Dakar: BFGoodrich preview

BFGoodrich is the official partner of the Euromilhoes Dakar 2008 The tyre company has won the event eight times All the factory teams have chosen the BFGoodrich Rock T/A BFGoodrich tyres will take the start of the most celebrated rally raid in...

BFGoodrich is the official partner of the Euromilhoes Dakar 2008

The tyre company has won the event eight times
All the factory teams have chosen the BFGoodrich Rock T/A

BFGoodrich tyres will take the start of the most celebrated rally raid in the world on January 5, the 30th Euromilhoes Dakar Rally. In total, the tyre company has won the event eight times -- including six consecutive victories with Mitsubishi.

Once more, several factory and privateer teams have chosen the BFGoodrich brand to help take them to the very top step of the podium.

The 30th Dakar Rally will get underway from Lisbon on January 5, prior to 6000 kilometres of gruelling competition both on and off road.

BFGoodrich : The brand for 4x4s

"If BFGoodrich has become a benchmark for tyres in the 4x4 segment, this is down to the company's participation in off-road rallies since the start of the 1970s," says Frederic Henry-Biabaud, BFGoodrich's competitions director. "Thirty years ago, while the very first Dakar Rally was getting underway from the Place du Trocadero in Paris, BFGoodrich claimed its first success on the Baja 1000 -- America's best-known rally raid.

"BFGoodrich had several other successes but it was only about 20 years later, in 1999, that the brand crossed the Atlantic for an attempt on the most beautiful, legendary and fearsome rally raid of them all : the Dakar.

"That first attempt was an outstanding success. The BFGoodrich-equipped Buggy driven by Jean Louis Schlesser was first to finish in the two-wheel drive class, ahead of many more competitive 4x4 runners. Today, BFGoodrich has a total of eight victories on the Dakar Rally, including six consecutive wins with its partner Mitsubishi. BFGoodrich also supplies around 80% of the competitors in the 'car' class each year.

"The Dakar Rally has become a core event for BFGoodrich as the company shares many of the values epitomised by this legendary event : adventure, dynamism, bravery and endeavour. For BFGoodrich, the Dakar Rally is also an enormous test bed. All the competition tyres and subsequent evolutions, which have been put to the ultimate test of the Dakar, directly influence and benefit BFGoodrich's road tyres."

Different surfaces, but just one type of tyre for the factory teams

The Dakar Rally route contains a wide variety of surfaces that form a massive challenge for the tyres. The mountain tracks of Morocco are littered with sharp rocks, the sand of Mauritania often hides traps underneath, and the stone roads of Senegal are extremely hard with minimal grip.

The rules state that FIA-seeded drivers are only allowed one type of tyre for all these very different surfaces. " This year, we're giving our teams a tyre identical to that used in 2007, " says Dominique Bravy, BFGoodrich's rally raid technician. " That's not because we haven't done any development: instead it's simply down to the fact that all the teams were extremely satisfied with our leading Rock T/A tyre, both in terms of performance and strength. It's always very difficult to offer a new tyre for the Dakar, as teams are often wary about switching from a tried-and-trusted product -- particularly when it has proved to be so effective in the past !"

The full name of the tyre in question is the BFGoodrich Rock T/A, characterised by hard rubber and a unique design that makes it capable of exceptional performance even in the most extreme conditions. " The problem with making tyres for rally raids revolves around the huge variety of conditions encountered, " explains Michel Maraval, the designer of BFGoodrich's rally raid tyres. " On every event we will come across very different surfaces, but one thing they all have in common is the fact that they are extremely hard on tyres. Despite all this, the teams only have one tyre choice available to them. So our work consists of finding the most versatile solution possible. The tyre has to be fast and efficient on the smoother sections of road, but also capable of setting quick times on the really rough and rocky portions. "

The private teams : putting BFGoodrich's road tyres to the test

Both factory teams and private outfits are in partnership with BFGoodrich on the 2008 Dakar Rally. The factory squads have bespoke competition tyres available to them. By contrast, the amateur crews will drive the entire route on standard BFGoodrich road tyres : the " Mud Terrain " or the " All Terrain ". The objectives of the works teams and the privateers are very different. For the manufacturer squads, victory is the ultimate goal. For the amateur drivers, it's a triumph just to get to the finish. Frederic Henry-Biabaud, BFGoodrich's competitions director, adds : " The Dakar Rally is an event that BFGoodrich owes it to itself to win. The rally is a unique and legendary competition that allows us to demonstrate the intrinsic qualities of the tyres we sell to our customers. These tyres are subjected to the worst possible punishment, so competition is the most effective research tool we have to develop new products for our clients all over the world. "

The BFGoodrich Rock T/A : a tyre taken to hell and back

" In order to develop an effective rally raid tyre you have to concentrate on strength above everything else, as on the Dakar Rally it's the actual carcass of the tyre that is subjected to the greatest stress, " says Dominique Bravy. " This is down to the constant pounding from the road conditions and the weight of the cars, which can reach 2.5 tonnes fully laden. A rally raid tyre can actually cope with forces of up to three tonnes, on landing after a jump for example.

It's more or less unheard of to have a day with exactly the same stage conditions for 300 or 400 kilometres. On rocky surfaces, the tyre has to be very resilient. Materials need to be used in the construction that ensure it does not deform even when subjected to a constant beating, and so minimise the risk of punctures. Sand dunes present another set of challenges, as the wheels have to avoid sinking into the soft surfaces as much as possible. Endurance is a key element that has to constantly be borne in mind. In order to be as competitive as possible, the major parameter that we can alter is the tyre pressure. "

Tyre pressures : not just a load of hot air

With just one type of tyre allowed for the priority drivers, the trick is learning how to adapt the tyre pressures to best suit the terrain encountered. The rocky roads of Morocco require high tyre pressures in the region of 3 bars, for example, in order to protect the tyre from rocks. In the sand dunes of Mauritania, by contrast, the drivers have to drop the tyre pressures to around 1.4 or 1.5 bars, in order to maximise the amount of rubber in contact with the ground. If a car gets stuck in the sand, the tyre pressure can be reduced further to just one bar in order to help it get out.

A cockpit-controlled system of inflation and deflation is against the rules for 4x4 vehicles, so adjusting the pressures takes some time. The crews also have to ensure that they properly re-inflate their tyres after crossing any obstacles, as under-inflated tyres can increase the risk of a puncture.

How to avoid punctures !

According to Dominique Bravy, a large part to the secret of avoiding punctures is simply to look after your tyres. " One evening in the bivouac, one of the competitors was complaining about having punctured twice in the space of half an hour, at the beginning of a stage, " remembers Bravy. " Consequently, he lost time. He also men- tioned that he had no spare tyre left, and so he took a bit more care for the rest of the day. Funnily enough, he didn't have a puncture again ! So that's one of the keys to success : look after your tyres and stay on top of the tyre pressures. Often, competitors underestimate the importance of that, but as soon as they realise it they instantly reduce their risk of punctures. Last year, Volkswagen driver Giniel de Villiers had no punctures at all. "

Michel Maraval, the designer of BFGoodrich's rally raid tyres adds : " By altering their tyre pressures, crews can quite drastically change the behaviour of their cars. In the rough sections the pressure needs to be high, in order for the tyres to cope with the tricky terrain. That's also vital for the jumps, where the cars can often land hard on just one wheel. By the opposite token, in places that are extremely sandy, tyre pressures need to be low in order to avoid digging into the sand while maintaining the maximum amount of grip. It's just a question of packing as much sand under the wheels as possible. The more you manage to do this by effectively extending the tyre's surface, the more efficiently you travel across the route. Tyre pressures have become an area that is absolutely vital to master, which the teams use to manage their race effectively. It often comes down to a strategic choice : do you decide to stop and change the tyre pressures to help negotiate a difficult section or do you just carry on and perhaps risk a puncture ? "

" We all want to get through each stage without having to touch the tyre pressures, " says Luc Alphand. " There are always going to be a few times when you try to get through a line of sand dunes without getting out of the car to change the tyre pressures. But if they are too high, you can find yourself literally neck-deep in sand. Sometimes you also find yourself driving at high speeds with low tyre pressures, which can cause your tyres to degrade and increase the risk of a puncture. You just need to have a bit of luck on your side too from time to time."

The goal is therefore to make punctures as rare as possible. " At the same time, it's all relative, " adds Dominique Bravy. " Changing a tyre only takes about three minutes. But three or four punctures on the same stage can rapidly demotivate a crew. Getting stuck in the sand is far worse, with an even bigger time loss. "

The BFGoodrich technician : an indispensable ally

Unlike the competitors, the two BFGoodrich technicians attending the Dakar Rally travel from place to place by plane. They wait for the drivers to arrive from the end of each leg until late at night. From then on they are engaged in the relentless pursuit of information, both with the private and professional teams.

" We don't differentiate between the teams, " explains Dominique Bravy. " Everybody gets treated in exactly the same way. Our role is to extract the maximum amount of information that we can as soon as the competitors arrive, in order to give them advice that will allow them to start the following day's leg in the best possible way. All the information they can give us is useful : the number of punctures they encountered, the different places that they thought worked the tyres the hardest, top speeds, the surfaces along the route and so on. As soon as the debrief is over, we add that information to the graphical and technical information we already possess about the following day's action. Then we have a meeting with each team to give them our recommendations about tyre pressures -- or changing the tyres, in the case of the privateers -- and we also tell them any other little things to watch out for.

Sometimes I've spoken with drivers who have delightedly told me that they ran all day on tyres inflated to just 800 grammes. It's probably useless to suggest to these people to change tyres quickly, as if they leave again on the same set the whole tread pattern will probably disintegrate ! "

Luc Alphand : " The tyres play a crucial role "

" In this discipline the tyres play a crucial role so working with BFGoodrich is a distinct advantage, " says Luc Alphand. " The tyres we use need to be very strong and resistant to punctures. The challenges are somewhat different to those of the WRC, where the stages are a lot shorter and often not as extreme as the roads that we have to tackle. "


There is no limit to the number of tyres that the teams are allowed to use on the Dakar Rally. However, the teams are all individually responsible for transporting their own tyres and putting them onto and off the wheels. The only help they can get on the event itsself is from Euromaster. This company offers a service that mounts tyres onto rims and takes them off again. In general, each team takes about 75 tyres per car.

A tyre is born ...

The Rock T/A tyre has been equipping the majority of the Dakar competitors for nearly 10 years now. Modifying the actual carcass of a tyre requires years of development. The decision to change a product has to take firm root in the minds of not just the BFGoodrich designers but also in those of the actual rally competitors. Particularly when those competitors are already very happy with their current product, as is the case at the moment.

Frederic Henry-Biabaud, BFGoodrich's competitions director, explains : " It's a very complicated process to modify a rally raid tyre. The timescale on an evolution is in the order of two years. Nonetheless, these days we recognise that we have to make more progress in terms of versatility and resistance to punctures. We're currently renewing our key product, the Rock. Along with our partners, we have three main objectives in mind : handling, performance on sand and resistance to punctures. It takes a very long time for us to sign off a tyre, as we can't just turn up for the Dakar with a new product that doesn't have thousands of kilometres already behind it. "

The creation of a new tyre starts off with several calculations back at the factory, and a series of tests at the Ladoux research and development facility.

" We get underway by casting the net wide and testing around a dozen potential new tyres, " explains Biabaud. " By a process of elimination, we narrow this range down to about three or four tyres, and then finally one or two. By the time we get to this stage, we're looking for a good compromise. So then we come to the life-size test. We test and double-check the tyres with all our partners on the widest possible variety of surfaces. Finally, the teams will test the endurance aspect of the tyres, by running running with them for about 600 to 800 kilometres. Next, the teams will use the new tyre on some of the cross country championship events and then we start the final optimisation process with the individual cars. A new tyre is never raced at the very end of its development : it is only raced once the teams have finished learning about it, so that they can properly establish its limits.

Whether or not to use a new tyre is always a very difficult decision as far as the teams are concerned. They need to be amply persuaded of the advantage that any new product brings, because unlike most forms of motorsport it's not possible to change the tyre choice halfway through. "

BFGoodrich : tyres that are up for a challenge

The BFGoodrich tyre brand is the official partner of the 2008 Euromilhoes Dakar Rally, and it will be aiming for its seventh consecutive victory on the 30th edition of the most challenging rally in the world.

The American company was created in 1870 by Dr Benjamin Franklin Goodrich, and it has never stopped innovating and pushing back the limits since. BFGoodrich tyres crossed the United States by road in 1903, flew over the Atlantic in 1927, and have even travelled into space on the space shuttle Columbia.

For BFGoodrich, competition is a technological shop window, and an essential method of promoting and marketing the product. BFGoodrich is today the benchmark in both off-road rallies (with eight Dakar victories and 10 FIA Cross Country titles) as well as World Championship rallies (claiming the drivers' and manufacturers' titles in 2006 and 2007).

The BFGoodrich Rock T/A, All-Terrain and Mud-Terrain tyres have been designed in order to win through the most difficult conditions that the 30th Euromilhoes Dakar Rally can provide. It's no co-incidence therefore that more than 80% of the car class competitors choose BFGoodrich to take them all the way to the Lac Rose near Dakar.

BFGoodrich is proud to lend its support to one of the most famous sporting events in the world, with which it has a lot of values in common : adventure, dynamism, hard work and bravery. Dakar is also an unrivalled test bed for BFGoodrich. The technological innovations designed and developed for motorsport soon find their way onto road car products.

The 30th Dakar Rally and BFGoodrich: 15 years of a shared passion

On 26 December 1978, 170 adventurers set off from the Place du Trocadero, at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, for a voyage of 10,000 kilometres across Algeria, Nigeria, Mali, Upper Volta and Senegal to Dakar. In January 2008, there will be several hundred more crews taking the start of the most famous rally raid in the world, the Dakar Rally. BFGoodrich is proud to be the official tyre partner, having first won the event back in 1993.

In the 30-year history of the Dakar Rally, the passion has been shared by BFGoodrich for 15 of them : half the life of the rally itself. Since the 15th Dakar Rally in 1993, and Jean-Louis Schlesser's victory in the two-wheel drive class on the American tyres, BFGoodrich has made the African event its Holy Grail. In total, BFGoodrich has won the Dakar overall eight times between 1999 and 2006, including six consecutive victories with Mitsubishi.

The Dakar and BFGoodrich have a lot in common. The epic event was dreamed up by an adventurer, Thierry Sabine, from the depths of the Libyan desert in 1977. That same year, the BFGoodrich tyre brand -- created by American pioneer Benjamin Franklin Goodrich -- claimed its first spoils in the Baja 500 and Baja 1000, the best-known rally raids in America.

For nearly 30 years, the Dakar has been synonymous with adventure, endurance and perseverance : values shared by BFGoodrich, whose tyres are well-known for their performance and strength -- whatever the terrain or the conditions. For 15 years now, BFGoodrich and the Dakar have been living out a remarkable shared passion. It's only natural that BFGoodrich should be the rally's official tyre supplier on its 30th anniversary.

-credit: www.bfgoodrich.com/racing

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Dakar