Custom cut rubber from the factory.
Tires tend to be the most overlooked performance component on a car. Your next door neighbor can put all the suspension and aero kit on their car they want, but it means nothing without a proper contact patch with the road. That also means that a chassis and engine can be the greatest an automaker has ever made, but if the tires aren’t up to par then all that work is undone. Automakers know this all too well, and when the lines between performance are so fine and the seconds really matter, they want to make sure their customers get the best possible tires for their new performance car. Typically, the tire-maker will tune an existing tire to complement the handling characteristics of the car. That should ensure the car is at its very best or, if you’re cynical, ensure the owner of that car will always be buying that brand's tires.
We're going to concentrate on Pirelli here. At the time of writing, the company is the sole supplier of tires for Formula 1 racing and the official tire company for the World Challenge Championships.
Pirelli is at the cutting edge of tire technology but actually dates back to 1873 as a company when Giovanni Battista Pirelli formed a limited partnership in Milan, Italy, to produce elastic rubber items. Pirelli first started making car tires in 1901 and its first victory in motorsport came in 1907 supplying the rubber for the car that won the Peking to Paris race that year. Since then, Pirelli has shod a lot of winning cars and teams in motorsport across the board. That currently includes supplying a lot of one-make series as well, including Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Ferrari Challenge, and Maserati Trofeo.
According to Pirelli, its partnership with McLaren "is the natural consequence of their extensive experience on the racetrack.” Which makes some sense, but all the big tire manufacturers have extensive experience on the racetrack. What is no joke though, is that the Senna is a cutting edge and track-focused hypercar that makes 789 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. McLaren also wants the Senna to be the fastest road legal track car on the planet, and for that, it needs some serious cutting edge rubber meeting the pavement. As a result, it rides on a bespoke version of the P Zero Trofeo R tires measuring 245/35 ZR19 at the front and 315/30 ZR20 at the rear.
It’s no surprise that Ferrari is on this list, and when the LaFerrari was designed it definitely needed tires outside the design parameters of your average bit of rubber. It’s examples like this that truly challenge Pirelli, as they had to come up with something that does everything a race tire does, but across a broader range of temperatures and while dealing well enough with water on the road not to be blamed for a billionaire crashing. The 265/30-19 front and 345/30-20 rear P Zero Corsa based tires are truly unique for the LaFerrari, particularly in the inner and outer shoulders of the tires and the cutting edge polymers used.
The Pagani Hyuara, like many high-end cars, runs a staggered wheel set up featuring 20-inch wheels on the front and 21-inch on the rear. Not only is the Hyuara BC one of the fastest cars in a straight line on the planet with its top speed of 238 mph, but it attacks corners with relish as well. The Pirelli tires were based on the P Zero Corsa line and the first in a new series from the company that could communicate with a smartphone app to monitor the tires for the owner.
Jaguar’s SVR prepped F-Type was light already before the carbon-fiber roof was added and the 5.0-liter supercharged V8 lays down a very serious and tire challenging 575 horsepower. A car like that needs some extra-special sauce in the contact patches, so Pirelli prepared a bespoke set of P Zero Corsa tires sized at 265/35 and the front and 305/30 in the rear to work in synch with the new suspension setup.
When Pirelli makes bespoke tires for a company, they denote it with an initial on the tire wall. In this case, it’s HN for Hyundai and the tires are for the first car to come from the brand’s high-performance N division. Hyundai has been growing in strength and reputation for some years now and building a performance hatchback to take on their entrenched competitors already in the hot hatch market is the logical next step. The i30 N sits on 19” wheels and a specification of Pirelli P Zero UHP (Ultra High Performance) tires no other car has. According to Pirelli, those tires have "been specially geared to the vehicle’s dynamic characteristics.”
BMW is taking advantage of bespoke Pirelli tires for the current M5. One of the priorities for development was to balance front and rear axles as closely as possible. One of the solutions was to have Pirelli create a P Zero tire with different layered constructions in the front and rear tire carcasses. BMW and Pirelli worked closely to develop and test the tires and the result is one of the best performing 5 Series BMWs yet, particularly once you get it to the track.
The 4C isn’t crazy powerful at 240 horsepower from a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, but it’s a purebred sports car with the engine mid-mounted on a carbon monocoque chassis. Those bespoke P Zero tires were good enough for Alfa Romeo to then use on the twin-turbo Quadrafolio sedan and coupe.
Only 36 250 GTO models were built between 1962 and 1965 and it has a unique tire size. One sold for a record $80 million in 2018 and, if you want to hear a rich people problem, Pirelli developed the original tires with measurement no other car has. Pirelli has been excellent about making tires for old cars though, and in this case, they went to work recently to remake those tires. The Pirelli Stelvio Corsa racing tire is built within the same parameters of the original to maintain the car’s character while using modern materials and construction techniques.
McLaren’s twin-turbo V8 masterpiece for the road is constructed using carbon-fiber and rides on a next-level adaptive suspension. That means the tires have to be on-form across a broad band of conditions the suspension is adapting to every 5 milliseconds. The P Zero Corsa tires needed to be quite special, so Pirelli went to work with McLaren to make sure 720S drivers would have to try particularly hard to fall off the road.
Bentley and Pirelli developed the 275/35 P Zero based tires to go on the Continental Supersport's 21-inch wheels and make sure that they worked well together with its advanced traction control system. Pirelli has been making tires for Bentley since the mid-1980, so it's no surprise that when the Bentley Continental Supersport claimed the Ice Speed Record, it was on Pirelli's outstanding Winter Sottozero Serie II tires.
Lamborghini has a long history with Pirelli going back to 1963 when Ferruccio Lamborghini chose to shoe the 350 GTV with Pirelli rubber. All Lamborghini models are equipped with Pirelli and the 640-horsepower V10 engined track focused Huracan Performante is no exception. It comes with made to measure P Zero Corsa tires and the option for a set of Trofeo R track tires certified for driving on public roads. The Aventador SVJ was also on a set of special Trofeo R tires when it stole the Nurburgring lap record from the Porsche's 911 GT2 RS.