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Inside touring car tires with Dunlop Motorsport

Why the UK’s abrasive, high-speed Thruxton racetrack provides a unique challenge for tire management in the British Touring Car Championship

by Graham Heeps

 

Held over 30 rounds across 10 race weekends a year, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is the UK’s most popular domestic race series.

Dunlop has been the sole tire supplier for 13 years, this year servicing grids of around 30 cars. A choice of two dry weather compounds is normally offered, with the softer of the two having to be used for one of the weekend’s three races, but at Thruxton in May (above), a completely different tire was used. Tire Technology International met Dunlop Motorsport’s Mickey Butler on race day to find out more.

Left: Dunlop built more than 600 tires for the Thruxton race weekend. Each car was allowed 20 new tires to cover free practice sessions 1 and 2, qualifying, and three races.

"At Thruxton the construction stays the same as everywhere else, but we have to bring a stronger compound for durability reasons,” he told TTI. “The track is aggressive, the hardest on the calendar, and very high speed.

“The surface is very abrasive because the track is only used for racing on half a dozen weekends a year. Add to that the fact that we had a big storm come through on the Wednesday night before this meeting, and there was no pretty much no rubber on the surface [when the cars went out for first practice]. Other factors [impacting tire durability] are some super-big curbs and the high speeds – at Thruxton, BTCC cars are on full throttle for 75% of the lap.”

Dunlop covers the pitlane with nine tire engineers, who keep a close watch on tire pressures and temperatures in a bid to reduce the likelihood of a failure.

“The compound and construction can only do so much,” Butler emphasized. “We can advise the teams but once you start running outside the [operating] boundaries – too much camber, too low a pressure – or you start hitting curbs, then the tire will get damaged, just like any road tire. And if it does bulge then it’s hard to see because it’s on the inside sidewall, where the maximum load and deflection is."

Dunlop figures give the typical load on the tires in an extreme, high-speed cornering situation as 15,000N.

Gordon Shedden in the works Honda Civic Type-R takes to the curbs at Thruxton. Note the second row of curbs on the inside of the corner.

"Our engineers take the temperatures and we like to see a 10°C spread across the tire from inside to outside," Butler continued. "We also like to see pressures of 2 bar and above; we advise 2.2 bar but we know that teams never get [that high]. But when they start running 1.9 bar and 4° of [negative] camber, and going out on 1.1 bar cold, then you’re very vulnerable for those first few laps because it takes three to four laps for the pressures to come up. Add a curb strike, and you could be in trouble! It’s about getting the balance right.”

The engineers at BTCC-leading Honda Yuasa Racing are well aware of the pitfalls of pushing the limits. Team manager James Rodgers said, “We stay within Dunlop’s guidelines but I must point out that being safe or marginal on tire life can be as small as ¼° of camber, so when teams are reported in the press and on TV as running aggressive setup, thereby creating tire problems, sometimes it is only a small amount too far.

"Both drivers [Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden] are told to keep off the curbs early on in the race,” he added. “They have a lot of experience so they have to self-police this. But we must also appreciate that if they are fighting for position early on this can be difficult and it’s easy for us to criticize from in front of a TV monitor!”

In the event, there were few tire issues at Thruxton this year, with only the Volkswagen CCs of Team BMR (including the car of Jason Plato, below) paying the price among the front-runners for “super-aggressive” setup, according to Butler.

The weekend was perhaps the last to feature all-UK-made tires in the BTCC. The next trio of races, at Oulton Park on June 7, will be the first to use Dunlop’s new-spec medium compound built in Hanau, Germany, following the closure of the historic factory in Birmingham, UK. Butler expressed his personal disappointment that a way could not be found to keep the facility open, but said that it should be business as usual on the track: “They’re from the same building machine, the same compounder, the same Banburys, so there should be no issues. We haven’t found any in testing so far.”

May 19, 2015 

 

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