Touring Car Tyre Revolution?

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Touring Car Tyre Revolution

Oli Meggitt reports – “Before I start, I just want to caveat this article. I’m writing this as me, Oli Meggitt, a long time racer and (ultimately!) big fan of R/C Touring Car racing. This is purely my opinions, not necessarily that of anyone I work for, am sponsored by or support. I’ve been fortunate to attend the last two EFRA TC Euros and numerous other races around the UK and Europe and take on board as much as I hear from the drivers, companies and organisers. Please just read this for what it is, one person’s opinion!

The newly announced IFMAR ISTC rules, which will come in effect for the 2012 World Championships in the Netherlands, are potentially the biggest changes to the tyre rules since the introduction of a complete handout wheel-tyre-insert coming into play in Kissimmee, 2004.

Firstly, the reduction in the number of sets of tyres to just 2 sets per competitor. These sets have to be used for Controlled Practise (2 rounds), Qualifying (6 rounds) and Finals (3 A Finals, 2 for lower finals). That could mean up to 6 runs on a single set of tyres. A far cry from most other events, which will typically see tyres needing to be used for around 3 runs at the maximum.

Generally, tyre companies produce tyres with these sort of rules in mind, looking to design a tyre that will provide perhaps 3 competitive runs. This may mean a harder compound of tyre is needed to be chosen for the Worlds, to ensure it stands up to 6 runs at the very high speed MACH circuit. Typically, in most parts of northern Europe, the ‘30’ or ‘32’ compound of tyre is used. Might we see ‘36’ or even ‘40’ be used for the Worlds now?

But choosing a harder tyre may not necessarily prove a good choice. The second part of the new rules are that the tyres must be stored in the scrutineering area, and only fitted as the cars are about to go out to race. The new rule specifically mention that additive is not permitted. This would also seemingly preclude the use of tyre warmers, perhaps leading to the choice that a harder tyre would be very difficult to get working.

On the face of it, removing the use of additive seems a very bold move by IFMAR – especially considering the issues at the 2011 1/8th Track Worlds in Miami, and the on-road nitro Euros this year – events which specifically ban the use of tyre additives, but turn out to be very difficult to police and have resulted in numerous accusations of cheating. If the complete collection of tyres is kept in the secured scrutineering area, then perhaps IFMAR have hit upon a more workable solution.

In the Touring Car section, additives have recently become the latest “dark art”. As you walk around the pits at any major international meeting, you find drivers applying many sweet smelling chemicals to their tyres, often from unmarked bottles or cans quickly hidden away under the table whenever a competitor is near. So much of today’s Touring Car racing relies on getting the right combination of additive (or additives!), application and warming procedure. Often, the best method is hit upon by nothing other than chance. I’m reminded of being at one European-level race, where a top driver admitted he’d found his car actually worked better with cold tyres – something discovered when his pit man had accidentally switched the warmers off rather than switching them on! The driver went on to make the top half of the A final grid, so clearly something was right on that occasion. Removing the additive aspect would in turn place more focus onto the car setup, and prevent one team dominating because they happen to hit upon the “magical additive”.

But I think the biggest impact will be this: Strategy. Strategy is nothing new in any form of motorsport, and tyre strategy is certainly nothing new in R/C Touring Cars. At the last ISTC Worlds in Burgdorf, 2010, we saw the big teams deliberately sending some of their driver out on old tyres whilst their team-mates ran new tyres, in the hope to prevent them taking point off each other. Ultimately, the IFMAR Worlds format means you need to be quick for 3 of your qualifying runs, and ideally having those at the time when the track conditions are also fastest. The top teams will be spending many days testing at the circuit and no doubt know exactly how the tyres perform as they age and the track conditions change throughout the day.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the top few teams out there have one person at the event purely for the purposes of formulating tyre strategy (if any teams are interested, my email address is below!), and we see drivers deliberately sitting out practice and even qualifying times – preserving tyres and attempting to make do with as few runs as possible and have better condition tyres for a particular run than their competition. This could result in more empty qualifying heats – which certainly doesn’t look good for spectators!

The outcome of running a car that will be heavier than usual (IFMAR rules are 1450g minimum weight, compared to the 1350g limit run throughout Europe and many other parts of the world), most probably require more traction from the chassis to make up for a reduction in grip from the tyres. So we may well see the Worlds being won by a special one-off car, that would be of limited use in a race meeting using more ‘normal’ rules.

I could turn this into a 10 page saga, but I won’t. I’ll just end with two final points:

1. Whilst the worlds are really about finding the best out there, you can’t have a World Championship with 30 drivers. Aside from the fully funded top factory drivers, the event needs the other 100 drivers to make it happen! Most of them will be paying their way and for their tyres. Does this new set of rules give them a better chance to compete? Probably, however that leads nicely onto…..

2. Whatever the rules, however the class changes, the best drivers ALWAYS rise to the top. They’re the best because they can drive the best, set their cars up the best and, most importantly, adapt the best. We may see a slightly different look to the top of the time sheets, but I’d still expect one of the “expected” drivers to take home the crown at the end of the event.

One thing is for sure – if we’re talking about the event – that’s a good thing! It means we’ll all be keen to tune in to the various media outlets who will cover the race, intent on finding out exactly how these new rules are (or aren’t!) affecting the race. More people paying attention is always a bonus for our sport.

The host club, MACH, will certainly be pulling out all the stops to make this race as good as possible, and IFMAR have made the rule change to make the race as fair as possible. All I know is, I can’t wait!

Oli Meggitt

If anyone would like to use this article in whole or in part, or would like to discuss anything further with me, please contact me via oli.meggitt(at)gmail.com

About the author:
Oli Meggitt has been racing R/C cars for nearly 15 years, starting when he was at Secondary School. After helping his father establish a new club in their local area, Oli helped with the running of a local regional series, where he became a race commentator. Following this, he was asked to commentate on further regional and national events, and also works with RC Racing TV on their EFRA media coverage. Recognised as one of the best commentators in the UK, Oli is now part of the team that created the successful Essex Winter Series and upcoming International Memorial Cup. A full time statistical data analyst, he lives in London and continues to race R/C Touring Cars when he can.”