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WRC drivers call for improved Pirelli rubber after Portugal punctures

Several World Rally Championship drivers have called for improvements to the control Pirelli tyres following a spate of punctures at Rally Portugal last weekend.

Tyre issues became a talking point after a particularly brutal Friday as the new-for-2022 Rally1 cars contested a gravel rally for the first time.

Pirelli debuted a new hard and soft gravel tyre at the event, which featured reinforced structures and a design optimised for the increased torque and the heavier Rally1 cars, which weigh in 70kg more than the previous generation.

Despite the upgraded rubber, several crews suffered instances of tyres coming off the rim or punctures as a result of the extreme rough stages during Friday.

Eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier and Hyundai’s Ott Tanak suffered punctures in Stages 6 and 7, which ended in the former retiring from the rally, having elected against carrying two spare wheels.

M-Sport’s Craig Breen also suffered a puncture during the second pass of Friday’s stages, while team-mates Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith were among those to encounter tyre problems.

The extreme conditions had surprised many of the drivers with the conditions exacerbated by a larger entry, compared to previous events, passing through the tests.

However, Ogier was among those critical of the integrity of the rubber suggesting that work is required to improve the tyres.

The 38-year-old said he had been driving cautiously and was surprised when his puncture alarm was triggered. It is also the second time the Frenchman has been hampered by a puncture after losing a likely win to one at Monte Carlo in January.

“For sure, so far two rallies and in Monte I lose the win because of that [a puncture] and in Portugal I was in the fight for the win and also exit because of that,” Ogier told Motorsport.com.

"I don’t think I need to say more. There is definitely some work to be done on that side.”

Greensmith picked up a puncture on the smoother super special stage that concluded Friday, before picking up further tyre issues on Sunday. This comes on top of five tyre failures at Rally Croatia last month when crews ran an older specification wet tarmac tyre.

Not all drivers agreed improvements to the tyres are required while Pirelli defended its rubber stating that the top four runners in Portugal had managed to avoid issues.

The Italian brand’s rally activity manager Terenzio Testoni admitted the conditions were rougher than expected and felt the amount of punctures was in line with what he expected.

“What I can say is we were on line with what happened on Friday before the rally started because the conditions were tricky,” Testoni told Motorsport.com.

“For sure, after 100 cars, which is a lot to compare to previous years, the damage of the road was quite a lot. There was a lot of stones and deep ruts and for sure it was not easy to have stones in the middle of the road.

“The drivers that have finished the rally the first four didn’t have any punctures so the driving style has an effect for then punctures. I’m happy with the performance of the tyre. I cannot think of a rally without punctures. The puncture has always been part of the story.

“For sure if we have less punctures it would be better for us but we cannot control the stage conditions. On Friday it was in a terrible condition.”