this ensures stability in fast corners when the stress on the tyre is at its maximum. The design of the external blocks ensures turning precision and high levels of lateral grip. Reinforcement of the sidewalls means that this tyre is particularly resistant to punctures: a hallmark of Pirelli’s WRC tyres as well, which had a failure rate of less than 0.02 per cent when the company was sole supplier. The K4 is the hardest compound in the range and will be used for the three gravel events. The RX pattern Size: 200/60-16 The RX is another tried and trusted tyre pattern – which was used to win the Italian Rally Championship last year with Paolo Andreucci for the second consecutive time. The version of the RX seen in the WRC Academy this year was specifically developed for R2 machinery, with the hardest compound (RX5) used for this year’s asphalt events, in order to guarantee consistency of performance even over the longest and most abrasive stages. It has a minimal number of grooves in it in order to maximise the contact patch and its square profile – along with a rigid structure – means that it has particularly reactive steering precision both on slow and fast roads. Its speciality is quick changes of direction: frequently required in France, Germany and Spain. While it is designed primarily as a tyre for dry weather, it proved extremely versatile on damp roads in the mixed conditions of Rallye de France. The RE pattern Size: 200/60-16 The full wet RE tyre is designed for driving rain and standing water, so this tyre has deep grooves and a rounded profile, in order to provide a more progressive driving experience with maximum grip even in marginal conditions. The main feature of this tyre is three deep longitudinal grooves, which are capable of quickly dispersing standing water in a straight line. All three asphalt events on the calendar for this year have featured heavy rain in the past, so the RE is set to play a vital road in keeping the champions of the future on the road.