Technology From the Track

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Sharing tire technologies across departments has helped tire manufacturers develop the advanced tires we have today.

As the entire automotive industry has evolved over the years, the role played by tires has significantly changed too. Today’s tires are designed to not only bring out the best in the vehicles they are fitted to, but also to efficiently handle the road conditions they are intended for.

Global tire manufacturers undertake painstaking research and development initiatives to create these technologically- advanced tires for the best driving experience. A commonly noticed initiative is the way tire development takes place on the track.

“Globally, we have affiliations with DTM, Formula European Masters, 24H GT Series, Supercar Challenge, and the British F4. Local offices partner with difference races, and in Canada we’ve partnered with the LexusSPORT Cup Ice Racing Series,” notes Hyuk Rhee, President and CEO, Hankook Tire Canada Corporation.

Similarly, Bridgestone is involved with the NTT Indycar Series, while Pirelli is affiliated with more than 220 car championships all over the world, including Formula 1 (F1). Goodyear can trace its racing history back to 1901. The company has been involved in almost every form of motorsports over the years, including NASCAR, F1, IndyCar, drag racing, high end prototypes, very small formula classes and dirt racing, among others.

Benefits of motorsports partnerships

Tire manufacturers generally associate themselves with motorsports both for research and development as well as for marketing reasons, according to Mario Isola, Pirelli Head of F1 and Car Racing. “On the research and development side, motorsport tests extremes of performance as well as future technologies. On the marketing side, motorsport clearly has a glamorous image associated with the world’s most prominent prestige and premium manufacturers, so there is a strong synergy with Pirelli’s brand values,” he explains.

Reiterating this point, Rhee notes that motorsports is where all of the vehicular parts are tested in the most extreme manner. “In races, all parts of the car are important, but because the tires are the first point of contact for the driver with the road, we want to supply tires that will Technology From the Track allow the drivers to showcase their best driving performance,” he says.

According to Greg Stucker, Director, Race Tire Sales at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, the race tire department becomes the training ground to teach people how to work, how to succeed, how to win. “Engineers in the racing division go to the track, talk to the teams and gain information firsthand. They learn how to operate in the very fast-paced, demanding environment. After they move somewhere else within the company, they take the same sort of discipline to their new position,” he explains.

Fundamentally different

The tires used in motorsports are fundamentally different from their passenger car counterparts. “It depends on the type of racing tires—single seater tires are quite different from GT tires, which are quite different from rally tires. Generally speaking, the tires for competition have more extreme performance than road tires and are also stronger than their road-going equivalents to cope with the increased loads they face. Often, they run at higher temperatures using more sophisticated materials and production processes,” explains Isola. Stucker notes, that since race tires are used in track conditions, they do not need to have any pattern. They are larger, taller and wider than road tires and do not need to combat gravel, water, ice or snow. Stucker adds that race tires are designed to navigate shorter distances, usually until a full fuel pit stop. Whereas a passenger tire is expected to run for more than 100,000 km.

The other major difference, Isola finds, is in the development times. While a new passenger car tire may be created over a period of two to three years, the development time for race tires are greatly accelerated and may be launched in less than a year.

Sharing is the key

Tire manufacturers today are able to take their experience from the track and apply them to the passenger tires through effective technology sharing. “Technology from the race track transitions first into higher performance tire lines, such as the Bridgestone Potenza line, and the Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 tire line,” says Cara Adams, Director, Race Tire Engineering and Manufacturing, Chief Engineer, Motorsports at Bridgestone Americas. The consistent challenge for both race tires and passenger tires, she says, is to develop tires for both wet and dry grip conditions, coupled with better wear life.

“In addition to technology transfer, the engineers who design the Firestone Firehawk tires used in the Indycar series work hand-in-hand with the tire engineers that develop the technology for the road tires. There is a lot that we learn about the structural material that go into racing that has been able to help some of our new technologies for our high-performance tires,” she explains.

At Pirelli, says Isola, the data captured by the extremes of performance on track is measured and the information is used to improve the product on the road. New techniques and materials are also tested. “It’s also an opportunity to work closely with manufacturers on future technologies,” he says.

From the track to the road

As an example of technology sharing, Adams says that when Bridgestone’s race tire engineers had to develop the new Firestone Firehawk tire, they worked hand-in-hand with their passenger tire groups to develop a new method for designing water flow for a rain tire. This technology was tested and proven on the track. Bridgestone is currently working on integrating it in some of its passenger tires and it may be seen in them in a few years. “Our new rain tires, which were introduced last year, have an asymmetric directional design that uses some of our new technology,” says Adams.

At Goodyear, the company’s NASCAR tires have an RFID tag—Radio Frequency Identification tag that’s embedded in their lower sidewalls. With this, the tires can be tracked for life. “We developed that technology into a very workable, and very accurate, very quick solution with regard to inventory and tracking from a tire perspective. And then passed along those technologies to other parts of the company. And now it’s being migrated into commercial truck tires and consumer tires,” says Stucker. “We took a developing technology and basically industrialized the process so that we could migrate that to other parts of the company. It is just a matter of time before this technology will become an integral part of consumer tires.”

However, not all tire technologies are tested on the track first. “If it is about pushing the ground boundaries of grip, wear and durability, it is tested first in racing before it makes it into a passenger tire or a passenger tire component. But there are a lot of new technologies that go straight into passenger tires. Additionally, often there are great technological advancements in road tires that we actually put into our racing tires,” concludes Adams.

Categories : Tires


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