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Will Goodyear's Eagles fly
in the rain?
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Last weekend showers and bad weather cancelled or delayed nearly every scheduled event at Watkins Glen. But mixed among the moans and groans of the fans as they scurried for cover from the rain were the smiles on the faces of the Goodyear engineers. Mixed among the trailer loads of tires they had brought for the Global Crossing @ the Glen were the Goodyear All-Weather racing tires, and it was prime weather for testing for testing these puppies under racing conditions.
The Goodyear Eagle All-Weather racing tires are a relatively new idea for NASCAR. Since most of the Winston Cup venues are ovals, dry weather is a must. But the road courses are a different animal, and the All-Weather tires were developed with that in mind. The tires were developed for damp to wet racing applications. They are ideal for running in showers and light rain, but they cannot funnel through heavy downpours or flooded conditions. As it was, the conditions at the Glen were perfect for testing last weekend.
Showers had once again moved over the track, this time red flagging and shortening last Saturdays' Busch North event. As Happy Hour approached the track was still wet, and NASCAR asked if any drivers wanted to test the rain tires. First out was Robby Gordon driving his Sony Menard's Ford.
Robby Gordon was asked what it is like practicing on rain tires, "I've never driven a NASCAR race car on rain tires before. We had to go out there and see what it was going to do. I didn't know how hard I could get on the gas. Now I feel that I have a little bit of an advantage on everyone on the grid if we have rain. These cars are easier to drive in the rain than the CART cars. The CART cars have so much horsepower that when they do break the tires loose it's hard to get them back. With the normally aspirated, non-turbo NASCAR engines, it's reactive. As soon as you get off the gas the traction is there."
Todd Bodine, Mark Martin and others also gave the rain tires a try, while others opted to wait for Happy Hour and the dry race conditions.
Jeff Burton gave the rain tires a trial run, but by then the sun shortened his test, "the track was too dry by the time I got out there to really run fast. I felt like I couldn't go as hard as I wanted to because I was afraid I might take a chunk out of a tire or something. The conditions have to be just right to do it and if it would have been a race situation I would have pitted in a lap or two and put on slicks."
While the speeds were fairly quick, it took a few minutes to get used to the idea of seeing a stock car roar down the track with a huge spray of water being kicked up behind it. To make it appear even more out of place, it sported a solitary windshield wiper and a lone brake light mounted high in the rear window.
The prospect of running road course races in the rain could be on the horizon, but a distant one. The Goodyear rain tire in its current design is only good for damp conditions. Running on too wet a surface causes the tire to hydroplane, and when you have 43 cars racing down the front straightaway hoping to out brake their neighbor, it is a recipe for disaster. On the other end of the weather spectrum, the rain tires cannot be used once the track starts to dry out. As the tire heats up, it is feared that pieces of the tread will tear away under acceleration, braking or cornering. So for right now, the rain tire looks awfully wicked mounted on rims, sitting in the pits, but it probably will not make it to a race event anytime soon.
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