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Looking For Right Zone In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 7 2014

Tires are at the forefront of racing again. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Zone tread tire technology isn’t new to Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., just to racing.

Known as the Assurance Tripletred, the multi-zone passenger tire introduced in 2004 inspired the racing tire unveiled at Atlanta last Labor Day and used at Texas Motor Speedway. The passenger tire’s three zones are designed to deal with ice, wet and dry conditions whereas wear and heat are the two challenges facing the racing tires.

“The objective is to reduce the wear and heat on the inside shoulder of the right-side tires,” Stu Grant, Goodyear’s general manager of global race tires, explained.

Goodyear’s zone tread racing tire was under development for three years before it was used at Atlanta. And while many may point to the air pressure related tire problems at Auto Club Speedway as the reason for the zone tread tire at Texas, that’s not the case. Goodyear made the decision to use its zone tread at Texas long before the southern California event. It also decided it would introduce the special tire at Richmond, and return it to Kansas and Atlanta.

Abrasive tracks wear a tire so quickly it often won’t last a fuel run, which was the case at Atlanta. Grant said last year’s tire test showed Goodyear’s standard tire for the fast 1.5-mile track lasted only 10 laps on Brad Keselowski’s car.

“Without the zone tread tire, I don’t know how we would have gotten through the (Atlanta) race,” Grant commented.

At Kansas, there was a heat buildup issue after the track was repaved. That’s the reason the standard Kansas right-side tire was comprised of a hard compound with thin gages or thickness.

In theory, the zone tread tire combines the best of both worlds for the car’s right side; a soft outer compound that wears and a hard inner compound that provides durability. The tire is constructed using strips of rubber that are fed into an extruder. The rubber is fused together via heat. Before the tire is made Goodyear engineers decide the width of the two different compounds. At Texas, the soft compound designed for traction was 10 inches and the inside, harder compound created for durability was 2 inches.

The Texas left-side tire had been used at the track since 2011. On the right side, the hard compound was the same one that was raced at Atlanta last year while the softer compound was used in both Texas races in 2013. In developing a zone tread tire, Grant said Goodyear would use the 2013 tire designed for a specific track as its base line. If a zone tread tire presents handling and performance benefits, than it will be used at that track.

“To us the opportunity for applying the zone tread technology is in the fast 1.5-mile tracks,” Grant said. “(To get the car to turn better) they crank camber and toe into it. It’s the inside shoulder of the right-front tire that’s always the hottest. It generates more cornering force with that additional camber.”

And using lower than recommended air pressures in the left-side tires provides more grip. However, it’s also more dangerous. After Kyle Busch’s California victory his crew chief, Dave Rogers, was asked if he would become more aggressive with the car now that his team was guaranteed a Chase position. Rogers replied by describing Busch as the team’s “bread and butter” and he wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize him. He said he might become more aggressive in other areas, but never in air pressure.

In zone tread development, Goodyear has focused on the right-side tires. Grant said, because “it’s driven primarily by the camber they run on the right front.” However, due to some of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s comments at Texas it might be time for Goodyear to consider a zone tread tire for the left side as well. Earnhardt Jr. noted there was more load on the left-side tires than ever before due to lower ride heights and more downforce.

Drivers who want left-side tire pressures mandated won’t admit it, but they’re actually lobbying to protect themselves from their own competiveness. They know they will push the limits and that could easily take them into the danger zone; a zone that could prove fatal.

Tire issues have existed ever since auto racing began. They were what caused the boycott of the inaugural Talladega race by the sport’s top drivers. They have left drivers with broken bones, severe head injuries and at times been fatal. When tire wars have occurred the quest for speed has resulted in such soft compounds that every driver was in danger.

With its zone tread tire, Goodyear has taken a step that could make the sport safer. However, the new technology coupled with the Gen-6 car’s rules package means tire management is critical. And that’s in the competitors’ hands.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 7 2014
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