Tires are round and made of rubber and they are the only thing that connects cars to the road or track. While they may seem to be the same as they have been for 50 years, their technology has evolved in leaps and bounds over the last five decades. Through multiple tire wars, the boycott of Talladega and the debacles in Indianapolis, tires have faced a lot of scrutiny but, for the vast majority of the time, they do their job and no one notices them.
Goodyear has been the exclusive tire supplier of NASCAR since 1997. While some people might not like the fact that the company has a monopoly on the series, they continue to innovate and develop racing tires to try and make the racing the best that it can be. Part of that development is what fans will see on the cars at Atlanta for the first time this coming weekend. A tire with two compounds on the same tire that should allow the tires to fall off as they have in the past at Atlanta but be more durable on the vulnerable inner shoulder where failures most often happen.
Goodyear engineer Justin Fantozzi took some time out of his preparation for Atlanta to talk with Frontstretch about the development of this new and innovative race tire.
Mike Neff: Heading to Atlanta and using something different. We always hear that the technology developed in racing spills over to the consumer tire world, but this time we’ve got some technology coming to the track from the streets. Tell us a little about this new combination compound that you’re going to be running at Atlanta.
Justin Fantozzi: Sure, the technology is Multi-Zone Treads. As you said it came over from the consumer group. The flow of technology is such nowadays that track-to-street, and street-to-track both exist. It is one of those technologies that we had in our Assurance line of consumer tires where we were able to design a consumer tire for icy, dry, and wet conditions and then tailor the compounds around it. So just like we find in an all-weather tire where we are trying to balance the need of the tire is the same thing we do in racing.
From a physics to physics standpoint it is the same thing: we’re trying to balance heat and heat generation and we’re trying to balance grip and grip levels. Those are usually the opposite and try and battle each other. So this allows us the opportunity to try and develop a tire to bring to the race track that tries to answer both questions.
Neff: The inside shoulder is the focus of the newer compound. How far out into the contact patch of the tire does the inside compound stretch?
Fantozzi: The inner shoulder zone, or what we’re calling the “endurance zone”, is about three inches. The outer zone or the off-cambered shoulder is the traction zone, and that would make up the other seven to eight inches of the tread patch.
Neff: How long did it take, from the initial discussions of the concept until we finally had it on the track to do its initial test?
Fantozzi: We’re always talking about ideas and concepts and we have a group of folks who don’t travel to the race track. They’re looking out into the future anywhere from six months to two years or in that sort of range. We’ve been talking about this for some time. You always want to stay ahead of that balance of grip and durability so that, if it is necessary, you can pull something in.
We were getting ourselves into an area with the new Gen-6 car, where the guys were going fast enough and the girls were going fast enough that we felt that it was time to bring it. It’s been in the works for short of two years, about 18 months. The big test was the confirmation test that we had in Atlanta. We’ve had it at the track multiple times under multiple conditions and felt that this was the right opportunity, the right time and fit. We went ahead and moved forward with it, had the confirmation test a little over a month ago and made the final decision to bring it to the race for this weekend.
Neff: Assuming this weekend goes well and it is hard to see why it wouldn’t, going forward is this something that will hit most of the tracks that we visit?
Fantozzi: I can’t say it will hit most of them. I think there are opportunities at the repaved race tracks and the high speed places we’re seeing with the new car that may have an opportunity and a fit, different than the endurance type of a compound approach all of the way across the tread where it will allow you to have a little bit of flexibility for the drivers.
Neff: How many teams participated in the confirmation test at Atlanta?
Fantozzi: There were 13 teams on the grounds at Atlanta for the confirmation test. One vehicle from each one of the organizations that compete in the Cup series.
Neff: This kind of applies to tires in general. When you’re getting ready to go to a race, and you have the compound you’ve decided on, how long does it take to make all of the tires that you’re bringing this weekend? Each team gets 10-12 sets of tires?
Fantozzi: There are 12 sets for Cup for the race, another five sets for practice and qualifying and another seven sets for the Nationwide guys.
Neff: So five and 12 makes 17 sets for 45-48 teams. How long does it take to make those 800 or so tires?
Fantozzi: Y’know, the length of time I can’t answer specifically just because of the math and our specifications. We’ll basically have everything together and ready to go with more than enough time to hit the timing of the race itself. It really isn’t a concern as far as if there is enough length of time or if we’re going to make it in time for the race or not.
Neff: Didn’t think there was a concern about making it in time for the race. Just wondered if they had the test a month ago, did they have the tires done in two weeks or three weeks once we knew what compound combination was going to be used?
Fantozzi: Again, you’re in the ballpark. If we confirmed it a month ago and we’re racing this weekend, it is less than a month.
Neff: Another curiosity that has lingered for a while. In the early 1990s there was the story that Earnhardt was testing at Atlanta, put left side tires on the right side, ripped off a screaming lap and then just parked and watched everyone else try and chase him the rest of the day at the test. In Late Model racing the tires aren’t really directional. Does the way the tires are made define which direction they rotate and is it possible to use the tire from one side on the other?
Fantozzi: The big yellow letters help us. We only letter the tires on one side and that is the side that points out. It is something we’ve made a commitment to, whether it is an asymetrical construction or whether it is a dual type zone tread like we’re having here at Atlanta, where the opportunity of running the tire backwards is almost not existent because the yellow letters are always pointing out.
Neff: The tire last year seemed to give up grip and wear out rather nicely. Since the compound that is being used for the majority of the contact patch is the same one we used last year, is there any reason to think that we won’t see some decent falloff during the race this weekend?
Fantozzi: We saw decent fall-off after a handful of laps at the confirmation test. The rate wasn’t as aggressive as last year but there was still falloff. I enjoy Atlanta. It is an aggressive fall-off, it is an aggressive race track, it is a challenge for us, it is a challenge for the teams. It is just enjoyable. You’ll see fall-off, it may not be as aggressive as last year but it is more aggressive than 95% of the tracks we go to.
This weekend’s race is going to be a test of engineering that could change the way racing tires are constructed forever. The lack of falloff in tires has been a sore subject for some time. If Goodyear has found a way to have falloff without endangering the drivers with blowouts, they may be able to develop tires that give up more quickly for many of the track on the schedule. That can be nothing but a good thing. Here’s hoping the race this weekend is a rousing success.
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