How to Get More from Your Competition Tires
When it comes to track days, there are a lot of ways to maximize performance. Here are a few things you can do to get the most out of your competition tires.
Heat Cycling Competition Tires
Racing and competition tires typically need "breaking in" to optimize performance. Heat cycling is the process where competition tires are heated up and then cooled down repeatedly to create a stronger compound bond for better traction and more responsive handling.
Breaking in tires at the track can mean wasted sessions and excessive tread wear before the rubber compound has stabilized. Using a heat cycle machine generates the heat needed to break in a race tire without the stresses and wear applied on the track. Pre-emptively heat cycling also allows the proper 24-48 hour cool down period, all before you even pack up to head to the track.
Tire Shaving Competition Tires
Another way to maximize the performance of your track and competition tires is to alter the tread depth before use, referred to as “Tire Shaving.” Tire shaving is where the outermost layer of tread area is shaved off, accessing the tire’s best performance characteristics without having to wear them to that point.
Shaving tires reduces tread squirm which improves steering response and also reduces heat build-up lowering the risk of tread blistering. Tread blistering is where too much heat causes the tread to bubble up and tear away, ending the life of the tire.
Most DOT approved track and competition tires are engineered with minimal tread depth, so shaving these types of tires is not necessary. Tire shaving is most beneficial on ultra-high performance and summer tires that aren’t designed exclusively for track use and come with deeper tread, around 10/32”. When these tires are shaved, they are usually brought down to between 6/32”-4/32”. Unlike Heat Cycling, Shaving tires is intended solely to maximize the performance of the tire, not the longevity, since much of the tread is removed before use.
Air Pressure for Competition Tires
Air pressure always plays an important role in tire performance, and especially for track days it’s even more critical. The air pressure in your tires changes the shape of the contact patch, which directly impacts handling and performance.
There is no one air pressure that guarantees the best performance for every vehicle and its tires. The best way to determine the optimum air pressure for your vehicle is through experimentation. You can adjust your air pressure up/down by 2 psi and run timed test laps in order to determine what air pressure provides the best time for your vehicle. Remember to check your tire pressures after every session on track as the heat generated will cause them to increase dramatically as compared to what they were set at before doing laps.
Keep in mind that running your tires underinflated for long periods of time can cause excessive heat buildup, which may result in tire damage and possibly even tire failure. Running your tires overinflated creates a smaller contact patch, providing less traction.
If you adjust air pressure in your track tires for competition purposes, be sure to adjust them back to the recommended settings before non-track or competition driving.
Inspecting Your Competition Tires
Tire safety inspections are key to the safe operation and usage of any tire, and this is especially true of competition and track tires because they are operated at the highest levels of performance.
Before using your tires, ensure that your equipment meets your series requirements. Most competition tracks, circuits, and series have bylaws in place that regulate the minimum safety requirements of tires, wheels, and valve stems.
Be sure to also check your track tires’ tread depth. We recommend using a tread depth gauge if possible. Many competition tires have a tread depth hole that a "penny test" won’t be able to accurately measure. The increased accuracy of the tread depth gauge is valuable, particularly at the competition level.
When inspecting the tread area of your competition tires, check for any cuts or punctures that could lead to air loss or tire failure. It’s also important to check for visible tread splices while inspecting the tread area. Tread splices are caused by the extreme forces of acceleration and braking and should still be addressed immediately. Driving on a tire with a visible tread splice can lead to tire failure. If the tread splice becomes either open or torn, the tire should be removed from service and replaced immediately.
Storing Competition Tires
Another often-overlooked aspect of maintaining racing tires is proper storage during the off-season. If possible, tires should be removed from the vehicle, aired down completely, and stored on their sides in a cool, dry environment. To seal them away from the elements, try to store your competition tires in a black plastic bag. Ideally, competition tires should be stored in a climate-controlled environment, with the temperature between 40-90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Have more questions about your track or competition tires? Feel free to give us a call or visit your neighborhood America's Tire.