Engineering Tip #2: Maximizing Tire Life

Paying attention to a few things will help you get the most sessions and weekends out of your tires, and likely make you faster.

Unless you have an unlimited budget or a really generous tire sponsor, chances are you want to get the most out of your tires. If you can get a couple of weekends or even more out of them, that goes a long way toward making sure your budget lasts the season.

Ken Payne is technical director for BFGoodrich® Tires, Mazda’s partner in the Idemitsu MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires. As a guy who watches racers use and abuse tires and analyzes the aftermath – along with having put a few miles on the track himself – he knows how to keep tires going longer.

First, he notes, driving style plays a big part. Smooth is fast, and it’s also the best way to preserve your tires. Less sliding, less locking up the brakes means more rubber stays on your tires and they stay rounder, which is obviously pretty important. But beyond that, there are several factors that affect tire wear.

“Pressures are always important,” Payne says. “I don’t think we can stress that enough. Understanding and figuring out what pressure where you’re most comfortable driving the car and then knowing where to start with cold pressures so you get the right hot pressure consistently is really important. To do that, you have to keep good records. Measure your cold pressures, know what the air temperature is, measure your hot temperatures, know what the temperatures are throughout the day. Over time, you can build a little data base and you know when it’s 50 degrees outside and reasonably sunny, you’re going to start at 29psi because you will get, in those conditions, to 32psi.”

As you accumulate more data, it will help you hit your target pressure quickly and consistently. Pressures are important, Payne notes, because not only is pressure a key part of car comfort and control, too low of pressure will cause more wear on the shoulders; excessive pressure can cause more wear in the center.

Aside from how it feels to you, what is the best way to determine correct tire pressures? Temperatures are key. Get someone to take them across the tread of all four tires, inside, center and outside, as soon as you come off track. Those temperatures will not only help you determine pressures, but also alignment.

“If you’re running really hot in the middle, you have too much pressure and you’re going to wear the center out too quickly,” he explains. “You expect to have the inner be a little hotter, but if it’s 60 degrees warmer than the outboard shoulder, you may not have the correct camber setting in the car. Those are things that can accelerate wear, especially if you’re on the extremes of camber. Excessive toe is another one we often see. People will toe the tires out to get that snappy initial turn-in, but if you go too far, particularly on tracks that have long straights, you’re dragging the tire sideways down the track.”

Beyond that, storage can play a key role – keeping tires in your enclosed trailer in the heat of summer is not ideal. Payne recommends wrapping them in plastic, such as a big trash bag, and storing them in a cool, dry place.

Payne notes that tracks and conditions will determine whether your tires reach the end of their life through wear or heat cycles, so there’s no real way to predict which it will be. If you follow these steps, though, you’ll get the most out of them that you can.