Tyre choice can win or lose you a motor race. Lewis Hamilton recently said that a team’s ability to manage its tyres "is the biggest question that needs answering in order to win the Formula One world Championship."
Tyre manufacturers use motorsport as a branding exercise and a way of legitimately spending large amounts of money on R&D. Birmingham-based Dunlop Motorsport makes around a thousand race tyres a day, 3,000 of which were in Silverstone this weekend for the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The hardness of the rubber compound is varied for each race according to the characteristics of the track. Silverstone has a lot of high speed corners requiring high downforce settings on the cars and Jean-Felix Bazelin, general manager of Dunlop Motorsport, commented that tyres are highly stressed over the course of a lap due to the abrasive surface on the old part of the track.
“The requirement is for a tyre with a harder compound than was used in Spa or Le Mans,” said Mr Bazelin. “However, statistics show that the ambient temperature is likely to be lower which means a requirement for softer tyres to guarantee initial grip.”
“It’s all about balance,” he explains. “Improved braking stability may result in a loss of speed elsewhere. You have to maximize lap times.”
Endurance is key as less time spent in the pit changing tyres can help win races. There has been a 58% increase in distance covered by Dunlop GT tyres at Le Mans 24 hours, the oldest sports car race in endurance racing, over the last ten years.
The company used hybrid fibres to reduce weight, improve heat generation and consistency of performance. Mr Bazelin noted that innovation is dependent on advances in the chemical industry and predicts more use of CAD (computer-aided design).
Following the production of hybrid racing cars, the 200-strong team at Dunlop Motorsport’s Birmingham facility is now researching and making tyres for electric vehicles, an area it sees a lot of opportunity, particularly with the cascading technology that will flow from racing to road.
Dunlop Motorsport is one of the only UK manufacturers supplying parts for the GreenGT H2, the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell powered race car featuring electric powertrain technology. Although a large amount of small components were sourced from the UK, the race car has largely been made in France and will compete in the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours.
“Electric cars currently present challenges to tyre design – to handle the extra weight of the vehicle, the load capacity of the tyre will need to increase and the drive for energy efficiency means that the tyre design will require a lower rolling resistance,” said Bazelin.
Tyres will require a new construction that can cope with high torque characteristics and Dunlop Motorsport is designing a product that optimises torque vectoring technology, which alters the amount of power sent to the wheels to improve the stability of the car on turning.
Dunlop’s involvement with GreenGT H2 signals the start of a programme to design specific tyres for enhancing the performance and handling of electric cars, enabling them to drive further with less energy consumed whilst maximising the grip and performance.
The GreenGT H2 is expected to reach a speed close to 300km/h. With its fuel cell, the GreenGT H2 can run for 40 minutes. The fuel cell contains neither batteries nor fuel. It is a generator of water and electricity, fed with hydrogen and air. This means that there are no emissions of gas (CO2, NOx or any other pollutants) during the operation of an electric/hydrogen motor as the hydrogen comes from the electrolysis of water.
The current focus of fuel cell improvement is their weight, complexity and cost. The GreenGT team was formed in April 2008, under the leadership of Jean-François Weber, who explains that the technology is not new but it has taken a long time for manufacturers to produce electric vehicles due to cost.
Electric motors five times less parts than thermal energy engines so can become a lot cheaper than fossil fuel vehicles should they be made on a mass scale in the future.