The desire to go racing is different for each company. This weekend, Pirelli is supplying 13,000 tyres to the Total Spa 24 Hours along with a couple of thousand more for the support categories. Additionally, of course, it’s supplying the Formula 1 circus in Germany.
There are added complications for Pirelli this weekend with the ‘predictably unpredictable’ Spa weather forcing the Italian brand to ship in more wet tyres – much needed if monsoon-like conditions appear as predicted.
Matteo Braga, Pirelli’s racing technical manager, said this presents a headache for the teams and particularly the Am drivers, who may face conditions far different to what they experienced in practice – but the tyres should act predictably.
“We develop the range of tyres to be very flexible and adaptable to the various conditions. We use the same product worldwide,” Braga said.
“We have a team of about 16-18 trackside engineers. We cannot support everyone individually but we support everyone to the same level – from the amateurs to the pros. A technician will look after four or five cars and monitor where everyone is in terms of running conditions and optimisation of product.”
But the question of why to go GT racing in such a huge way is still there. There has been speculation in the past that the company’s F1 commitment is at the same level as running an F1 team, i.e. hundreds of millions spent.
As Braga explains, GT racing offers a lot to a brand like Pirelli. “They are two different vehicles of communication and two different vehicles to get in contact with the end user,” he told us.
“In GT, the contact with the end user is more direct. They’re our customer on the road – they have this passion and they find the direct connection with the GT3 car and the road-homologated car.”
The development of a product that filters down to the manufacturers is also key. Relationships are born on race tracks like this, which then lead to bigger corporate deals.
It’s a tactic that’s used widely in sport, deals are done in corporate hospitality, people are met and relationships are formed. It goes without saying that there’s a great deal of money floating around a sportscar paddock, with premium brands looking to tap into these customers.
It’s not by chance that the likes of Pirelli and Michelin dominate high-end OEM agreements.
“Here we are working with the same brands that we supply road-legal tyres for, it’s a very good connection.
“In motorsport, you have the chance to show your skills, to design a good product for racing you have the knowledge to design a product for a road-legal car. To show you can design a tyre that can work across different circuits in different conditions on the different brands, we are fitting 10-12 different brands in GT3 and more brands in GT4, it is a good way to compliment your tyre.”
For Pirelli, it’s that direct relationship and the closeness of the race to the road package that’s so valuable. The company has built a suite of data and the facilities to continuously develop tyres for new cars and to the wishes of series promoters.
Despite the tyre formula in GT racing favouring a control supplier, Braga was firm that continuous development is important. “If we have an agreement for five years, then take this [same tyre] for five years, we cannot do that.”