MELBOURNE, Australia—Pirelli Tyre S.p.A.'s growing involvement in motorsports has spawned a business unit that could almost be a standalone company, with more than 500 dedicated employees and a manufacturing portfolio that will exceed 570,000 tires this year at five factories on two continents.
While Pirelli's high-profile engagement in Formula 1, Superbike or various GT series is well documented, the company continues to increase its motorsports involvements worldwide, agreeing to supply race tires to an increasingly broad array of racing series, especially those that provide young drivers a gateway to professional racing.
That was the underlying message delivered by the firm's two motorsports directors, Paul Hembery for cars and Giorgio Barbier for motorbikes, during a press briefing in Melbourne before the start of practice for the Australian Grand Prix, the season-opening F1 race.
Among new series Pirelli has agreed to supply are the ADAC GT Masters in Germany and F4 junior formula championships in the United Kingdom and Germany.
Agreeing to become the ADAC GT series' tire supplier pushes Pirelli to the forefront of GT road racing worldwide. It already supplies and sponsors GT-based racing series in the U.S. (Pirelli World Championship), Europe (FIA GT3), Australia (Australian GT Championship) and others in Asia along with the Brazilian Stock Car Championship.
These engagements tie in well with Pirelli's efforts to solidify its position as an original equipment supplier with the world's premium car marques and meet growing demand for demand for premium products in Asia, especially China. Pirelli said it expects average growth in the Asia-Pacific region of around 16 percent annually the next couple of years.
Hembery noted Pirelli's motorsport legacy started in Asia-Pacific, thanks to victory in the 1907 Peking-to-Paris road race.
The company said it's active in motorsports in 40 countries in various forms and has chalked up over the years more than 300 championships, half of which were accomplished in open tire competition formats.
At the top of pyramid, Pirelli has redesigned the range of P Zero tires for the worldwide Formula 1 series to accommodate anticipated increases in power this year—Pirelli's fifth as the sole tire supplier—from the latest-specification hybrid motors.
In particular, Hembery said, the construction of the rear tires is designed to distribute heat and forces more evenly, leading to more consistent performance, and efforts were made to optimize footprint pressure and temperature distribution.
A priority for Pirelli in its motorsports engagement has been promotion of young talent, as evidenced by the Pirelli Star Driver scheme and WRC Academy in rallying as well as its continued support of the Formula 1 feeder series, starting with GP2 and GP3 and now including Formula 4, which is designed to bridge the gap between karting and more advanced single-seat categories.
In motorcycles, Pirelli is in its 11th consecutive year as the supplier of the FIM World Superbike series and has an agreement that runs to 2018, and it has secured the supply contract for the FIM Motocross World Championship and FIM Endurance World Championships.
Pirelli also is the official motorcycle tire sponsor of AMA Supercross and supplies a number of riders different riders, and is prominent in many other control and open tire national championships, including the BSB (British Superbike Championship), CIV (Italian National Championship), IDM (German National Championship) and FSBK (French Superbike Championship).
“Collaboration and a constructive approach towards developers, manufacturers, teams and riders have always been the ingredients of our success,” Barbier said. “The work we do in the top championship for production-based bikes, as well as in all the series in which we participate, is fundamental for the development of our racing tires, which are the same as those sold to customers.
“With increasing motorbike sales in the region, Asia-Pacific, is becoming a very interesting market for us, where we will invest even more over the next few years.”
By the numbers, Messrs. Hembery and Barbier noted that they oversee departments that create 175 new tire designs per year involving 500 people—including 200 researchers at six worldwide research and development centers—five factories (Turkey, Romania, Germany, Argentina, and Brazil with accompanying research centers) and a logistics center in Great Britain.
In addition to producing hundreds of thousands of tires annually, Pirelli recycles them all to the highest standards of sustainability at the end of every race, the two executives said.