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Motorsports: a laboratory for road tyres

Manufacturers Published the 23/04/2014 by Harry

For a tyre manufacturer, motorsports are an extraordinary communication tool. It is also a good way of conducting experiments and developing a large number of technologies that will find their way to series production tyres.

A Porsche driving round the track Motorsports: a laboratory for race-to-tyre performance - Copyright © : Michelin

Good for the image…

For tyre manufacturers that want to promote their image with the general public and consumers, the best possible marketing plan is a commitment to motorsports. Providing the manufacturer works seriously and race results are good, it is a rock solid argument to demonstrate the efficiency and performance of a brand’s tyres. This is not only true for high performance tyres for sports cars, products designed for a more traditional vocation also benefit from the resulting good image. When a manufacturer sells millions of tyres worldwide, it is better to be a tyre champion that has proved its worth in competitions. In any case, whether it is MichelinPirelli, Dunlop, Goodyear, Continental or Bridgestone, most major groups are involved in motorsports at different levels. And each time, the brands’ communications refer to the close ties between competition tyres and road tyres to prove their worth with the average customer, for whom identifying the brand with its sports performances will almost certainly have an impact when it comes to buying new tyres for his car.

Michelin tyre standCopyright © : rezulteo

...But not only

Beyond the fine speeches frequently given by several tyre manufacturers engaged in motorsports, motor racing is a real development laboratory for road tyres. And, this is true on a number of levels. For sure, tyres used by a prototype during the Le Mans 24 Hours race, a Formula 1, a rally car or a GT in a sprint race are poles apart from a road tyre for cars in terms of performance, constraints and costs. The road tyre is designed to last several tens of thousands of miles, be driven on dry roads or in rain and on almost all types of road surfaces. It must also remain financially accessible, even for high performance sports cars. Yet, motor racing continues to be an extremely interesting testing ground to test a large number of parameters that may find their way to the series production world.

 

A direct technology transfer

At each motor racing event, the tyre manufacturer studies and tests new choices in materials, manufacturing processes and other technological options to present the highest possible level of efficiency on the track. And, as confirmed by motorsport specialists, with leading tyre manufacturers such as Michelin and Pirelli, there is a direct transfer of technology between the race tyre and the road tyre. This motorsport heritage can be found at four important levels; the tyre’s profile, its structure, the choice of materials and the tread design. Even if the last point does not concern “slick” tyres, used on a dry track by a large category of race cars (Formula 1, GT, Le Mans 24 Hour prototypes, single seaters, etc.). The research conducted by tyre manufacturers to improve race results therefore has a direct impact on road tyres sold by retailers, and of course, for ultra high performance tyres fitted on sports cars. A racing tyre and a road tyre belong to two entirely different worlds.

 

Each category makes its contribution

Racing car tyreCopyright © : Michelin
Motorsport disciplines do not all provide the same contribution to road tyres, but they complement each other. The Le Mans 24 Hours allows engineers to work on the tyre’s service life and the consistency of its performances. Rally driving allows engineers to focus on the tyre’s robustness in difficult conditions: it is one of the rare disciplines run on open roads and not on the track, allowing the tyres to be confronted with real road profiles and not the bitumen of a race track, which we don’t come across in everyday life. Given that terrain is sometimes rough, rally driving is also a good way to improve all-terrain tyres. Finally, certain new disciplines where electric engines are used can help optimise the rolling resistance and energy efficiency of tyres. Certain championships such as the Formula E impose the use of grooved tyres and not “slick” tyres on the dry, which allows engineers to focus on the tyre’s profile, much closer to that of a series production tyre. As for “customer competition” disciplines, they focus on the driver friendliness of the tyre, which is designed differently from a more advanced product reserved for Formula 1 or factory prototypes for the Le Mans 24 Hours. And, even in a discipline as specific as the Formula 1, where the tyre’s capacities are far removed from that of a road tyre, focusing on the most radical performance constraints plays an important role in discovering new lines of development.

 

 

With an influence on the economy tyre

It is easy to imagine that the first road tyres to benefit from these motorsport developments are those designed for sports cars, for which pure performance constraints are more important. It is true, but even the most economical tyre ranges take advantage of certain lessons learned from the competition, particularly in terms of rolling resistance or for certain tread compounds. The silica content and work performed on the tyre’s structure and cabling are also impacted by research carried out on certain categories of motorsport cars. In any case, motor racing is beneficial for your road tyres!