Is limiting practice tyres damaging the racing in V8 Supercars? And how far are drivers willing to go for more testing rubber? Andrew van Leeuwen investigates.
Cost cutting is important in motorsport. There is no disputing that. It's not the 1980s, tobacco money isn't rife within the sport, and measures have to be taken to avoid teams out-spending their rivals to a point where all semblance of competition disappears.
But too often in modern motorsport the theory of cost-cutting and the reality differ too much from each other. And that leads to so-called cost-cutting measures, designed to bridge the gap between the rich and the not-so-rich, actually having the opposite effect.
The cutting back of testing in basically every major category in the world is a good example of that. Less testing does stop the rich from building insurmountable advantages through sheer track time, but it also does limit the opportunities for the also-rans to catch up. Once the good guys have their cars sorted, they don't need to be testing to be winning.
That problem does exist in V8 Supercars, where testing is essentially limited to a two-day pre-season test, and a pre-endurance season test.
But there is an even bigger cost-cutting problem in V8 Supercars; practice tyres. Or to be more specific, the lack thereof.
Not enough rubber
Put simply, V8 Supercar teams have a tyre bank for each round. And the Friday practice running is counted towards that tyre bank.
What the teams can do, however, is use pre-marked rubber from past race meetings. And with the new tyre bank for each weekend already so skinny, that's their only realistic option.
The theory is fine. Less tyres means less money.
But here's the problem. Anyone who has been on a good run and finishing a lot of races suddenly has no decent tyres left in their bank when it comes to Friday practice. That means they spend all but the last five minutes of Friday running on spent tyres, that are offering zero realistic insight into the behaviour of the car.
Then, on goes the new rubber for qualifying - and the set-up is a mystery.
It also creates a bizarre situation where drivers are essentially penalised for finishing races.
The first time you roll out on new tyres is in qualifying, and you get one lap. It's a lottery.
"I've got no hard tyres in my tyre bank, because we have been finishing races," explains Prodrive Racing Australia driver Mark Winterbottom.
"If you finish races in 2014, you have no tyres for 2015. But someone who didn't finish in 2014 has heaps of tyres for practice. So it's helping them and hurting us.
"At the last two rounds I've been to, my hard tyre has had over 100 kilometres on it, and then you get three sets for qualifying - so the first time you roll out on new tyres is in qualifying, and you get one lap, because the tyres really only last one lap at some places. It's a lottery."
"For 90 per cent of us, we're out there and we're on tyres that have been murdered for a whole race because you were in a good position," adds LD Motorsport driver Nick Percat.
"And then you rock up at the next race on Friday for practice, and you don't know what your car is actually doing until the last five minutes of the last session, when you put on a new set of tyres out of your tyre bank for the weekend."
Unable to bridge the gap
Not only do the tyre rules penalise those who finish races, it hinders the middle and back of the grid as they aim to try and run down the pace-setters.
For starters, with so little testing, that Friday practice time could be so valuable for teams developing all-new cars (such as the new Ford FG X run by PRA and the Dick Johnson/Penske outfit), or smaller teams running customer equipment.
And it's not just that...
"If you're car isn't behaving you get even more penalised, because you're using more rear tyre compared to the guys with a hooked up car that's looking after its tyres," says Percat.
In other words, the good cars will still have decent rubber, even after a race distance. But the teams with more troublesome cars, the ones that desperately need to get their set-up sorted, don't have the rubber to do the meaningful running needed to find the answers to their problems.
So how are they ever meant to catch up?
If you're car isn't behaving you get even more penalised, because you're using more rear tyre compared to the guys with a hooked up car that's looking after its tyres.
Finding a solution
In the scheme of the spending that goes on in top level motorsport such as V8 Supercars, a solution to the problem doesn't have to break the bank. One set of hard compound 'practice only' tyres per two rounds would equal an extra seven sets per year.
It wouldn't cost a fortune, and it would be a small price to pay to potentially improve the racing on offer come Saturdays and Sundays.
Hey, the drivers are so desperate for more rubber they'll even pay for it themselves.
"I think we'd have better racing, because everyone would have a chance on Friday to run a good set of tyres," says Percat.
"It wouldn't send us broke. Compared to what is being spent at the moment, and extra set of tyres every couple of rounds would be nothing.
"I would personally pay for it myself, because we need them."