By: Christopher DeHarde
The results from the 2015 Petit Le Mans have had a while now to settle into our memories and have given all of us a reminder that rain is truly a great equalizer.
However, why a GTLM car won the race can be best summed up by what many people consider to be the four most important components of any race car – the tires.
They’re the only parts of a car that are intentionally designed to make contact with a racing surface besides skid blocks and they provide the grip that allows for cars to make the lap times that they make.
In the newly renamed WeatherTech United SportsCar Championship, there are now two tire manufacturers since Falken Tire has called time on their involvement in the series. Continental provides the tires for the Prototype, Prototype Challenge and GTD classes.
In the GTLM class, where tire competition is allowed, Michelin is now the sole supplier in that class, and their rain tires were the major difference in allowing Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz (entered but didn’t drive) to push their Porsche 911 RSR past the prototype class leaders and finish with the overall victory over another GTLM car, a BMW in second.
This only could have happened if the GTLM cars were allowed to run Michelin tires. Everybody on Continentals were playing second fiddle as Michelin-shod GTLM cars finished 1-2-6-8-9-10.
Having open tire competition allowed for the first GT overall win in multi-class Prototype/GT racing since TRG won the 2003 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
What’s really a shame is that tire competition is almost nonexistent around the racing world. Other than the FIA World Endurance Championship, the WeatherTech Championship, the Japanese SuperGT championship and a few dirt oval track tours, no other closed circuit motorsports series has tire competition.
This should change.
Motor racing has been a competition between different engine makers, engine part makers, chassis makers and even fuel suppliers.
Why is tire competition so taboo?
Competition results in better, safer and more efficient parts for racing cars so they can get on with the business of racing. Tires have improved in numerous ways over the course of racing history, and not having tire competition in motorsports is a detriment to not only motor racing but to also the passenger car industry.
We have seen the results of not having proper tires designed by a company that has a monopoly in certain cases.
CART had to postpone the Michigan 500 by a week in 1985 after the Goodyear radial tires that were brought to the track couldn’t stand up to the challenge of the speeds. Radials were brought in gradually over the course of several seasons in IndyCar racing in the 1980s to replace the older bias-ply tires.
In 2008, Goodyear had massive amounts of egg on their face as their tires were chewed up severely at Indianapolis during the Brickyard 400 weekend when NASCAR’s 5th generation car was used there for the first time, resulting in green flag runs of less than a dozen laps.
Was anybody surprised? Look at how much flack Goodyear has taken from various NASCAR drivers in the past, hell quite a few of Tony Stewart’s post race interviews are proof of that.
Even IMSA and Continental have had issues with sports car unification and tire decisions.
IMSA refused to allow Continental to make a special tire for the former LMP2 cars that came over with the sports car unification after 2013, and the results have shown it. By not taking into account how different the former DP and LMP2 cars are, it resulted in former LMP2 cars only winning two races in 2014 and none in 2015.
Tire competition would bring another variable to the highest levels of racing and would therefore only increase the competitiveness of it. Ladder series don’t need tire competition as driver development is their focus, not car or technological development, but the upper echelons of motorsports can benefit from having additional tire companies involved. That situation would only elevate the quality of products available to teams and, eventually, to the general public.