Sebastien Loeb has given Pirelli's re-designed Sottozero 'ice' tyre top marks following Rally Norway at the weekend, the only all-snow event in the 2009 World Rally Championship.

Until this year, all spiked snow tyres for the WRC's winter rallies used to be of a special narrow size, designed to bite through soft snow to the harder surfaces underneath.

This year though, Pirelli's tungsten-tipped Sottozero winter tyres, which contain 384 studs on each cover, have been designed to fit on standard 15-inch gravel wheel rims, as part of the FIA's cost-cutting drive.

Despite the change though and despite being used on surfaces over the three-days in Hamar too slippery for most people to stand up on, Loeb felt they performed perfectly in the demanding conditions.

Indeed none of the front-running crews reporting problems with stud-loss or punctures.

"These were classic winter conditions and we had very good grip from the Pirelli Sottozeros," Loeb said after beating Mikko Hirvonen to claim the 'gold medal'. "Sometimes, when you could see the ice, it was hard to believe just how much grip there was from the tyres."

Pirelli rally manager Mario Isola meanwhile was very happy to see the new tyres come through their first event with flying colours.

"We're delighted that our new snow tyre has made such a competitive and problem-free debut in these extremely wintry conditions, where temperatures were sometimes close to minus 30 degrees Celsius," he continued.

"Although this tyre is of a different design to our asphalt and gravel rally tyres, it is still closely related to Pirelli's road car products, underlining the fact that motorsport provides us with the ultimate research and development tool for our high-performance and all-weather road tyres."

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