Testing in motorsports can be related to “practice” in other sports. However, there is one main difference in motorsports: “practice” is extremely expensive and therefore, to save us from ourselves, limited by rules. That places a huge importance on being efficient with your testing program. For every test we do we have a detailed plan that lays out the items that we need to address and the time-frame allotted in which to address them.
With Team Falken Tire, a huge amount of our testing is dedicated to tire development. With the limitations on testing, the extreme cost of producing tires and running the car, we have to make sure we cover all of our bases every time we roll onto the track. That includes not only from a planning and team perspective but also in driver feedback. For the sake of our “6 Stages of Testing”, I am going to base this post off a normal tire test day and give you a look at how our testing operates for the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR.
The 6 Stages of Testing to Create a Successful Tire
- Balance: The first thing that we address when we get to the track is the car’s balance. We will do initial runs with the No. 17 Porsche 911 RSR to determine if we have an imbalance i.e.: oversteer or understeer (see my last blog to define those if you need to). We then tune the car to try and get the balance to a manageable point prior to beginning our test. This is important because we need the Porsche to be as “neutral” – no oversteer or understeer – as possible to truly determine what the tire actually changes. You don’t want to be driving around the car’s setup issue or adjusting the oversteer/understeer out of the car instead of seeing what the tire itself is doing. The changes we will make here are wide open, it could be as involved as complete spring changes to as little as damper adjustments.
- Establish A Baseline: After the 991's balance is brought as close to neutral as possible, we will then run on a tire that we have general knowledge about, one we have tested and raced before. This allows us to start with something we know as we have notes on how it worked and in what conditions it worked. We then run a predetermined amount of laps to evaluate the lap-time of the tire and how it responds over the course of that run. We use these results as a baseline to judge the performance of all the new tires against.
- Let the Testing Begin: Next we run through our pre-determined amount of tire sets. We use these for a pre-set amount of laps. Then, as drivers, we give feedback on what each set of tire provides. Tires differ in two primary ways; construction and compound. Construction means the way the tire is literally ‘constructed’ internally. Everything from how the belts are constructed, placed directionally and how they are layered can differ and that causes the tire’s handling and durability to change accordingly. This also includes the stiffness of the sidewall, which has a very big impact on the tire’s roll. Compound is the chemical makeup of the rubbers themselves. Different combinations of chemicals will create a tire that has different handling and durability factors.
- Communication and Consistency: We inform the engineers of its strengths as well as its weaknesses. One of the keys here is to be as consistent as a driver as you can be. If you change your line every lap or drive around an understeer/oversteer condition trying to set a quick lap time or match your last lap time, you are missing the point. The job is to learn the tire and what it is good at. A good test driver is always consistent so you learn about the tire instead of how well the driver can drive around a car's setup issue(s).
- Selecting the Select Few: Once the driving is done, we go over our notes with the engineers. From there, we pick a few sets of tires that we liked from earlier in the test – Stage 3. These sets are based on both the driver's perspective as well as from an engineer’s perspective. We evaluate all the information presented to us and use that in the last and final stage.
- Making It Last: Finally we perform a longevity test on the given tire sets that we all decided on in Stage Four. We drive full race stints on all the tires we chose to see thest the durability of the tire. Ultimately, this is the key to making a great race tire. It’s not about a tire’s speed over one lap, instead, it's how a tire responds over the course of a race. If a tire is quick at the start of a stint but falls off after four laps, then it doesn’t do us any good. We want a tire that is consistent throughout the full fuel load. The only way to truly determine this is by these long runs.
Testing isn’t pretty
It isn’t what you think of when you sign-up for the supposedly glamorous world of professional racecar driving. But, if you want to stand on the podium, that means the monotony of running lap after consistent lap in testing. It also means a lot of days at the same racetrack multiple times a year because the best way to learn if you are making progress is to go back to the same place each time and compare it to previous tests.
[Photos: All pictures ©Bob Chapman for Falken Tire]