Q: I have a tire question, and I’m sure you have an answer. There is a lot about tires, how to get the best temp or camber or pressure, but I haven’t seen anything about how to figure out the best way to understand the tire, and break it in the best way, and then understand how best to drive it to get the best performance. You have great info on how to get the best pressures and temps, but how do you ‘learn what a tire likes’ at break-in and then in the quali or races. Each tire has a different construction, stiffness, compound etc., etc. and likes to be driven in a different way, some tires like a lot of quick load and some like a more gradual steering input, and others want something different. So as the engineer or teacher, how do you tell the inexperienced driver how to understand each different tire, since a Cooper is different to Toyo or Michelin or?”

A: As you point out, every tire is different, so I don’t believe anyone can come along and tell you how you should break in all tires. What I’ll do here is give you some ideas on how to become more sensitive to what the tire needs, so you can figure out what’s best for the specific tire you’re using; I’ll also refer you to a friend’s website for all sorts of really good info about tire tuning.

As a driver, if you’re looking for a quick fix, it’s not going to work. It’s like training to run a marathon: if I said to you, “Go out and run 26 miles, and you’ll be ready to run a marathon,” you’d laugh, right? Developing the skill to sense what a tire likes for break-in, and how to adapt your driving style to it takes time.

And just like having a training plan to run a marathon, you need a plan to develop your skills. First on the training plan is something I call Sensory Input Sessions. Go to the “How can I get better at sensing my car’s limits?” post to read about this, my single most important and effective coaching strategy. What this practice drill will do is make you more sensitive to what your tires like, how to react, how quickly they come up to temperature and reach their peak grip levels, and when they begin to lose grip. When you develop this skill further, and really pay attention to your tires, you’ll learn how to break them in, and how to adapt your driving style to them.

Two other things you should do:

  1. After every single session, write notes about the number of laps you drove, what the ambient and/or track temperature was, and what you felt. Specifically, write down how many laps it took to get the tires to their peak grip level.
  2. Pull out your smartphone and take photos of the surface of all four tires. Over time, you’ll relate what you felt with what the tires look like, and this is super-valuable knowledge.

As for specific break-in procedures, you can start by asking the reps for the specific tire you’re using. Sometimes they’ll give you good info, and sometimes not – but you’ll get more good than not-so-good. Use that as a starting point. You can also ask around of other drivers using the same tire on cars similar to yours. But from there, you have to experiment. There’s no other way to know for sure. Even if you have the head engineer from Michelin tell you what to do, you’re going to need to fine-tune your procedure for your car, your track conditions, and your driving style.

Next, to repeat what I said in an answer to a question a few weeks ago:

I strongly recommend reading the info that my friend, Samir Abid, in the UK has written about this at https://www.yourdatadriven.com/?s=tyre+pressure. On this page are many separate articles, all with the goal of helping you understand and figure out what the right pressures, cold and hot, are for your car. But notice that even Samir, who I consider to be an expert around this topic, does not simply tell you to set your tires to, let’s say, 33psi and be done with it. But he gives you the knowledge and resources to figure out what pressures you should use, and how to adjust them from different track conditions and handling issues.

Samir and I did an online course all about tires (“tyres” in his case!), and his approach is by far the best I’ve ever seen. I think you can get most of what you need from the info on his website, but if not, I’d recommend contacting him.

NOTE: If you don’t want to wait for me to answer your question(s) here (which can take months, since I have so many!), you can always use my new SpeedSecrets.ai by signing up at SpeedSecrets.ai. The real beauty of using this app is that you can get out of your car after a session on track, and immediately ask it questions and get your answers, as well as what you should work on for the next on-track session. Since it’s “trained” only with my content, it really is like having me with you at the track.