All tires are round and black, but occasionally one rises from anonymity to become a rock star. Pirelli’s superstar is the P Zero. Like Mick Jagger, this tire has been a memorable performer for ages. To celebrate its 30th birthday, the world’s fifth-largest tire maker recently began fitting supercars such asFerrari’s F12tdf with the latest generation of P Zero tire.
To showcase its star, Pirelli hosted more than 100 journalists and five additional waves of swell folks at a party in Portugal dubbed “302.” With the aid of shrieking supercars, highly choreographed dancers, and an Oscar-worthy industrial video, Pirelli announced the significance of the 302 name: a 30-year life span and ‘2’ times the horsepower delivered by today’s supercars compared with the first model to be fitted with P Zeros. For good measure, the number 3 has another meaning: This new tire now serves three distinct applications—high-performance sedans, super sports cars, and dedicated track cars.
Versus the tire it supersedes, the new P Zero brings five technical strides to the party:
- An unusually rigid rubber compound transferred directly from Pirelli’s Formula 1 tires gives the P Zero a stiffer bead area for improved steering response.
- Additional tread pattern grooves and channels that are both deeper and wider deliver a 10-percent improvement in this tire’s ability to flush water out of the contact patch. Reducing the chance of aquaplaning yields safer and more stable wet braking.
- A greater emphasis on making sure the tire footprint is perfectly flat helps the tread area wear evenly while also improving wet and dry braking. Asked exactly how this was achieved, a Pirelli engineer listed three priorities: the profile used to mold the tread, making sure that belt cords are perfectly oriented at zero degrees, and using a rim width and bead-seat shape that position the tread square with the pavement.
- Using additional silica in the tread, lighter construction materials, and improved molding techniques have cut rolling resistance by 15 percent.
- Tread grooves spaced in a random pattern reduce the sound generated as the tire moves through the air and spreads that disruption over a broad range of frequencies, significantly reducing cabin noise.
In addition technical changes applicable to all P Zeros, Pirelli engineered three optional features that can be used selectively to suit car manufacturers’ needs:
- A Pirelli Noise Cancellation System, which consists of a layer of polyurethane foam placed inside the tire carcass that interrupts the transmission of ruckus from the road through the chassis to the interior. In some instances, cabin noise has been cut in half with this feature, says Pirelli.
- Configuring the tire sidewalls to be self-supporting without inflation pressure enables 50 miles of driving with a flat at speeds up to 50 mph.
- Adding sealant inside the carcass prevents loss of inflation pressure when the tread is pierced by a foreign object. This Seal Inside material is covered by a film so it’s not disturbed during normal tire-mounting procedures.
Hot laps around Estoril’s grand prix course and sightseeing trips on entertaining back roads west of Lisbon provided a few opportunities to gather some P Zero initial impressions. Keeping up with pro drivers tracking the ideal line around tight corners revealed that even supercars such as the Mercedes-AMG GT are not exempt from occasional bouts of grinding understeer. When these tires were hammered with the full fury of a Lamborghini Huracán’s potent V-10, they took their tail slides in stride, responding smartly to appropriate throttle and steering-wheel course corrections. Through the mountain passes, a Tesla Model S shod with P Zeros was a model of exemplary behavior with no tread noise or ride rudeness denting its poise.
During the past three decades, Pirelli has collaborated with carmakers on more than 1000 P Zero applications. Half of the world’s high-performance models currently fit this tire. The new P Zero’s expanded versatility—deeper shoulder grooves for sports sedans, minimal tread sculpture for sports cars, and nearly slick treads for track use—should give this tire all the traction it will need to maintain its status as the tire world’s rock star.
P ZERO LINEAGE
1986: Moving beyond its success with the P7, the first low-profile performance radial, Pirelli engineers tapped their Formula 1 experience to supply tires for the fierce Lancia Delta S4 Group B rally car which had a bad habit of spitting chunks of tread rubber from all four corners. The solution was the first P Zero with a name drawn at random to describe a competition tire for the 1986 season with one of the first asymmetric tread designs: sculpted blocks for wet traction, an intermediate center section, and a band of slick rubber for dry-pavement adhesion.
1987: The first P Zero for road came fitted to Ferrari’s legendary F40. Asymmetric tread designs for wet and dry traction were drawn directly from the previous season’s rally experience. New features were a Z speed rating to support the F40’s 199-mph maximum velocity, staggered section widths with 35 and 40 aspect ratios, and 17-inch rim diameters. In our F40 introductory story, we noted that Indy race tires of the day were only one inch wider.
1988–1992: When the Lamborghini Diablo fought the Ferrari 512 for supercar supremacy, Pirelli’s P Zero was the common thread between the two rivals. Adding one or two inches to the rim diameter provided additional room for brake and shock absorber components. By 1992, Ferrari had spread P Zeros throughout its range.
1994: A new P Zero System brought distinct tread designs for front and rear tires. Aspect ratios ranging from 30 to 55 and rim diameters ranging from 15 to 20 inches expanded the P Zero portfolio.
2000–2002: Computer-aided design tools brought a new P Zero Rosso combining red sidewall marking, distinct front and rear tread designs, and a mix of tread bands aimed at improved wet and dry traction. Scorpion Zero, P Zero Nero, and P Zero Collection names were coined to distinguish various versions within this growing family of performance radials.
2003: Pirelli launched the Corsa System for the Ferrari Challenge Stradale, drawing on a decade of experience serving Ferrari Challenge and Pirelli Trophy Championship racing. The P Zero family now consisted of five distinct designs.
2007: New nano technologies and rubber compounds brought the Nuovo P Zero with notably improved handling and braking in both wet and dry conditions. Tread life and acoustic characteristics were simultaneously improved.
2010: Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Pagani, Porsche, and Maserati all adopted P Zero Corsa designs to provide customers with one tire suitable for both road and track use. A new P Zero Trofeo specification shifted the emphasis toward track lapping.
2011 to present: After a 20-year absence, Pirelli returned to Formula 1 competition as the exclusive tire supplier. Six different color codes distinguish four levels of dry traction and two different wet pavement designs. How competitors exploit these compound and tread-design options can determine the race’s finish.
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2015: ChemChina purchased a two-thirds share of Pirelli for approximately $8 billion. This new partner should be an excellent source for the resources and global market leverage Pirelli will need to maintain its position at the top of the prestige tire market.