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Tyres are the most important part of a race car; it’s the only bit that connects the car to the road, all the acceleration, braking and cornering force is limited by those little black patches.

Buying.
When you first go racing you will be limited by the regulations, some series specify a certain tyre make and type but others will say anything from the MSA blue book ‘list 1A’. This is quite a long list of tyres that have been approved for motorsport and covers a wide range of capabilities and costs.
There are two ways you can save money, first is using race remoulds, second is to use part worn road tyres.
Now, remoulds must be made properly and regrettably there are some poor quality ones about. So only go for race approved tyres such as those from Maxsport or Colway, tyre types are a little more limited but they both do excellent slicks available in hard, medium or soft compounds.
Buying second hand road tyres can be hit and miss, the important thing is the tyre condition but some damage from kerbing may be internal and not obvious when you inspect them. But if you get a good set then you save a fortune. Some rich car owners change their tyres every year and so good low mileage performance tyres are reasonably common.
But check the date code on the side of the tyre, rubber oxidises even if the tyre is sitting on the stockists shelf, six years old is the absolute maximum for a road tyre but for racing aim for no more than two years old. The date code is a four digit number, first two digits is the month and the second two is the year (so 1004 is October 2004). If the date code is three digits then it’s very old indeed so avoid it.

Wheels.
On a budget racer you will have budget wheels, but if the tyre bead seat is corroded then you will never get the tyre to seal properly. If the wheels look tatty then clean them up before fitting your race tyres, remove sharp edges from the lip (due to kerbing) so that the tyre will not be damaged during fitting, remove corrosion from the bead seat and re-seal with quality lacquer or paint.
Or just search about for some better ones!
Don’t get carried away looking for the biggest and most stylish wheels, these will be expencive and you are better off spending the cash on better tyres. Smaller wheels in good condition will serve you better than damaged top of the range ones. Also bigger wheels need more expencive tyres so as with all things it’s a matter of striking a balance.

Fitting.
Get the tyres fitted by someone who knows what they are doing, tyres have a heavy point and so will the wheel so they need to be fitted opposite to each other. Otherwise you end up with lots of balance weights and as the tyre wears it gets out of balance quicker.
Balance weights need to be stuck on where they cant fall off, race wheels spend a lot of time at high speed and get very hot, occasionally even circuit racers go off road and you don’t want the gravel knocking your wheel weights off. Avoid clip on weights, they just ping off.
A good fitter is a valuable thing, they can fit the tyre with the minimum of force and they can point out if there any problems you need to be aware of.

Buffing.
On a circuit racer excessive tread depth causes the tyres to over heat due to the tread blocks moving back and forth. So it is normal to cut treaded tyres down to about 3mm or less, as a budget racer I have always gone for 4mm so I get a little more use out of the tyre. But at the end of the day the effect of tread depth depends on your driving style and the type of car, if you are just starting off and drive relatively slowly then you wont get the tyres so hot and can carry a bit more tread, heavier cars work the tyres harder so need less tread depth.
Buffing must only be done by qualified companies, ask other racers in your chosen series who they use.
If the tread depth is too much you will find that the tyres work well for the first few laps but then the car starts sliding much more, the tyres get hot on the long straight so you don’t notice until you brake hard for the corner and fall off the track!

Tyre care.
Look after your tyres, if you drive the car to the track then swap to another set of wheels for road use to avoid risk of damage.
Inspect race tyres before and after every race, there is usually a huge amount of debris on the track that can cut or puncture your tyre.
After a race you will find there is a lot of rubber ‘worms’ stuck on your tread, this is bits of other peoples tread that has peeled off and stuck to your hot tyres. Sometimes you can peel them off but its nothing to worry about because they come off the tyre when racing and don’t really effect things too much.

Pressures.
Absolutely critical! Every racer has there own preference for pressures, each wheel could be set differently if needed to suit a given track. For instance Mallory has only one proper left turn and a very long hard right, so the left hand tyres get worked much harder than the right hand ones, so to avoid the right hand tyres getting too cold I run them at a lower pressure, that way when I arrive at the left hander they are up to optimum temperature and grip.
Start by asking fellow racers what they set cold pressures to as a starting point, but every driver will have a different opinion.
When testing the car check the pressures when the tyre is hot as soon as it comes off the track, keep a record of how the car felt and the pressures then try changing them by about 3psi up or down and note the difference.
To fix understeer; reduce front tyre pressure, if minimum tyre pressure is reached increase rear pressure.
To fix oversteer; reduce rear tyre pressure, if minimum tyre pressure is reached increase front pressure.
Tyre pressures are used to tune a cars handling and if your car is mostly standard then it becomes the most important piece of tuning you have, and the cheapest.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

©Ralph Hosier