Editorial

Tire Warmers, an idea whose time has come

 by Mark Cipolloni
November 16, 2000

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Tire warmers being used by the Ganassi team on a cold testing day at Nazareth

Several years ago CART's Rules and Technical Committee outlawed the use of tire warmers to keep costs in check. We make a case of why it actually costs the teams more to not have tire warmers, than to have them,  and why CART's Rules and Technical Committee should revisit this issue. 

F1 has allowed the use of tire warmers for many years. Warm tires mean a driver's out-lap after a pit stop can be nearly as fast as any other race lap. However, that is not the primary reason to allow tire warmers. The primary reason is to save cost! 

A set of tire warmers cost around $3,000. A team would need two sets per car for a total one-time cost of $12,000 for a 2-car team. $12,000 is small change when today's budgets run around $20 million per year. More importantly, we have seen more than one driver crash on a warm-up lap, or on a pit stop out-lap, due to cold tires, wiping out a $400,000 car in the process. That only needs to happen to a team once and they could pay for their tire warmers many times over. 

A Champ Car has a lot of HP, much more than a Winston Cup or IRL car.  The chance of losing a car by pressing the throttle a bit too hard on cold tires is very real.  We watched Oriol Servia lose control of his car at Fontana a few weeks ago on the warm-up lap trying to spin his rear tires to get heat in them. He barely missed hitting the wall and went down into the grass before regaining control. We have seen guys like pole-sitter Roberto Guerrero spin out on the pace lap at Indy and hit the wall because of cold tires. We watched Kevin Cogan lose control on cold tires at Indy in the early 80's and wipe out 3 cars before the race even started.

We saw for the first time, tire warmers being used by a Champ Car team at Nazareth yesterday during the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team's testing for rookie drivers Junqueira and Minassian. Afterwards we spoke to the Managing Director of the team, Mike Hull, about why they were using them for testing and why CART does not allow them on race weekends. He said, "on cold days like today the tire warmers really come in handy. They allow us to get the most out of a set of tires, allow our drivers more hot-laps, and reduce the risk of a crash because of cold tires." 


Tires stacked with tire warmer blankets in place

Mike Hull told us one reason why former F3000 drivers like Juan Montoya were so good on cold tires in CART was because in F3000 the drivers are required to go right into a very short and intense qualifying session on cold tires, and they have to make every lap count. He told us at Vancouver Juan Montoya's out-laps were some 3-seconds faster than anyone else's. He said tire warmers would help to level the playing field for drivers who may not be as good on cold tires. 

The Ganassi team decided to start using tire warmers this year because the new rules require all testing to be done during the off-season when air and track temperatures are lower. The tire warmers can be set to any temperature, but he said they typically set them around 190 degrees Fahrenheit, close to the 200 or so degree optimum tire temperature. 

CART's new rules limit a team to 3-sets of tires per session next year on race weekends and Mike said they want to be able to get as many hot laps out of the tires as possible. He feels it's time for CART's technical rules committee to readdress this issue. Although he did not come right out and say it, it seemed obvious that he thought they should be allowed on race weekends as well. 

There bottom line question CART has to ask itself is - are $3,000 tire warmers worth the benefits of 1) reduce risk of wiping out a $400,000 car on cold tires, 2) better use of tires allotted during a race weekend, 3) less questionable blocking by drivers on cold tires during a race trying to maintain their position after a pit stop, 4) whenever CART encounters a very cold race day with air temperatures below the tire manufacturers minimum recommendation, like it did at Nazareth last year, the race can still go on with warmed tires.

We hope CART takes another look at this issue.  Is saving a team $12,000 in the short term, worth the increased risk of losing a very expensive race car.  We don't think so.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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