5 Questions With... Pirelli R&D Chief Salvo Pennisi

By Ari Henning, Photography by Ari Henning

INTERVIEW: Ari Henning

Q: How did you get started at Pirelli?
A: In 1984, I was a journalist with Moto Tecnica in Italy. Pirelli offered me a job to head their testing department, and I took it!

Q: What does homologating a tire entail?
A: One set of homologation standards is compiled by an international organization and focuses on safety; the other is set by the individual [motorcycle] manufacturers and involves tire behavior and characteristics. For safety the primary focus is testing the tire’s load and speed capabilities, as well as wear, noise, etc., in a laboratory. Then, the tire must be homologated to the manufacturer’s standards, which includes its behavior when new, very worn, under load, etc. This is done outdoors on the road and track.

Q: Pirelli has been the “spec” tire for World Superbike for eight years. Why not MotoGP?
A: We believe that racing is a critical part of the research and development process, and MotoGP tires are so different from street tires that we wouldn’t realize any useful exchange of information. The tires we develop for Superbike racing are very close to the street tires you can buy.

Q: What has been the most important development in tire technology in recent years?
A: I’d say it was the zero-degree belt, which Pirelli introduced in ’92. At the end of the ’80s, there was a revolution in motorcycle construction. Frames evolved from heavy and flexible steel-tube construction to very light and rigid aluminum, and with the bias-ply tires of the time there were extreme handling difficulties. The zero-degree belt had much better stability and handling.

Q: What’s next for Pirelli?
A: Safety. With anti-lock brakes, traction control and such, we are focused on developing tires that work with these technologies.

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