Race Tire Driving Technique
Maximizing these expensive rubber donuts takes a little understanding…
Breakin ‘em In
When you first get a sticky racing tire like the Hoosier you need to be aware of the break-in process. Race rubber isn’t like street rubber in the sense you throw them on and you’re good to go. Hoosier, for example, makes tires for autocross and road racing—both of which have different break-in procedures. Where the autocross tire simply requires the driver to scrub off the shiny layer of the slick, the road racing version requires a run of 10-15 minutes in which the driver starts off slow and gradually works up to the fastest pace possible. After this gradually heating up, the tire is left in the pits where it gradually cools back down to normal temperature.
PRO TIP: Breaking in a racing slick correctly can be the difference between staying competitive and getting left in the dust. Always know your equipment's break-in procedures and proper storage methods. These will all prolong the life and performance of your tires.
Slip Angle Curve
Imagine going around a giant skid pad in your sports car. As you build up speed, you will feel more and more traction—up until a point. At this point, one end of the car will typically begin to slide as the tire loses traction and will continue to do so until the slide is unrecoverable. This “dropping off” effect is illustrated by the graph above where the line begins to slope downward. Racing tires have smaller windows that they work in and will drop off much quicker once the limit has been reached compared to street tires. This is the first thing you need to understand about driving on racing slicks and it is one of the more critical elements moving forward.
PRO TIP: Racing slicks operate in a narrow window of grip before dropping off compared to a street car. Because of this, your driving technique will need to adjust slightly.
Entry Speed Goes Way Up
As a driving coach, the last thing you work on with a student is corner entry. This is by far the hardest thing for even advanced drivers to wrap their heads around. Racing slicks allow tremendous turn in ability and tremendous grip which means they scrub off more speed if you overcook your corner entry. While it is very important to be smooth on the throttle and steering in general, it is also important to understand that you can be very aggressive with corner entry on a road car compared to 200 tread wear performance tires. Faster turn in can mean the rear end of the car stepping out, so be aware that your hands and feet may need to speed up and adjust on these types of tires.
PRO TIP: Smoothness is paramount on a racing slick. The maximum cornering speed, entry speed and corner exit traction all increase if you can load them in a progressive way. Being abrupt will lead you to that drop off point much quicker.
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Braking Zones Shorten
Amateur drivers think a big brake kit is what slows a car down, intermediate drivers think it’s the brake pad compound, and advanced drivers understand it’s a combination of all of this—with the tire playing one of the biggest roles. Because of this, braking distances will be shorter, so it’s important to brake later, but in a safe way. Starting at your normal marker, move your braking point back in 3-4 foot increments. If everything is set up correctly you will know you’re close to the limit when the back end of the car begins to move around. At a certain point, the back end will come out quickly and may even spin the car—this is when you know you’re using all of the tire and this slight rotation can even help turn the car in. Avoid flat spotting the tire at all costs.
PRO TIP: When moving braking markers back, do it in small increments. This will allow you to get a better understanding of the limit and feel what the car is doing. Tires like the Hoosier A7 can produce huge amounts of braking force which dramatically reduce lap times. Don’t ignore the braking zone.
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Thread the Needle
When you switch to racing tires, the limit of grip is much higher, but the tire really wants to be driven smoothly. Aggressively throwing the car into corners—although possible—will cause unnecessary heat that shortens life and road holding capacity. Many times when a driver switches to slicks they forget to be smooth and get carried away with mashing on the gas pedal and braking too hard. Don’t forget the fundamentals just because the car has a new level of performance. Always be smooth.
PRO TIP: Just because grip goes up, doesn’t mean you stop practicing good technique. Steering more than you have to or being aggressive on turn in will overload the tire. It’s all goes back to that drop off curve.
Don’t Fear the Cold
Racing tires need heat to work correctly, so you need to drive hard enough to get them up to operating temperature without overheating them. It’s a fine balance that challenges some of the best pros in the world—part of the reason they are paid so much. Think about it as a balancing act, too much and you’ll overcook them, too little and you won’t generate enough heat to create grip. Don’t be scared to get after it, but be aware that racing slicks can be really nasty if they aren’t up to operating temperature. The trick to competition is knowing how to get them up to temperature faster than the next guy, without risking a crash.
PRO TIP: Pay attention to how hard you are pushing and what lap the tires start to produce peak grip. This will need to become muscle memory and should be noted as a safe baseline to move forward from each time you get out on track. Don’t be scared of cold tires—have a healthy respect for them.