We Speed-Test the Next-Generation Pirelli P Zero Tires
Pirelli and speed go hand-in-hand. Just look at the tire-maker’s CV. They are the exclusive supplier to Formula 1 as well as the Superbike world championship and numerous single-marque racing series the world over. Pirelli has been around since 1872, and they’ve been racing since 1907. After 109 years of successful competition in motorsport, the firm is introducing its newest high-performance product: the next-generation Pirelli P Zero tire.
The P Zero began life in 1986 mounted on the legendary Lancia Delta S4 in World Rally Championship racing, but it was developed from four years of research and development in Formula 1. A year later, the first road-going Pirelli P Zero was mounted to the indelible Ferrari F40. In an era when high-performance tires of the time were V speed-rated (149 mph), the original P Zero was one of the first to market with a Z speed rating (149+ mph).
Since then, Pirelli’s halo tire has seen more than 1,000 homologations on some of the world’s finest cars. With the new iteration, this high-performance tire is showing zero signs of slowing down as it moves forward into its thirties.
Pirelli is now offering the P Zero in three varieties: P Zero for luxury sedans, P Zero for sports cars, and the P Zero Corsa: a very racy, yet still street-legal performance tire. Within those varieties, there are myriad flavors Pirelli crafts specifically for OEM applications, so the set of P Zeros you get on your Lamborghini Huracán will exhibit different personality traits than the set of P Zeros on your Audi R8 V10 plus.
I mention the Lamborghini and Audi because while the Huracán and R8 are built off the same platform, put them in the same room, and it’s like an Italian winemaker attempting to find common ground with a German engineer. The Huracán assaults apexes like a chisel on a wood carving. The R8 is an all-wheel-drive supercar scalpel, but drive it like a hooligan, and suddenly Dieter wants to swing his booty as though he were four steins deep at Oktoberfest. These two cars may be related, but their chassis tuning is different. Consequently, the P Zeros fitted to the Huracán and R8 were respectively engineered to bring the best out of each car’s nuances. Think of a supercar’s personality like a tailored premium suit. If you’re finishing off your expensive ensemble with tennis shoes, you may as well be wearing sweat pants and flashing plumber’s crack while shopping for TV dinners at Walmart. The same goes for premium cars. Hundreds of thousands of hours of chassis tuning can vanish in one moment if the wrong tires are fitted.
Happily, the P Zero Corsas are the right tires on the new Audi R8, for instance. The Corsas are Pirelli’s most aggressive street tire, but because they were engineered specifically for Audi’s supercar, they are actually forgiving. I was amazed at the acrobatic driving I was able to achieve with this supercar and tire combo at one of Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s road courses. I lack formal drift training, but the Audi R8 with P Zeros is so forgiving, I was able to drift out of one corner and seamlessly transition into the next corner as though I was some sort of racing driver. During Pirelli’s P Zero media launch I also got to drive a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT, a Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4, and the aforementioned Lamborghini Huracán as well as a GT3-spec Huracán race car. I even got to drive a Tesla Model S on the “P Zero for luxury sedans” tires, but none of the cars was as forgiving as the Audi R8 V10 plus on P Zero Corsas. Any manufacturer can produce a grippy tire, but Pirelli has engineered approachability into its ultra-high-performance tires, and what’s ultra-high-performance if you’re unable to approach it?
As much fun as I had driving exotic cars with Pirelli and Dream Racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I would have loved to compare the new P Zero with other tires from competing manufacturers, but there was no time for that. Once we were finished with our track time on all three varieties of P Zero, we were ushered into helicopters that flew us to Boulder City Airport in order to take part in gathering media while riding in the co-pilot’s chair of a Pirelli-sponsored Marchetti S-211 jet. Why? Well, like I wrote in the beginning, Pirelli and speed go hand-in-hand. Leave it to Pirelli to extravagantly make its point in associating speed with its brand.
The Marchetti S-211 is basically a fighter jet without bombs and missiles strapped to it. The Italian Air Force uses the S-211 to infuse acrobatic acumen into its fighter pilots. Spending 30 minutes in the Marchetti while snapping photos for this story, I can tell you I was infused with a fair share of g force—5 gs to be exact. According to my pilot, it was the greatest amount of gs sustained that day for any media co-pilot. I felt proud about that, especially having gotten through the experience without blacking out or vomiting, but a few minutes after de-planing I learned someone the day before sustained 6 gs. I suppose you can’t win ’em all.
But you can come close to winning them all with a set of Pirelli P Zeros on your car. In my time with these tires, I was pleased by how adept they were for everyday comfort and all-out performance, especially approachable performance. While I haven’t compared the new P Zeros to their competition, Tire Rack has with the P Zero All Season Plus and the P Zero for sports cars. They have yet to comparison-test the P Zero Corsa. If you look at their testing you’ll see the P Zero for sports cars comes up a hair short overall against its number-one competitor, the Michelin Pilot Super Sport. The all-season P Zero, however, gets a best-in-class overall rating. Regardless of the overall ratings, the most important thing to consider is what you’re looking for in a tire, and then purchase from the brand that excels the most within the characteristics you value.
Now, if you happen to own a new Audi R8, from personal experience I recommend you keep the factory-fitted P Zeros on your car. The new R8 is the best car I’ve driven this year, and I think a good chunk of that experience can be blamed on the Pirellis.
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