The modern WEC car is a complex piece of engineering, which relies on all of the components working together as they should, all the time, and the failure of a single component is often spectacular and decisive in bringing the car to a halt. If the components work as they should, and the right decisions have been made, a podium finish is within reach.
To single out one component for special attention would be unfair, but after spending time in the pits and garages I was intrigued by the technicians from the tyre companies who spend time taking track temperature, tyre temperature and scribbling in little note books. A chance meeting with a tyre technician at Le Mans resulted in unrestricted access to the Dunlop team headed by Paul Bryant at the Nürburgring 6-Hours. And so the idea for this blog on the Dunlop Tyre Technology in LMP2 was born.
I began by asking Paul about tyre selection. The FIA allow three compounds of slick tyre for the season, soft, medium and hard, but teams are restricted to two compounds, either soft and medium, or medium and hard, for the race weekend. This is decided by Dunlop based on testing and historical data taking into account the typical track conditions, the characteristics of the tarmac and the weather.
Paul confirmed that the FIA regulations restrict each team to three sets of slicks for free practice, four sets of slicks for qualifying and two replacement tyres in case of damage or punctures. In addition to the slicks, each team is allowed an unlimited number of wets.
Paul is clearly enthusiastic about motorsport and the difference that Dunlop tyre Technology in LMP2 is making. He explained that the role of the tyre technicians in the pits and garages is one of safety, performance and data gathering. It is paramount that the teams are using the tyres safely and within the manufacturers’ parameters (there are other championships where it appears that the teams exceed the parameters and then blame the manufactures for the failure). Paul was quite clear that barring punctures, Dunlop tyres will not fail if they are used within the parameters set by Dunlop and the tyre technicians are on hand to ensure compliance.
The tyre technicians are highly experienced and while they are taking temperatures (at three points across the width of the tyre), they are also making a visual assessment of the tyre. If the tyres are showing signs that they are being used outside the operating parameters this will be fed back to the teams to find out why. This can be remedied in a number of ways including changing the mechanical set up of the car, either the camber, toe in or toe out, changing the tyre pressure or the compound. All the data is then fed back to the Dunlop database for product development and tyre choice in the future.
Unlike Formula 1, where all four tyres have to be the same compound, LMP2 regulations allow the teams to mix the compounds, often with the harder compound being put on the loaded side of the car, this is determined by whether the track has predominantly left or right handed corners. A soft tyre on the loaded side would overheat and wear out faster than a hard tyre.
I know that over the years there have been a variety of gases used to inflate the tyres to overcome the effects of heat and give stable tyre pressures, so I asked Paul what was the current thinking at Dunlop and in the LMP2 paddock. “Yes it’s true, we have swapped between nitrogen and dried air over the years, but we haven’t been able to find any advantage between the two. We have the facility to produce dried air on site which is much easier than transporting nitrogen round the world, so we use dried air.”
Talking with Paul, it became apparent that Dunlop was not just a tyre supplier to the championship, but an integral part of each team involved in race strategy and safety. The data gathered during a race weekend goes directly to the development of road and race tyres. Interestingly the data from road tyres also finds its way into the race tyres. So, the next time you take your car on the road, consider yourself as a test driver as well.
Written by: John Mountney