Know Your Tires

Performance & Race Driving Tip

Speed Secret: Understand Tires.

At one time I wondered about the few drivers that I noticed who were constantly looking at their tires when they came off the track. I mean, it’s a tire! Come on, what are you looking for?

But I also noticed that it was usually the most successful drivers who were doing the most poking and gazing at their tires. So, being a competitive kind of guy, I started doing the same. And guess what? I learned a lot. No, not at first. In fact, at first I couldn’t tell you whether a tire was good or bad. But over time, the more I compared how the tires felt with what they looked like, the more I learned what a good performing tire looked like and what a bad one was like.

So, here’s my advice: Every time you finish a session, think about how the tires behaved. Did they have good grip to begin with and then began to fade? Did they gain grip with more laps? Did they give you lots of feel for the limit, or not? Could you feel them flex; was the ride over the bumps harsh?

Then, immediately after coming off the track, look closely at all four tires. Do you see where they were rolling over and there was some scrub on the top of the sidewalls? What does the surface look like? Do they have a shine to the surface? Do you see the rubber graining? How about some chunking of the rubber? Are they dark black or are they more gray than that?

The more you do this, the more you’ll begin to relate what you felt with what you see. Over time, you’ll be reading the tires with the best of them, and knowing when to change a setting on your car or change your driving to suit the tires.

Remember, everything you do is transmitted through the tires, and they’re the only things connecting you to the track.

Check back here often for more tips and advice for performance drivers, race drivers, high performance driving instructors, and anyone else interested in learning to get around race tracks quickly.

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  1. So for the uninitiated what does a shiny versus matt tire mean or grey versus black??
    Rolling onto side wall means another pound or two of air?

    • Think of shiny versus matt as gloss versus matt paint. What it means in terms of what’s happening with the tire can vary so much based on the type of tire that it’s hard for me to say “A shiny tire means it sliding too much.” And that’s really my point… there are so many variables that it’s almost impossible to say that one look means one thing to all tires – and that’s why I recommend calibrating your driving to what the tires look like. For example, if you feels the tires are sliding a lot, and you look at your tires after a session and see that they are shinny, that’s a clue. And if every time you feel the tires are sliding too much that the tires are shiny, now you’ve learned what a shiny tires means. Same with a matt or grainy surface, a gray versus darker black (or even a blue-ish tint to the rubber). Typically, a tire that’s been over-driven has a grainy look to it, and often that blue-ish tint from being overheated. But that’s not the case all the time, and that’s why you have to compare what you felt to what you see, and then over time you’ll be able to read what was happening based on what the tire looks like. And yes, usually – but not always – if there is too much scuffing on the sidewalls, that means the tire need more pressure. The question is, “What’s too much scuffing on the sidewall?” Again, it depends on the tire, car and even track conditions.


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