Two different privateer drivers have set fastest stage times with Pirelli tyres on the same event.
Milan – For the first time since Pirelli’s return to rallying last year, two different privateer drivers have set fastest stage times with Pirelli tyres on the same event – underlining the capacity of the Italian rubber to give privately-entered drivers the chance to compete against factory teams.
On stage six of Rally Sweden, Ukrainian driver Yuriy Protasov – in only his fourth event in a World Rally Car – went fastest of all: his very first stage win at World Rally Car level, having previously won the Ukrainian championship in 2008.
Protasov proved that his speed was no fluke by setting a top-three stage time on day two, even though his team is a truly private effort. As a result, the 30-year-old Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver claimed the first points finish of his career, in a well-deserved ninth overall.
Having two different private drivers set fastest stage times in Sweden was a significant achievement
Also on Saturday, Robert Kubica – the star of the Monte Carlo Rally – went fastest on stage 17, in his RK World Rally Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC. However, a technical issue meant that he picked up a penalty that put him outside the points in the final classification, despite a strong and mistake-free performance in Sweden.
The highest-placed Pirelli driver was Ford Fiesta privateer Martin Prokop, who continued his strong run of results on Pirelli rubber by finishing eighth. This ensures that Prokop is currently the highest-placed privateer driver in the championship, with 12th overall.
Five Pirelli-equipped drivers also finished in the WRC2 points on Rally Sweden, highlighting the competitiveness of Pirelli’s products at every level in rallying, despite having far fewer entries than other tyre manufacturers.
The Sottozero Ice, which is only used on Rally Sweden, contains 384 studs with Tungsten tips that protrude seven millimetres and weigh four grams each, in accordance with the regulations. These are locked into the tyre (preventing stud loss) in a unique vulcanisation process patented by Pirelli. The WRC tyre comes in 205/65-15 size, so that it can be mounted on the same rim as used for gravel tyres, with only one type of tyre now allowed for Sweden.
Although Sweden is renowned for ice and snow conditions, occasional warm weather meant that some of the stages were damaged, with gravel and rocks showing through the surface. Despite this, the Pirelli tyres managed to maintain the majority of their studs and give drivers the confidence they needed to push hard even in suboptimal conditions.
After scoring his first WRC points, Protasov said: “I’m very happy with this result and our performance on this rally. The Pirelli tyres were definitely a big help to me: as a private driver, we were able to beat the factory teams by winning a stage, which was a very big satisfaction. Now I hope we can improve even more in the future.”
Pirelli senior tyre engineer Matteo Braga said: “Having two different private drivers set fastest stage times in Sweden was a significant achievement: it really shows how our tyres can help to make a difference. Congratulations to Yuriy, Martin and also to Robert, who should have taken a points finish here as well after a great drive. We’re pleased with the performance and behaviour of the Sottozero Ice tyre in Sweden, which was a useful step from last year. And thanks to a strong performance in the WRC2 class as well, it’s clear that these tyres are well adapted to every different type of machinery.”
The next round of the World Rally Championship is Rally Mexico, held in Leon from 5-8 March. This will mark the first appearance of Pirelli’s latest Scorpion gravel tyres this year.