Spa 24 Hours: Pirelli’s biggest event of the year
The biggest single motorsport event of the year for Pirelli is the Spa 24 Hours this weekend in Belgium: the highlight of the Blancpain GT Series and the most complex logistical operation that the Milan-based firm faces throughout the season. A total of around 9000 tyres are fitted and used throughout the 24 hours, transported by 20 trucks and requiring the services of up to 80 Pirelli personnel. The Blancpain Endurance Series is exclusively supplied by Pirelli, with 61 cars on the entry list for this weekend’s event, most of which have four drivers. However, the biggest challenge comes from the nature of the circuit and the event itself. The Blancpain GT Series includes a huge variety of cars – ranging in size from the Bentley Continental GT3 to the BMW Z4 – yet the Pirelli tyres have to work equally well on a number of different car configurations, including both front and rear mounted engines. Despite this radically diverse set of vehicle dynamics, there is just one single P Zero compound for dry conditions, and one for wet conditions. This brings the tyres used on the Blancpain GT Series even closer to those used on supercars for the road, with Pirelli having established itself as the world leader in the Ultra High Performance market. Most of the car makes represented at the Spa 24 Hours use Pirelli P ZERO tyres as original equipment on their road models, leading to a high degree of technology transfer. The lessons learned from competition at Spa have a direct benefit on the products that Pirelli creates for road-going supercars. Nowhere tests a tyre more strenuously than the famed Spa-Francorchamps circuit. It’s well-known as an epic track, with the longest lap of the year at 7.004 kilometres, huge changes in elevation, plenty of time spent at full throttle and variable weather conditions. Just like the Nurburgring (where a Pirelli-equipped McLaren recently set the qualifying lap record for the 24-hour race) Spa has something of a microclimate: it’s perfectly possible for it to be raining on one part of the circuit, but completely dry on another part. Coping with these changing conditions is an important part of the tyre strategy, in order to minimise the effects of getting caught out. The tyres themselves have to cope with huge lateral and longitudinal forces generated by the fast and flowing circuit. Not only that, but there is the famed compression at Eau Rouge, as well as rough asphalt, that also take a lot out of the tyres. Spa could have been designed as a tyre test track – and this is what makes it so relevant. Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “The Spa 24 Hours is one of our most important events of the season: both in terms of logistics – as it’s the biggest operation we mount all year – and relevance, as the cars used on the championship are very closely related to the supercars we supply on the road. With the rules stipulating just one compound for dry conditions and one for wet conditions, our adaptability is tested to the utmost, as the challenge is to come up with a tyre that is equally effective on a huge variety of cars, during a race where temperatures and conditions fluctuate enormously. As a spectacle, this is one of the great races of the season on an amazing driver’s circuit, and we’re extremely proud to be associated with it.” The Spa 24 Hours take place from 26-27 July, starting at 1630.