Guest contributor: Kevin McCauley on the case for using street tires on the track
To some people, getting to the track early with a sticky set of spares and a jack is the ‘proper’ way to do a track event. I disagree— unless, of course, you’re already an expert. Then go right ahead. But for the rest of us, it seems obvious to me that jumping up to R-compounds impedes driver development.
If I want to drop my lap times, I can try to:
- be smoother with my steering inputs
- threshold brake
- change my slip angle
- pay greater attention to my weight transfer
- roll on the throttle to stay on the edge of my friction circle
- hit all my reference points
Or I can go buy race tires and keep driving at my current skill level.
It’s not uncommon to see people in high-horsepower cars develop some skill, and then reach a point where they’re using about 60% of their tires’ capabilites. Then it starts to get difficult. So instead of learning greater car control, they get race tires, and then utilize just 30% of what those tires can do. You end up with a bunch of people doing fast laps but missing a lot of fundamentals. They never learn how to react for when they inevitably ask too much from the tire. When something goes wrong, the speeds are much higher than they would have been on street tires.
For me, as a developing driver, a predictable high performance summer street tire is the best tool for the job. Right now is the time to learn – or at least scratch the surface of learning – smoothness, momentum, weight transfer, throttle/steering inputs, driving lines, understeer and oversteer. Threshold braking is a challenge with real-world tires but I imagine it’s probably not as much of an issue with race slicks. There isn’t a good reason to switch to race tires (aside from artificially reduced lap times) until I’ve gotten the maximum of what those tires can do.
I’m sure this reads like a guy who’s just bitter about getting passed by faster cars on sticky tires, and maybe that’s part of it. I’ve actually had to consider that perhaps learning to be a better driver isn’t everyone’s goal at a track event— maybe some people just do this for the thrill and adrenaline. In that specific case, it’s possible you could justify being inexperienced with race tires. There are cheaper ways to experience the thrill. There is no better place to learning driving and car control skills.
I think when you get to the level of an instructor or equivalent, by all means go for those tires. You can continue to learn and develop with race tires, provided a solid foundation of knowledge and seat time is already there. But if you’re inexperienced, these tires are just a shortcut to being fast. What’s the point?
My goal is to open a discussion, not proclaim the final word of truth— I welcome dissection. I’m honestly, truly not trying to command people what to do; I just feel compelled to speak up when I see people putting a lot of effort into going to the track and then robbing themselves of learning. The experience is what you make of it. Just don’t try to tell me that jumping in over your head with tires that enable you to delay driver development is doing it ‘proper.’
Written with added input from Dave Russell. Lead image chosen as a visual aid only and not intended to ‘call out’ any individual.