The Italian Rally Championship season gets underway once more this weekend on the all-asphalt Rally il Ciocco in Tuscany from 22-24 March. Pirelli is set to defend the title won by six-time champion Paolo Andreucci – but the Italian driver knows that neither he nor his Peugeot Italia team are likely to win the championship again this year, as they are switching category.

Peugeot is switching to the two-wheel drive 208 R2, until the new four-wheel drive 208 R5 model is introduced at the end of the year. As usual, Peugeot will be supplied by Pirelli this year, while the Italian firm will also equip the factory Skoda Italia team for the first time, which fields a Fabia S2000 for Italian driver Umberto Scandola.

Another championship frontrunner will be the privately-run Peugeot 207 S2000 of Alessandro Perico, with the former Sanremo Rally winner also using Pirelli tyres this season.

The Italian firm will bring the well-proven RX7 tyres for the Rally il Ciocco, which are designed to be particularly effective on slippery asphalt. The latest evolution of this pattern is the RX7A, designed to offer a little more durability and grip in the slippery conditions that are typical of the Rally il Ciocco. For damp conditions the softer RX9 tyre will be used, with a compound better suited to lower temperatures. If it rains, the soft-compound RE7 is available, with its unique tread pattern intended to disperse water and prevent aquaplaning without compromising roadholding.

Andreucci, who has won the Ciocco event six times, commented: “This year is a completely new focus for us, so rather than fighting for overall wins we are just aiming to demonstrate the capabilities of the 208 R2 together with its Pirelli tyres. I’m confident that we can do a very good job in matching the car to the tyres, so that Pirelli is the best choice for any drivers running the 208 R2. The latest evolution of the RX is really good: you feel better grip and more durability without losing the feeling of confidence that these tyres have always given.”

The Rally del Ciocco takes in slippery asphalt hill roads, with uncertain weather frequently making driving conditions hazardous. Rain, fog and even ice are often a feature of the Italian Championship opener.

Scandola, who is new to Pirelli this year, is aiming for overall victory in the championship. “I think it is possible and that is our plan,” said the young Italian. “During my first test with Pirelli I was very impressed with the tyres straight away. They are very driveable and easy to learn: you can use these tyres for the first time and you’re able to push from the beginning. Ciocco is a very difficult rally to start the championship and I know we will face some tough rivals, but I am feeling optimistic. We definitely have the equipment to do the job, both in terms of the car and the tyres.”

The Rally del Ciocco gets underway with a ceremonial start on Friday from Forte dei Marmi. On Saturday the proper action begins with the first of 16 stages that make up a competitive distance of 152.60 kilometres in total. The rally is scheduled to finish at 13:00 on Sunday.

Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery concluded: “The Italian Rally Championship has always been extremely important for Pirelli, and we’d particularly like to welcome Skoda Italia and Umberto Scandola into our family. With our multiple champion Paolo Andreucci stepping down a category at the start of the season, we’re set for another extremely competitive season. Paolo’s campaign underlines the fact that our tyres are equally well adapted for any class of car, and we’re very confident that he will put in some giant-killing performances this year.”

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For more information about Pirelli, please contact Anthony Peacock on +44 (0)7765 896 930 or anthony@mediatica.co.uk