Motorsport is tough on tyres, much tougher than road driving, so, what lessons can be learned from the racetrack?

We’ve recently given away $500 worth of tyres to one lucky winner.  All you had to do was write in with your tyre experiences, and our team has picked the one we felt had the best lesson for others.  But we’ve published most of the entries because there’s something in there for everyone.

MOTORSPORT IS MUCH harsher environment for cars than normal road driving.  Because of this many lessons can be learned, but equally, many techniques applicable to the track and track cars are overkill or even dangerous for roadcars.  Brakes, for example – race brakes are terrible when cold and only operate well when hot, whereas roadcar brakes need to operate effectively when cold.
Tyres are different too, yet there’s valuable lessons to be learned like these two:

My story is an embarrassing one, but one of inexperience and trust in others who also had no clue what they were doing. Tyre pressures and tyre temperatures. While temperatures aren’t so crucial to the average road user on road tyres, if you take that same driver with the same tyres to a racetrack the temperature and its effect on tyre pressures becomes quickly apparent. The general consensus is that more pressure in a road tyre is a good idea for track work (to limit sidewall flex.) Not knowing what pressure to put in, and on the advice of the track newbie next to me I started inflating, more is better, so much more must be even better, right?

It doesn’t take an expert to work out what happens next. The tyres got hot. After all, I was driving a heavy, long wheelbase RWD car with a decent amount of power which begged to go sideways at the slightest invitation. The pressures increased, too much, oversteer ensued at speeds I wasn’t prepared for. I lost control, the tyres hit the ripple strip sideways, wrenching them off the bead on one side of the car, getting the car airborne, tense fractions of a second staring at the sky before coming to a stop (window open) with a car full of grass and dirt. It wasn’t until I restarted the car and tried to drive back onto the circuit that I realised something wasn’t right. My tyres were literally wedged between the inner body of the wheel arch and half way on the rims. A decent effort. Apparently it looked spectacular, I was very close to rolling the car had it not dug into the ground when it landed. Unfortunately no video footage exists, but the memory remains. You don’t forget nearly writing the car, and yourself off through one simple mistake. What I took away from the experience? Minor damage to the car, having to sit out the entire day and wait until it ended until specialist retrieval equipment could lift my car that had sunken into the soft ground and the humiliation of driving home on two mismatched space saver wheels. But the real lesson that I took away – take advice from experts, not just a guy who read it somewhere on the Internet. 

PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS: For track work road tyres should be inflated above the norm not only to reduce sidewall flex but also because they will heat up less because there’s less deformation of the tyre.  Heat is the major enemy of tyre life.  Race or track tyres are designed to absorb heat and have stiff sidewalls, so they’re actually run at low pressures to let some heat get into the tyre so they start to work.  Road tyres need to work from cold, so don’t handle heat well.
The reason for loss of control may not have been because the tyres were too hot, but because they were over-inflated which leads to a very bouncy ride and loss of grip as the width of the tyre isn’t in contact with the ground.  
So my husband and his team were testing out the strongest racing-grade brake they recently designed on a track. However, the brake was way too efficient, and the car was skidding a lot. Big boss thought it was a good idea to turn off ABS, and of course, it just made the skidding worse. Towards the end of the test, the test driver came over and asked them to check the weird noise the car was making. After couple minutes of driving and testing, they realised that all the braking tests actually wore some parts of the tyres absolutely flat – and they looked like one of those cartoon flat tyres.
Moral of the story? Use good tyres, regardless of whether you are on the road or track. Also, don’t turn the ABS off (unless the big boss says so).
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS:  Match your brakes to your tyres.   There’s no point having super-strong brakes which you can’t fully use because they lock the wheels easily.  On the other hand, if you fit gripper rubber you won’t get all the benefit under brakes as you won’t be able to use all the grip of the tyres, or at least not for more than a few corners.  Cars are complicated, interlinked systems.  You change one part, and it forces another change somewhere else if you want the job done right.  If you’re just into looks…well anything goes then.
Tyres, where to begin, we all think they are a grudge purchase, why should I pay X when I can get cheaper tyres from Joe Blogs down the road for Y.

Tyres are the most misunderstood part of any vehicle, sure we have people that are not mechanics and would not even dream of opening the bonnet to check the oil or water or heaven forbid what else is under that plastic cover. Tyres on the other hand, we cannot avoid looking at. They are at every corner of the vehicle after all. However, checking tyre pressures and visually inspecting the tyres for any sign of damage, seems to also fall intothe realm of ‘let’s not go there’. If it looks like it has air in it and it looks reasonably round, then it’s ‘good to go’ seems to be the attitude of most motorists.

However, if you mention actual money and dollars that are being wasted unnecessarily, by driving around on under inflated tyres then people suddenly start to pay attention. Now we can address the aspect of unsafe handling and braking and we still have their attention.

Now lets talk about checking those pressures again, this time with a little practical demonstration. It does after all, only take a few seconds per tyre. Oh and don’t forget to check the spare whilst you are at it.

Wow, have we progressed, now we can talk about buying the right tyres fro your vehicle. Oh how I love this job. Education not legislation. That is the key to a safer driver.

Best regards,

The Xdrive Team

PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS:  Good advice here from the professionals!  It is amazing how people will drive around to find a few cents off per litre at the bowser, but not regularly check tyre pressures which not only save money on fuel, but also tyre wear, safety and handling.

Got any more tyre questions? Ask away!




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