Firestone and IndyCar to meet over tire regs shakeup

Firestone’s new chief engineer and manager of race tire development says she is meeting with IndyCar in early October to discuss possible changes in the tire regulations within the series.

Firestone and IndyCar to meet over tire regs shakeup
Cara Adams, Bridgestone Senior Project Engineer, Race Tire Development, Kevin Blanch, IndyCar Technical Manager
Firestone tires
Dale Harrigle, Firestone
Mechanic with Firestone tires
Firestone tires
Firestone Racing photoshoot
Firestone tire engineers
Firestone tires
Firestone Racing signage
Firestone tire detail
Firestone technician on Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet car
Gil de Ferran taking the checkered flag
Pitstop for Sarah Fisher
Firestone tire being checked
Firestone tire engineer
Firestone tires technician
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Cara Adams, who last Monday replaced Dale Harrigle as Brigestone Americas’ chief engineer and manager of race tire development, has told Motorsport.com that she is meeting with IndyCar in the first week of October. And one of the items on the agenda is to discuss altering the regulations over primary [harder black-walled] tires and alternate [softer, red-walled] tires.

There have been observations – and in some cases, complaints – about the restricted use of the alternate compounds, which can alter the balance of a car, but which teams don’t get to try until the first round of qualifying on Saturday afternoon at road and street courses. One race engineer commented to Motorsport.com earlier this year: “We work our asses off, using our experience and gray matter to get stuff right and make our driver happy. And then because we never get to try these tires, all our science is worth **** in qualifying and it just becomes a lottery.”

Other critical observations have included the fact that developing confidence on the reds has been perceived as one of the biggest hurdles for a rookie to overcome, since he or she won’t have encountered the soft compounds during testing.

Adams started at Bridgestone in 2003, got into racing arm of the company in 2007 before engineering rain tires, then road/streetcourse tires, then oval tires and finally Indianapolis/superspeedway tires. She arrived at her new role from being senior project engineer, and said she  is keen to cooperate with IndyCar, should the series want to allow alternate compounds to be used in testing and/or have more sets available at a race weekend so that teams can use them in the free practice sessions.

Adams said: “We work really closely with IndyCar when we’re determining how many sets of primaries and how many sets of alternates we bring to each race. We have a meeting Oct. 5th with the tech people at IndyCar and that’s one of the things we’re going to discuss – how we can best use the primary and alternate.

“We work really closely to ensure we balance the performance of the tires with the entertainment supplied by allowing teams to use different strategies.

“And at the end of the day, if there’s a conclusion that we can do something that will be better for the series, then we’re all for it.”

Adams stated that she was satisfied that Firestone’s long-standing monopoly in IndyCar has not reduced the sense of achievement nor the coverage the brand gets.

“We get drivers talking about Firestone because of the difference between the primary and alternate tires. Drivers get out of their cars talking about the high grip and degradation of alternate tires, and the consistency of the primary tires, and so on. And we try to make sure we develop them with the input of the teams. We try to develop with as many teams as we can.”  

Modifications for 2017 and ’18

Firestone regularly make tweaks to compounds at various tracks from year to year, based on their own data, together with the feedback from drivers, race engineers and IndyCar’s Competitions Department.

Using Sonoma as an example, Adams said: “This year we closed the performance gap between the primary and alternate tires, compared with last year. The black primaries were softened to bring them nearer the reds.

“Although the construction is the same as we run at Mid-Ohio, Road America and Watkins Glen, the Sonoma compound was the softest we run on a permanent road course, because although we see some loads similar to what we get at Watkins Glen, there are also unloaded turns, and sand and dust on the track, so grip levels can change lap to lap.”

Adams also admitted that the tire choices for Watkins Glen could change next season, following this year’s race and qualifying session when teams struggled to decide which compound was better for the ultra-high-grip track. Four of the cars that got through to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying then elected to take the harder black compound. Consequently, Adams said that Firestone would be looking to test not only different comopounds but also different tire constructions at the track, where Scott Dixon’s pole time was more than five seconds under the previous track record, largely thanks to the new track surface.  

Gateway tire compounds not yet finalized

IndyCar’s return to the Gateway Motorsports Park oval next August has, like all new or returning tracks to the series, forced Firestone to do more research and delve into its data banks.

Said Adams: “We have a very well-defined process and we have the benefit of experience. We’ve been pulling up vehicle data, looking through old race reports for comments, and trying to put that toward how we will build our tire for Gateway – a few different compounds, a few different constructions.

“But since we last ran there [2003] obviously the car dynamics have changed considerably. There’s a huge amount more downforce. So we work with IndyCar and Honda and Chevy to find out what they anticipate aerodynamic loads will be, and we start out conservative and then go forward based on what drivers say at the test.

“We tested in October last year with Ed Carpenter Racing and took a Milwaukee tire but with a slightly more grippy left-side compound. That’s because Gateway has a very open-aggregate surface [the gaps between the stones is relatively large] and the surface of those stones is worn down and pretty smooth, so there’s not a lot of grip.”

IndyCar’s open test at Gateway’s 1.25-mile oval, near Madison, Ill., will be held on May 2.

 

 

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