Drivers in endurance races must vary the way they drive to balance fuel consumption and performance, and must even adjust for weight distribution and balance shifts throughout the race. Because of the heavy demands on track, car, driver and crew, endurance racing has given rise to some of the most significant technical advancements in motorsport.
Endurance motorsport evolved as a different kind of challenge than Grand Prix. Instead of building cars that could blow the doors off the competition for a drag, sprint or short race, engineers faced the test of building vehicles that were both sporty and reliable -- not to mention as fuel-efficient as possible, to cut down on the number of pit stops.
Thus, endurance racing helped drive research into fuel efficiency, reliability and aerodynamics. All race cars require reliability and stability, of course, but these factors became especially important in off-track endurance racing, where roads were not maintained for racing conditions and a car could really take a beating over the course of a day.
Tires, too, have always been a major concern in endurance racing. The effects on acceleration, braking and handling of tires heating up and wearing down can be substantial, and the frequency with which tires need to be changed, along with the speed with which the pit crew can change them, can make a huge difference in the outcome of a race. One driver said that switching the tires on his car to a different brand saved his team 4 seconds per lap in a factory Corvette at Sebring.
Tires that can last more than one stint with a single driver provide a major advantage to the team that equips them. However, this requires tires that can still provide grip to the road even when worn down and somewhat cool, when their coefficient of friction is at its minimum.
Solving problems like these at endurance races provides tire manufacturers a useful focus for research, even while the races provide a proving ground for testing their tires for performance, longevity and consistency. Consider, too, the positive publicity that might come from having their company's product on the car that wins Le Mans, Daytona or Sebring. Michelin must agree -- in 2009, it supplied tires for 41 of the 55 cars entered in Le Mans.
So, next time you look at a mileage sticker or buy a set of 70,000-mile (112,654-kilometer) tires, spare a thought for endurance racing. Whether you think of it as a great big proving ground, or revel in the excitement of pushing the limits of machine and driver, it's something to get revved up about.
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