Dunlop Soft Tyre Under Microscope: WD40 Phillip Island SuperSprint

In this article, Scott Hornell looks at the latest action in the V8 Supercar Series, where drivers and teams were plagued with tyre failures during the two races at Phillip Island.

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The sight of blown tyres and loose rubber on the track, drivers bewildered by events out of their control, has raised more questions than answers. The latest Virgin V8 Supercars championship round was affected directly by the Dunlop soft tyre which is now under the microscope.

After this weekend’s excitement, it is believed that the choice of the softer rubber was a call to increase grip, however the torrent of blown tyres over the two races at Phillip Island saw teams and fans scratching their heads. It’s affect was across the board, with only a handful of drivers escaping the injustice of a blown tyre ruining their race plans.

Carnage on Saturday Leads to Technical Adjustments

It began Friday, but was exaggerated on Saturday by failures that upset the plans of many teams. Brad Jones Racing, Mobil 1 HSV Racing and Jason Bright from Mega Racing were only a few of the names involved. The blowouts, along with safety car periods where race marshal’s were forced to clear rubber laden across the ‘dirty line’ of the track.

Many teams on Saturday were making suggestions on the spot. Some had advice for drivers over the radio, engineers made running adjustments in pit stops, yet it was an unknown factor that was clouding the quality of racing. And on completion of the race, Supercars undertook a full analysis of tyres from the day’s opening race at Phillip Island.

A Supercars Commission ruling on Sunday, then made a call to raise the minimum tyre pressures up from 17psi to 19psi, alongside recommendations for front and rear camber settings. Teams then made individual accommodations on their own set-up for Sunday’s race.

DJR Team Penske Win Difficult Race on Dunlop Soft Tyre

The drama on Saturday made for confusion on the track and will have been frustrating for those at home. The huge television audience rely on the technical data from broadcasters, so after a small handful of blowouts on Friday practice, the events of the day was alarming for most.

Negotiating the ups and downs of the race was a difficult task. It was enough to drive teams to go to extremes, wishing to control the elements–in an uncontrollable medium [Dunlop soft tyre]. Coming out the other end was the DJR Team Penske driver Fabian Couthard.

So with Coulthard having success, it was both fortunate and a case of good car speed. The Ford driver had the ability to overtake his nearest opponents, although when his own tyre imploded on lap 18, fears were that his race was over.

“It’s a never give up attitude. We just carried on and eventually got the job done.”

Over a race of close calls, more than 10 drivers suffered tyre issues before the Safety Car was called on lap 23 to clean up tyre debris on the circuit. Lead changes occurred over the course of the race, with Coulthard making his way back from midfield via race stoppages and a particularly good strategy [on Saturday].

Amazing Recovery from Tyre Blowout Sees Shell Team Profit

After the final restart, Coulthard charged to the front before being overtaken by Lowndes. The order was then frozen thanks to a final Safety Car caused by yet another tyre failure. With post-race penalties applied, Lowndes was relegated* and Coulthard had made the most amazing of recoveries to win the Saturday race.

Other teams did not have that same good fortune, so Dick Johnson’s team will take the win that adds to their drivers lead that the kiwi now holds. His opponents; like Pro Drive Racing did not recover as well.

Protests from team managers and engineers alike (see above) were considered–and acted upon by Supercar officials. While the drivers had the most difficulty, back at the garage it was ‘all hands onboard’ to come up with a solution. Some were concerned with camber, others had issues with speed entering the corners, but they all had that nagging feeling in the backs of their minds….when will it blow?

With drivers experiencing tyre failures at high speed, some ended very badly–Craig Lowndes Friday–while reigning champion Shane van Gisbergen had a ‘hairy moment’ when traveling at high speed (see below).

Van Gisbergen would go on to finish well down the field, and give up his series lead in the process.

Win for Mostert Sunday Caps Perfect Return on Difficult Day

“I think most drivers out there drove the car a little bit differently after what happened on Saturday,” reflected Chaz Mostert. “I tried squaring off the exits trying to drive straighter, trying not to laterally load the tyre as much and it got us there in the end.

“The last 10 laps there we were probably backing off and just driving around trying to get home'” he told V8Supercars.com post race. And others will have felt the same. Like walking on egg shells, even though the conditions were perfect, yet it was the Dunlop soft tyre that was the most challenging component of the weekend.

By the time Mostert was waved over the line, questions and investigations began on the tyre compound almost immediately. How the Dunlop control tyre, tyre pressures/camber decisions made can be rectified before the next race in May.

Race Winner Feels $3000 Fine for Burnout Misdemeanor

Some may feel sympathy for Sunday’s race winner. After a great comeback from his monster crash at Bathurst several years ago, on Sunday Mostert certainly celebrated–but it was his poor judgement that got the stewards hot under the collar.

While a race win is usually deserving of a good old burnout, it was clearly signalled to Mostert that he must let the field pass before ‘shredding rubber’. He failed to adhere to that, and almost collect Jamie Whincup in the clouds of smoke.

Protocols and correct procedures are incredibly important, and it went against instructions distributed to teams earlier in the weekend that static burnouts could not be performed. Subject to a brief stewards hearing post-race where the team admitted the breach, the punishment and $3000 fine was handed out.

In relation to the impact that the Dunlop Soft Tyre had on the day, most drivers will have wanted to burn through their tyres, but it will reinforce the message–the stewards instructions are set in stone.

Shell V-Power Penalized Saturday for Pit Lane Violation

The fine handed to Mostert continued breaches of clear procedures communicated to all teams. On Saturday, pit lane violations earned front-running contenders Scott McLaughlin, Shane van Gisbergen, Mark Winterbottom and Craig Lowndes 15 second penalties during the race.

It all related to the broken white line that ran between the fast and working lanes. It had many calling for better marking [a cone was later positioned there] to clearly signify the line. Mark Winterbottom later said;

“I knew the rule but you just can’t see so you follow the car in front.”

In fact, the 15 second penalty handed down to Lowndes made a huge impact, as he crossed the line unofficially first–only to be classified as finished 12th, due to the penalty. “We didn’t talk about it in drivers’ briefing so I don’t know where it came from,” Lowndes told V8supercars.com. “We managed to stay out of trouble and to then get that over the radio (that I’d received a penalty) was pretty gut wrenching.”

While the drivers may complain, it is apparent that between the pit lane, burnouts and tyre blowouts, the WD40 Phillip Island Supersprint will be talked about for more reasons than simply the winners. The controversial elements could have taken away from the event, but for Fabian Coulthard and Chaz Mostert they will each be happy just to have crossed the line.

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The next race on the calendar is the Perth Supersprint on May 5-7.

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