Drivers: Tire tests show improvement
INDIANAPOLIS -- Rain washed out most of the final day of a NASCAR Sprint Cup tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but drivers, NASCAR officials and Goodyear representatives came away convinced that tires will not be an issue at this year's Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, scheduled for July 26.
In fact, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon said he is "100 percent confident" that the Goodyear tire wear problems that turned last year's stock car race at IMS into a farcical series of 10-12 lap sprints broken up by 'competition yellows' will not be repeated.
I'm 100 percent confident. I ran this tire as hard as I possibly could, and this is a dead issue.” -- Jeff Gordon on tire tests at Indianapolis
"I'm very pleased with the results and Goodyear has done an excellent job," remarked Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet operated by Hendrick Motorsports. "I'm 100 percent confident, and I can promise all the fans out there that if they want to come to the Brickyard and see a great race and be confident that the tires are not going to be an issue, you can trust me.
"I hope that's enough for them. They've got it resolved for sure. If the fans want to come to the track and see a great Brickyard 400, this is the year to do it."
Last year's Allstate 400 was the first appearance for NASCAR's 'Car of Tomorrow' at Indianapolis, and it was pretty much an unmitigated disaster. Drivers reported wearing their Goodyear tires down to the cords in as little as five laps, and NASCAR was forced to take the extraordinary step of breaking the race into short segments to insure that a tire failure did not cause a major accident.
The tire wear problem was caused by a number of factors, including the abrasive, diamond-ground track surface at IMS and the fact that teams were running radical suspension setups in an effort to make the cumbersome, top-heavy COT handle on the Speedway's fast, lightly-banked corners.
"None of us wanted to see what happened last year, and I think that it was determined probably before that race was over that it was not going to happen again," Gordon said. "I just really hate that Goodyear took so much of the blame because this track is extremely abrasive and we've seen this car wears tires more. I give [Goodyear] a lot of credit for taking that on head on and resolving it."
Greg Stucker, Goodyear's director of race tire sales, revealed that NASCAR's sole tire supplier has conducted seven tests at IMS since last year's Allstate 400, racking up more than 13,000 miles with some 30 drivers.
"When we left Indianapolis after last year's race, there was one thing we were very clear about, and that was that we were going to get it right," he said. "We're very confident that we have done exactly that. It's been a very deliberate process over the last 11 months.
"We've developed ways to measure tread wear and wear debris generated from the tires very differently from the way we did it before," he added. "We've even gone so far as to grind our test track in Akron with exactly the same surface that Indianapolis has so that we have the resources and the ability to do some testing in Akron when we don't come to the racetrack. There has been a lot of effort, a lot of time, and a lot of commitment on a lot of people's part to make sure we do it right and to make sure we've covered all of our bases."
NASCAR vice-president of competition Robin Pemberton was also pleased with Goodyear's recent progress.
"The last two tests, they honed in on different constructions, different tire compounds and things that would add life to the tire but also add a lot of grip," Pemberton said. "It's tough to get both and I think they've done a great job at it. It's just taken this many tests, but it's amazing to see what's been accomplished in the last 10 months or so."
Gordon said he completed a 20-lap run Monday and came away believing he could run 50 laps on the same set of tires if necessary. A full fuel load generally lasts about 30 laps on Indianapolis' 2.5-mile quad oval.
"I felt like we weren't even halfway through the wear on the tires so we're way ahead of where we were last year," he noted. "You want to wear the tire a certain amount; you don't want to see no wear, but you don't want to see excessive wear. Of course they are going to lean toward the conservative side, and what I'm impressed with is that they found a tire that puts rubber into the racetrack and stays in the racetrack. I think the grip level is probably going to go away and guys are going to want tires. But from a wear standpoint, you're going to be able to run them for a long time.
"I'm 100 percent confident that this tire is good to go for the 400,"
he reiterated. "When you come to a test, you abuse a tire a lot more than you do on a race weekend because the track is usually green, you're running faster lap times and a shorter number of laps. The wear is usually much more excessive, and to come through this test, and the one before this, with a tire that had plenty of rubber left and plenty of grip is a good sign."
Gordon disagreed with comments made earlier this week by Sprint Cup team owner Doug Yates, who suggested that cutting horsepower would be an effective way to reduce tire wear and generally create more competitive racing with the COT.
"That's somebody that doesn't drive a race car, because that's just absolutely backwards," Gordon asserted. "Just because you cut horsepower down doesn't mean that it's going to slow your speed in the middle of the corner down, and most of the tire wear and abuse comes from how you lean on that tire through the middle of the corner.
"I always say give us more power, because the more power that we have, the more difficult it's going to be to control it," he continued. "The car is not going to handle as good, and we're probably going to carry actually less speed. I definitely am very much against taking power away from the cars. Now, if you take downforce away, you take grip away, and you do a lot of other things on top of the power, then maybe. But just the power is definitely not the answer."
The Goodyear debacle at Indianapolis last year came just three years after Michelin suffered similar problems in practice for the 2005 United States Grand Prix on the IMS road course. On that occasion, the three-quarters of the Formula 1 field using Michelin tires withdrew from the race prior to the start, leaving just six cars on Bridgestone tires to compete in the race.
Within ten days of that event, Michelin took steps to make up for the disaster by announcing that it would purchase 20,000 tickets to the following year's USGP to distribute to F1 fans who were upset by the lack of a proper race in 2005. But Stucker said Tuesday that Goodyear currently has no plans to reach out and make amends to the fans who came away disappointed by last year's tire-mared NASCAR event at Indianapolis.
"No decision has been made on that," Stucker related. "We've been focusing on making sure we got the tire right and we'll decide on that at some later date."
Firestone, a division of Bridgestone that is the sole supplier of tires for the IndyCar Series, has never suffered a major problem at Indianapolis Motor Speedway despite lap speeds in excess of 225 mph.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.