The Frontstretch: News and Notes from Charlotte Tire Test by Mike Neff -- Wednesday March 29, 2006

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News and Notes from Charlotte Tire Test

Frontstretch LIVE! On Location · Mike Neff · Wednesday March 29, 2006

 

Wednesday marked the second day of a Goodyear tire test at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where Kyle Petty, Scott Riggs, Bobby Labonte, and several other Nextel Cup favorites took to the newly repaved track. Unlike yesterday’s bout with rain showers, the weather was perfect. Teams looked to not only tire test, but see if they could race competitively at a speedway whose last paving job produced nothing but problems. The 2006 repaving was ordered, of course, after an atrocious 2005 Fall weekend at Charlotte in which Goodyear tires blew about every 25 laps.

Now, you’d think paving a 1.5 mile track wouldn’t be too much harder than redoing your driveway…but in fact, it involves manpower and asphalt beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Here’s a little information about the new surface from the testing info session Frontstretch attended Wednesday:

  • Between design, surveying, SAFER barrier removal and re-installation, track milling, repairs to retaining walls and paving, it is estimated the project required somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 man hours.
  • Sunmount Corporation, in charge of the project, used 10,000 tons of asphalt just to repave the racing surface from the inside white line to the retaining wall, with about 16,000 tons used in all.
  • Two layers were utilized to repave the racing surface. The first is a "binder" layer that is two inches thick, with the second a final "finish" layer which is 1.5 inches thick.
  • The engineers employed a new three-dimensional digital surveying technique to ensure a smooth racing surface.

As for the on-track activity, Jimmie Johnson had a mishap during the morning session and backed his car into the wall exiting the fourth turn. According to Goodyear engineer Rich Heinrich during a midday briefing, Johnson felt something wrong with the tire going into Turn 1 but continued to run, with the tire finally coming apart entering Turn 3. Johnson was uninjured, but his car was damaged too heavily to continue, and the #48 team packed up for the day.

Unfortunately for race fans, Heinrich brought mixed reviews about the tire, as well, claiming the test observed conditions on “the high end” of what Goodyear anticipated in terms of wear. Teams also saw a higher rate of speed than expected. No times were shared at the briefing, but based on early reviews track promoter Humpy Wheeler predicted new track records in all three divisions in the May events. Charlotte’s current Nextel Cup qualifying record is 193.216 mph held by Elliott Sadler, and it’s possible qualifying speeds could come close to 200 mph in May.

Mixed in with Johnson’s tire issue and Heinrich’s report were words of encouragement, however. Bobby Labonte told the assembled crowd that the track is much smoother than it was in the past, and Scott Riggs claimed that there was grip in all areas of the track surface, unlike last year, where getting stuck in the outside groove meant either a trip to the wall or a flat tire. Between this test and the race in May, there will be quite a bit of traffic on the track which should reduce the amount of wear the tires experience and build up rubber on the track. With the Richard Petty driving experience, Fast Track Driving School, Jeff Gordon Driving School, and NASCAR tests all scheduled in the coming weeks, there will be quite a bit of rubber worked into the track by the time the Truck and Cup cars come to town in mid-May.

Still, it’s hard to take results from one test and genuinely predict how the race will turn out. The ultimate goal of the resurfacing was to produce more exciting side-by-side racing, and there just weren’t enough teams at the test to ultimately figure out how realistic that hope may be. Bobby Labonte did say that the track “bumps” and transitions are more tolerable than they’ve ever been, and as the track ages, the old Charlotte surface will slowly become more evident. The track is still different from Texas and Atlanta, and will always require a unique setup for the car to be good for all 600 miles come May.

One thing that wasn’t ruled out at the briefing, but criticized by drivers was the possible use of restrictor plates to curb the climbing speeds. Riggs claimed that restrictor plates on downforce cars here would be a terrible idea, reducing straightaway speed but increasing speeds in the corner. There would be a real distinct possibility that drivers could run flat out for their entire laps if plates were put on the cars. Without the plates, Riggs claimed at least the drivers would still have to get off of the accelerator to get through the corners.

Another tire test is currently not scheduled, but Heinrich claimed it would not be ruled out once the engineers got back to Akron and deciphered the data acquired.

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