Goodyear Knows what went Wrong at Indy

Goodyear has figured out (or at least thinks they have a good idea) what the problem was with the Indy tires. They confirmed that the tire compound was indeed the one they intended to use and identical to the one they’ve run there the last two years. They double checks for mistakes with the formulation or processing. They contacted every one of their suppliers to make sure that none of them had changed the raw materials they provided. I’ve had that happen to me when doing chemical synthesis: you buy the same chemical from the same company, but it’s a different lot and all of a sudden, the synthesis doesn’t work. Any of you who knit or crochet know that you can get subtle variations from dye lot to dye lot. Same thing goes for chemicals.

The conclusion they came to is that the drivers are driving differently. Because the new car is so hard to turn, the drivers drive into the corners differently than they used to. It’s not just that the higher center of gravity is shifting more weight to the right-side tires, which would make you think that both right sides would wear and not just the right rears. According to David Poole’s blog, recounting an interview he did with Goodyear’s Stu Grant:

“Grant said drivers were pitching the car into the corner and then sliding the right-rear tire as they tried to get the new car to turn.”

The track at Indy has grooves cut in it to allow the lighter Indy cars to get enough grip to race. Remember that Indy is a very flat track. As David goes on to point out, the sliding means that means that instead of the right rear tire riding along parallel to the grooves in the track, it was riding perpendicular to the grooves.

Get out your box grater and a piece of Parmesan cheese (the closest edible thing in my house to tire rubber). Use the largest holes and compare what happens when you grate in one direction to what you get when you grate 90 degrees perpendicular to that direction. You get very different wear. That’s what Goodyear thinks caused the fine powder that wouldn’t stick to the track. It’s not so surprising that Goodyear didn’t get that from the tire test they did–the drivers might not have figured out that sliding is the best way to get the car to turn. Some drivers might have picked it up race weekend.

Why didn’t Goodyear coming up with a reason get as much coverage as the problems at the race? Trying searching for this story on Google. What you’ll get are all the columns with people complaining that Goodyear screwed up. Then Goodyear actually comes out with a reasonable explanation that makes sense and gives them a place to start for next year and you have to dig for it. It’s like printing retractions in legal-sized font in the back of the newspaper. I’m pretty religious about reading through the headlines once a day (more when I’m trying to put off tasks I don’t want to do) and I didn’t see a whole lot about Grant’s quotes. Thanks very much to the reporters who take the time to post transcripts so fans can get the whole story and not just “breaking news” soundbites. For example, Claire B. Lang had an in-depth interview with Grant about the tire situation that really gets into the complexity of the problem and gives you a chance to hear about the strategy that Goodyear used to determine the problem. This is a great lesson in problem solving if nothing else.

Now that they have a candidate problem, they at least know what direction they should head in trying to come up with a really good tire for next year. I don’t envy the folks who work at Goodyear!


  1. I wonder if the problem was caused by everyeon setting up their cars to yaw at the maximum rate allowed by NASCAR, and that was something that the drivers just weren’t doing as of the tire test. I’m not sure about the exact timeline, but I don’t remember cars going to the extreme until the beginning of the summer, and wasn’t the tire test back in mid-spring?

    In any case, my friends and I have said since the beginning that there’s nothing wrong with the CoT platform that wouldn’t be solved with larger tires, so I’m really glad NASCAR is looking in that direction.

  2. Interesting. Of the 3 drivers who did the Indy tire test, Kurt is the only one who tends to drive a loose car and spring was the time that Penske was developing their radical “dog-tracking” so he may not have had too.

    Goodyear said that the Darlington test had something show up with Biffle that didn’t show with the other drivers because of Biffle’s style and his willingness to throw his all into testing rather than coast around at 90%. Biffle drives a very loose car.

    I know that Goodyear rotates their tire testing around to get drivers from every make and every team spread throughout the season while still getting drivers who communicate well with the engineers. Adding tight/loose preferences to that mix doesn’t seem very practical.

    But if they made sure that a driver from each make went to each test, using 4 rather than 3, they’d have a better chance of having the various driving styles represented. Earlier this year when a manufacturer was complaining about missing a tire test (was it Roush complaining about no Fords at Indy?), Goodyear said that there was enough data from 3 cars and they didn’t need a 4th.

    Looks like they do indeed need a 4th car to account for the differences in drivers’ racing styles.

  3. Hey Skip: I bet you’re right about the timeline. Even if I were working on the yawed out set up, I sure wouldn’t be advertising it at a tire test. I’m curious to see what Goodyear and NASCAR come up with for the ‘Tire of Tomorrow’. It may solve some problems, but it may create others. DLP

  4. Hi MB: I agree that they probably could use four instead of three drivers per tire test; however, it may be that they need to pick drivers for driving style and not just make sure that all four manufacturers are represented. The Claire B. interview has a question asking why Goodyear doesn’t have their own test team and Grant explains quite reasonably that they don’t have the resources to develop their own set ups. It makes much more sense for the teams to do that themselves, but if the most extreme setups aren’t represented in the test, there are likely to be problems at the track. Thanks for writing.

  5. Hey Marc: My next post is going to be my spaghetti recipe – we had to do something with all that grated cheese after we were done convincing ourselves that this was indeed a valid explanation. DLP

  6. I just keep thinking back to what Mark Martin had said following the race. At some point in time over the past 10 years, tires ceased being “sticky” and started becoming more brittle/dusty.

    I can’t help but think that if the actual tread compound was soft instead of brittle, that we would have still seen the track “rubber up”.

    I certainly think that Goodyear’s got a brutal job, and I don’t envy their position at all.

    The important thing, both for safety and competition, is that the problem is corrected. Hopefully, they (Goodyear, Nascar and the teams) will get it worked out.

    It’s difficult for me to not maintain my belief that this is a tread compound problem. Maybe not one that GY should have seen coming, but a compound problem nonetheless.

  7. that’s why you test… there are problems every year at indy. test or move on!!!

    worst race ever and there is no excuse!!!

  8. Hey girl, you’re not only brilliant, you’re funny. Thanks for always bringing an explanation that we all can understand.

  9. So now ‘tar’ science has now been simplified to recipes. Who would have thunk it!

    Was Indy the ‘worst race ever’? I think that moniker still goes to the early Beach Course Races when cars would either get stuck or roll over in Turn 1.

    On a side note Diandra, maybe you can get the low down on how the tires and more specifically the ‘tire codes’ are matched up on race weekend, and the theories behind them. TeVee will touch on the coding of the tires every once in a while, but really not go in depth to what the CCs are looking for. And you and I both know that the tire codes seem to be very important to a certain driver.

  10. It’s obvious the answer is NASCAR needs to give the crew chiefs more the work with… not have such strict tolerances.. Let them pick the springs and shocks, the gears and the angle of the wing…. let them be creative….THEY HAVE EVERYONE IN TOO TIGHT A BOX!!!!!!

  11. I’m still confused how the one Indy tire test could be deemed adequate if you determine the tire tested is not adequate and therefore use last year’s tire with NO testing of it with the COT at Indy. I have yet to read whether or not Goodyear checked to see whether or not the tire was rubbering in the track in the tire test OR whether there was dust being created. It still sounds to me like the testing was inadequate, especially on a unique track where it had been necessary to have a competition caution in 2007 to check tire wear.

  12. kdt: I’m with you on loosening up the box. Right now, the crew chiefs do have a pretty wide range of springs and shocks they can use and I haven’t heard anyone complaining about those, except at plate tracks. The gear range could definitely be broadened to eliminate issues about one team or another feeling disadvantaged because their engine makes peak power in a different range of the power band. I have on my list to ask the next aerodynamicist what they’d like to be able to do with the splitter and the wing that they currently aren’t allowed to do. Thanks for the comments.

  13. Hi Richard: As I understand it, the track at Indy doesn’t normally rubber up until race day. That means that 45-50 cars with a couple hours practice doesn’t do it, which suggests to me that they wouldn’t expect the track to rubber up during a tire test since there are only three cars out on the track.
    You have to remember that Goodyear has years and years of tire data and they do a lot of extrapolating from one situation to another, just like the teams use their old notes. It has got to be expensive to make up a whole bunch of batches of trial tires, not to mention you’re taking time not just from the driver, but from the whole crew that has to be there. So they are a little limited in what they can do. I’m sure they compared the right side wear from the tracks that get the highest right-side loads and figured that the loading wouldn’t be any worse at Indy. What they didn’t count on, apparently, was the innovation on the part of the drivers in the way the drivers were taking the corners.

    Phil: I’d have to say “worst race ever” is any race in which a driver (or pit crew member) is injured or killed, especially if the accidents were preventable. Remember Lowe’s right after levigation? Tony Stewart asked someone over the radio to check and see if his life insurance was paid up. I realize that this doesn’t make it any better for the fans, many of whom get to see one race a year and may have scheduled vacations and spent a lot of money on going. I think Indy is missing a big opportunity to do something for the fans. You could make a gesture that wouldn’t cost the track a whole lot of money (making it clear that the track doesn’t admit any responsibility for the situation) and would increase the goodwill for the fans. I think you could get a lot of positive PR for relatively little monetary cost.
    Then again, I work for a non-profit institution, so what do I know?

  14. I still would like to know why dust was coming off the tires, rather than the traditional marbles. Did yo see the incar pics of the dashboards??

  15. (please do not interpret the following as “killing the messanger” b/c it’s not at all intended that way!)

    ok, i’m really trying to be patient here but c’mon! once again, the problem comes back to being the drivers’ fault, that they’ve changed how they have to drive the car and so they’re too hard on the tires that goodyear brought? how about looking at that brick of a car that nascar has them strapped into for a bit? they have the crew chiefs so handcuffed with that vehicle that it’s all the drivers can do to hold onto the car at any track. that’s why we see these conveyor belt races.

    there were many different driving styles represented by the 43 racers that day at indy and yet i believe ALL the teams had serious tire problems. to me, that indicates something more than solely how the drivers were going into the corners. just for example, i will absolutely guarantee that young busch and his brother go into corners differently and use completely different set-ups from each other. yet both saw serious tire wear. for goodyear to reduce the problem to this one, single “human element” cause is, at best, self-serving on their part.

    as for the track not rubbering up following practice and qualifying: i believe several drivers, including jeff burton, commented with surprise at the fact that indy didn’t rubber up on saturday. obviously, nascar was surprised as well b/c those pocono tires were called for saturday, in preparation for sunday. clearly, nascar expected indy to act as it had done previously, i.e. to rubber up and be ready for sunday’s race. that didn’t happen and so they have to look for a quick fix: the pocono tires.

    finally, as i recall from comments about that single test in the spring, earnhardt jr said he did provide feedback about that tire, that goodyear had a second compound that was tested that day as well and that his feedback was that the second tire was better — and goodyear didn’t take it to indy. (and, while i’m at it: shame on the teams for not wanting to test at indy! if fans can see how important that test would be for the cot, why were the teams so willing to test elsewhere instead??)

    i appreciate the work goodyear is doing, chasing the tire issue but that “car” is a continuing thread across the problems that have been seen. and while it was “the compound they intended to use,” there WERE indications, even at the spring test, even with just 3 cars, that something wasn’t right. goodyear will, i believe, continue to have tire problems b/c they are lagging behind when it comes to compensating for the horrible design of the car it is trying to outfit. of course, in my opinion, nascar is way behind as well b/c they didn’t do study of the non-safety features of the car to suspect what would happen. safe, yes. racy? hell no! why can’t the sport have both?

  16. Hi Red — thanks for the thoughtful response. I’m with you that there ought to be a way for us to have a safe car that gives us really good racing. That’s quite a challenge. It would have been very surprising if they accomplished that on the first iteration. If I ran the R&D Center, I’d hire away a couple of the more talented engineers from race teams that have been successful with setting up the new car and put them on the problem. One does wonder whether it would have been a better to make modifications in stages (i.e. incorporated safety features into the old car first). But then we’d have the teams complaining that the car was changing every year.
    Mik: You’re right that they could have dragged tires around the track on Saturday. Even if they used the old tires, if they were dragging them longitudinally around the track, it should have rubbered up like the track of old.

  17. This cracks me up. The reason the tires sucked was because NASCAR and Goodyear didn’t do their homework. IMS was diamond ground years ago. They have raced on the surface with no issues many times before. So now with a new car, they don’t bother to conduct a real test. Nicely done.

    But instead of being grown up about it, first they blame the facility, then they blame each other, and now finally, they are blaming the drivers.

    Take a look at Indycar, which runs on Firestones. When is the last time a Firestone tire blew? How many thousands of miles have the Indy Cars logged in May at Indy without a tire failure while the stock car guys have to throw a yellow every 25 miles?

    Goodyear sucked in the IRL too… which is one reason why they have been on Firestones for quite a while.

  18. Diandra:
    Some left field thinking here so hear me out.

    You and others say that dragging tires on the surface would have helped the issue at hand. But maybe one further development would be for Goodyear (or the track)to ‘spray’ or drop a liquefied equivalent of the tire compounds in the corners. Wouldn’t this ‘tarring’ be a more effective way or ‘rubbering’ up a stubborn track?

  19. It still seems to me, and even DW wrote, that dragging the track with old tires would have been a good idea- but in the last couple of years I am not aware of any Cup track that has been dragged with old tires. For whatever reason, dragging the track just seems to be a lost art for Cup and N-wide tracks – and I do realize it is easier to talk about it than to do it. One other point that I do believe is significant is that, despite the change to the COT, Goodyear continues to use the same tire for both the Cup and N-wide races. I believe that everyone involved shares the blame – except that the only thing the track can be faulted for is not being prepared to drag the track with old tires.

  20. Diandra, can I borrow your box grater? I seemed to have misplaced mine and, damn, I gotta do me some tire research!

  21. Diandra – “Hey Marc: My next post is going to be my spaghetti recipe.”

    In the famous words of Homer Simpson; “I only eat food in bar form. When you concentrate food, you unleash its awesome power, I’m told. That’s why I’m compressing 5 pounds of spaghetti into a handy mouth-sized bar.”

    And BTW, thanks for stopping by the Full Throttle Club. Your presence has taken the IQ level to an entire new plane.

  22. After reading the interview that Claire B. did it seems that Goodyear is doing about everything they can to make next year a better race. Forcing the teams to take the yaw out of the cars would not solve the problem if they have to pitch them and run them loose in order to turn even with the yaw built in. Steering the rear has been used for years to make a car turn, but is pretty much considered a crutch as opposed to a solution.

  23. Again, I say that the track operator was at fault. The track wasn’t race-ready when the racers got there. There is only two races each year at this track, so it is totally green at the start of the session.

    In the cool days of May, the Indy cars are there for a whole month, testing, practicing, qualifying for TWO days, more practicing. By the time the Indy 500 is run, there has been thousands of miles of racing on the surface. Those light, highly-manuverable, cars with the WIDE tires are sticking like glue.

    When Nascar gets there in the heat of August, they run no support races, practice a couple of hours, qualify, then race. All in 5 whole days! Throw in a rain shower or two, and its asking for disaster.

    Yeah, the tires sucked, and Nascar wasn’t on the ball about them, but the track also wasn’t prepared for them to run on. Any decent track operator, faced with a short schedule of racing knows to DRAG THE TRACK with tires to help it ‘rubber-up’. Nowhere did I hear of this being done at Indy. They just sent Million-dollar cars with $1600 tires out to do what should have been done before they even got there!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.