Tires are – both in practice and in theory – among the simplest of brilliant inventions. They are nothing more than rubber encasing a wheel to provide traction and grip to an automobile.
In the world of auto racing every series deals with how the rubber meets the road. The complexity of building a tire in modern day auto racing is perhaps just as big a challenge as the challenges faced by those who are at the top level of engineering in other professions.
So much has to go into making not just a durable tire, but one that also produces wear and fall off for good racing. This is seemingly an impossible task since the two ideas contradict each other. For durability’s sake tire engineers would rather build a tire with less grip that is hard as a rock. However, this affects racing negatively and almost all national racing series dislike such compounds.
Build a soft tire and many say it will improve the racing and. in many cases it does. It also leads to embarrassing situations or gives the impression that the company builds faulty and ill performing tires. Essentially the tire companies who participate in auto racing are in a difficult spot.
Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway was a perfect example of the tire conundrum. With cars producing a ton of down force and unique new setups under the rear ends of the generation six racecars combined with the completely worn out and bumpy surface of the California track, left-side tires were being eaten alive.
At least 15 different cars encountered flat tires during the race, bringing out yellows every 20 laps or so and preventing a natural flow to the race and ensuring that no green flag pit stops would take place. Memories of the 2008 tire debacle at Indianapolis became prevalent again. People remember failures and embarrassing moments.
However this tire from Goodyear was a good tire unlike the Indy tire. Take away the tire failures and the natural fall off of these tires was great. The fans were treated to an extremely competitive and entertaining race, allowing many to forget the tire woes and instead focus on the fun competition aspect of the event.
The drivers did not place the blame on Goodyear, essentially chalking it up to the track and setup combination with the tire. It was a unique moment in racing. Tires were failing but the overriding negativity about such matters was seemingly less than usual.
Tire manufacturers in auto racing are similar to offensive linemen in football. They are supposed to be reliable, do their job and be forgotten about while the other parts of the show stand out. It is only when mistakes are made when the fans and media pile on. It is not a fair practice, but in both cases they are in underappreciated positions that perhaps are among the most important in their respective fields.
Tires are the most important element in auto racing. If a team cannot get their car to match to the tire on the track they have no chance of winning. If tires as we know them did not evolve, such leaps and bounds from a technology standpoint in modern day auto racing would not be pushing the limits of performance as they do.
The massive grip of a Formula One car, NASCAR track records falling and the extreme grip at launch of a 9,000 horsepower nitro funny car or dragster are all only possible due to tires and their respective manufacturers. For all the grief they take, perhaps we should remain thankful for the efforts they make and the perfection they strive for.
To Goodyear, Pirelli, Firestone, Continental Tire, Bridgestone and Michelin, thank you. The toughest job in the world of auto racing belongs to you. Keep up the good work.