As Pirelli’s racing manager, Matteo Braga is central to the Italian supplier’s crucial role in keeping the wheels turning on GT race cars competing in all corners of the world.
In this latest Paddock Pass Q&A, Braga explains Pirelli’s approach to the 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge powered by AWS season, how the company has evolved through the COVID-19 pandemic and what future tire development options might be on the table.
Pirelli introduced the new P Zero DHE slick tire for GT3 competition last year. What has been Pirelli’s approach to the 2021 season?
“Honestly compared to 2020 it’s not a big change, because the 2020 season has been so short and concentrated.
“We made a big change moving from 2019 to 2020, so all the teams lost the first part of the season to learn about the new GT3 product and new regulations.
“We thought that introducing something new for 2021 was too much, because maybe some of them would get lost with so many changes in a short time. So we decided to keep stability.
“Considering the fact that we are running a regular season, therefore with regular weather conditions, it will be different from last year. Because last year we were merely running all the races in the autumn and winter, so it was quite cold and wet.
“It’s a new challenge for teams because they are going to use the new products in different weather compared to last year.”
Does Pirelli foresee any updates to the DHE tire that is used globally in Fanatec GT World Challenge powered by AWS?
“There are some small updates mainly on the wet tire that we are working on.
“If we are ready and if we can catch the time during the season, maybe we are going to implement it.
“Obviously we are always developing both slicks and wets during the year. When we see that there is a need for change in the series, we are ready.
“We always try to introduce something new: we don’t want to continue to change the product every six months, otherwise the economical balance of the series will collapse.
“But when we see that it is the time, we always try to do something new because we have to follow the evolution of the cars and teams.
“We can see this year that the grid is very strong, probably even more than last year. Needs of the teams and drivers can always be different year from year, so we are always trying. For 2021 probably the only change that we can do is on the wets.”
What sort of update on the wet tires are you looking to implement?
“In a specific case, it’s just because the evolution of the slicks has been quicker than the wets.
“Today we have a slick product where the gap to the wet is a bit wider than what it was four or five years ago.
“What we want to do is just close that gap without changing the behavior of the tire too much. It’s just to make it easier on the teams to switch from dry setup to wet setup.”
How have Pirelli’s racing activities been influenced by the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic?
“I would say that the big effort has been done last year. Honestly, last year was just a big question mark for everybody, as soon as they started to lock down different countries.
“Nobody knew where we were going and we decided to follow a strategy that was to empower our local Pirellis. We invested in having local hubs for distribution of the products, and also local engineers, local motorsport departments.
“Last year we were quite autonomous in the US, South America, Canada, Europe and Asia. [GTWC] Asia then didn’t start, but at the end we were running activities in Japan.
“In Australia, they are starting with a new GT World Challenge series. We have our local team with motorsport facilities that are managing it locally.
“I think probably something that we gained with the COVID situation is that we developed our local teams. Today we are able to have people that are well-trained and are ready to support series at the level of GT World Challenge anywhere in the world.
“That is something good that we take from the COVID situation.
“In terms of logistics, last year has not been easy because we had to create quite a big stock before lockdowns. When you have a big stock, you have a big cost at the end.
“But it was good because as soon as we restarted, we were able to restart without any issue in any part of the world. Today I don’t want to say that we are back to normality but following that approach we are able to manage everywhere.”
Pirelli also supplies SRO Motorsports Group’s GT2 formula. What is the company’s role in the launch of the new Fanatec GT2 European Series?
“We did the development in 2019 because we had to be ready in 2020.
“We were just basing our development on our expectations and SRO’s expectations, without having some customers competing.
“Now the challenge will be to understand if our targets match the expectations of the customers, and in case to adapt for the following season.
“The races are 50 minutes, there are driver changes. They race at specific venues and maybe next year will be different. It’s an evolution and we want to evolve with the customers, to try to make the series successful.”
Looking further ahead, what future GT racing tire developments are being looked into?
“I’m not the person to speak about sustainability, but there are a few topics that we are trying to implement in our products, in order to follow the guidelines.
“I don’t know if we will be ready for 2022, but I think that a lot of actors are pushing in that direction. That might be that some materials might be changed.
“From a complete design point of view, it depends on what the market is asking.
“If they are asking for a new product, we would be ready in 2022 with a new product. If the market asks for stability because of budgets, we can keep stability.
“We always try to follow what is the requirement of SRO, to keep the series attractive and not to put a barrier up for the customers to come in because costs are too high.”