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Pirelli: First Race with New DHF Tire Produced “Good Feedback”

Pirelli racing manager reflects on first event with new DHF tire in GT3 competition…

Photo: Jules Benichou/21 Creation

Pirelli received “good feedback” from the first Fanatec GT World Challenge powered by AWS race with its new P Zero DHF tire, according to the Italian supplier’s racing manager.

Matteo Braga told Sportscar365 that Pirelli noticed a “clear improvement” in lap times over the previous-generation DHE tire and found no issues with degradation over a stint during the GTWC Europe Endurance Cup season-opener at Imola on April 3.

The fastest race lap set by Nicki Thiim was a shade over two seconds quicker than the fastest lap from the last GTWC Europe race at the Italian circuit in 2020, set on DHEs.

Imola marked the introduction of the P Zero DHF across three different platforms, with GT4 and GT2 cars also using the newly-developed compound for the first time as Pirelli aligns its GT racing products under the same ‘family’.

“Conditions in Imola were variable,” Braga explained.

“All the GT3 sessions were ultimately run in dry conditions and we’ve been able to appreciate a clear improvement in lap times both in qualifying and the race.

“Degradation has never been an issue on the long-distance; restarts after safety cars were a bit more tricky for those running too close to the lower limit of the operating window.

“In general [there was] very good feedback from drivers and we saw all manufacturers were able to be part of the fight for top positions.”

Braga acknowledged that while the Imola outcomes were encouraging, it should take further races for the GTWC Europe teams to become fully acquainted with the new tire.

He suggested that the amount of adaptation teams need to make will depend on their own approaches and the unique characteristics of the different GT3 cars.

“As usual, we have seen that teams in the past were able to find the performance in a window that we recommend to work,” Braga said.

“They are able to adapt to the new product quite fast. To find the ultimate performance will probably take a few races, because everybody has to learn.

“We see the teams that used to work maybe outside of our window, because they found a way to optimize the performance, then have to recalibrate everything and spend more time on it.”

One of the talking points at Imola was the challenge some teams faced in warming the tire up to its optimal temperature, particularly after being cooled down under a safety car.

This problem is understood to have been event-specific, with the low April temperatures in northern Italy producing difficult conditions for some of the cars.

Warmer temperatures during daytime summer races are expected to alleviate the problem at those events.

“The potential is higher, but the warm-up procedure is more sensitive to temperature,” Lamborghini factory driver Mirko Bortolotti said of the new tire.

“Everything got shifted a little bit downwards. When it gets hotter everything should improve, but in cold conditions we struggle a bit more.”

Mercedes-AMG factory driver Jules Gounon added: “The compound is much stiffer. We need to understand how to switch them on a bit earlier.

“It’s something we’re going to have to test because on our other program, in ADAC GT Masters it is cold tires [with no warming equipment]. This will be very difficult.”

Responding to the issue of achieving the peak tire temperature at Imola, Braga said: “DHF has a better performance when in the operating window that for some teams didn’t match with their running parameters.

“Within the same brands, we noticed teams adapting quicker than others to the conditions and being able to get the best performance out of the tire at every time.”

Despite some of the temperature-specific challenges, drivers and teams at Imola generally found the DHF to be an improvement on the DHE. 

Team WRT sporting director Kurt Mollekens described the DHF as “stronger” than its predecessor, particularly on the GT3-spec Audi R8’s front axle.

“It’s got better mid-corner and mid-to-exit grip,” he told Sportscar365.

“We have more front grip in those phases of the corner. Obviously it doesn’t play that much on the braking, but turn-in and mid-to-exit is strong.

“It’s not bad for us, but it suits the Mercedes even more. It is naturally understeery whereas ours is normally quite balanced. We had to adapt the car quite a bit to the added front grip, I would say.”

JP Motorsport McLaren driver Christian Klien was also satisfied with the new product and noted how it can be considered an upgrade both for professionals and amateurs.

“I like them, they’re better,” he summarized. “They offer you a little bit more grip, especially on a new tire. You can get a bit more out of the tire.

“It seems, for an amateur driver, easier to drive. Basically they allow you more combined grip than on the other one.

“If you were laterally loading [the DHE] they gave up quite quickly, and for an amateur that was often quite tricky to find the limit of the car.

“So I think overall it’s an easier tire to handle for amateur drivers. But it still has good performance, so you can squeeze it out as a Pro driver.”

Pirelli Mapping DHF’s Global Rollout

The Pirelli P Zero DHF is making its U.S debut at Sonoma this weekend, for the GTWC America and Pirelli GT4 America season-openers and round two of GT America.

Extensive testing of the DHF took place last year, while deliveries to European teams were made in early February to facilitate pre-season data gathering.

The tire has been available to American teams since early March, giving participants some time to practice before the Sonoma meeting.

Braga confirmed that the opening round of the GT America series at St. Petersburg used the old DHE compound, while the DHF is now ready to arrive in competition since SRO America has finalized its starting Balance of Performance for the season.

In GTWC Asia, Pirelli is considering a delayed introduction after the Sepang season-opener in May. Round two takes place at Suzuka in July and begins a stretch of four consecutive Japanese races.

“It is a question mark for Sepang,” Braga admitted.

“With the situation that we have in Asia, that things can change last minute, we have to think about how to distribute the stock in Asia: not to be too risky where maybe our stock is blocked somewhere.

“We are probably thinking about doing Sepang on the DHE and starting from Japan.

“It is always about finding the balance to give the same opportunities to everyone, and not to risk losing some stock.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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