Colin's Corner: Continental's New Tires for 2018

Colin's Corner: Continental's New Tires for 2018

Fort Mill, S.C.

Hi guys! I wanted to tell you a bit about the new Prototype tire that Continental has developed for our class this year. With CORE Autosport being a new team to the Prototype class, we didn’t have a ton of preconceived ideas or thoughts on car setups, which I think has been a good thing and also maybe a bad thing! A lot of the teams in the P class have been in the class for a long time and knew the 2017 spec Continental tire very well due to lots of racing and testing on that tire.  As a new team in the P class for 2018, we thought this new tire being introduced would semi “level the playing field”, so to speak! We had experience on the 2016 Prototype Challenge class tire and then the GTD tire in 2017, so we had some idea of what to expect.

You might ask yourself, “what is the big deal about a new tire coming out?”  Believe it or not, the tire is the single most important aspect of our car. We tune our cars and suspension to “make the tire work”. You really need to understand how the tire likes to be loaded into the race track to make grip or make support. 

A company like Continental has many resources to build these tires. They can change many things like the compound of the tire, which is the actual chemicals in the rubber that make up the surface of the tire. They can also change the “construction” of the tire, which is how they build it by interlacing the steel belts and rubber together. They can also change the “sidewall stiffness” of the tire, which has a big effect on our suspension setups.

Imagine a tire that has a really stiff sidewall to it versus a tire with a softer sidewall. A softer sidewall tire will have more flex and roll to it, as well as be able to soak up the bumps and be a bit more compliant (kind of like a softer suspension setup). Or a stiffer sidewall is the opposite, more rigid and stiff when you load the tires in the corners and also less compliant over the bumps (which may require you to run a softer setup)! As a driver, the three main things you need to understand about the changing of a racing tire are compound, sidewall stiffness and construction. I can only imagine the actual details in the design and engineering work that goes into making these changes, I am just scratching the surface! Continental brings really smart engineers to the track and we have a chance to chat with them and learn a bit about what they do and it is pretty impressive! 

So as a team we have to figure out “what the tire likes” to make it work, as well as feel comfortable driving it. As you can probably begin to see, finding the balance between grip and support when you talk about a car’s setup and handling is key. Typically, the softer you go with the car’s setup, the more GRIP you make, but that comes at the cost of the car moving around a lot more (which we drivers tend not to like. You want a car to feel planted and stuck – not rolling all around in the corners)! 

You can imagine that the stiffer we go on the setup, the less GRIP, but the more support and platform we get (less rolling and movement) inspires confidence in we drivers. But finding that happy medium is the hard job for the engineers on the race car! Now think about working throughout the year in 2017 finding that great setup at each track and understanding what works and doesn’t work. Then, bring on 2018 with your great notebook of setups and ideas from your season in 2017, and those now change because of a new tire for 2018! Again, for us at CORE Autosport, we were happy about this since often times it wipes out a lot of what you learned the prior year – or so we hoped for our sake anyway – haha!

Continental did a great job with the new tire, and it wasn’t a massive change. They made some small tweaks and improvements by changing minor things. These changes helped the tire get up to operating temperature a bit sooner and also have a bit more “support” feeling to the drivers without compromising the grip. I am very impressed by the tire this year on our ORECA LMP2 chassis – when we raced at Detroit, we ran the ENTIRE race on ONE set of tires! We literally never changed tires during the entire race!  Our crew members didn’t know what to do with themselves during the race, because the only folks getting a work out in was the fueler and the driver change assistant! 

Pretty impressive stuff from Continental!