How many of us have heard how products designed for the street were developed on a race track?
Manyof the claims such as this are not much more than marketing hype. Forthe tire industry though, we can truly say that our products translatedirectly from the raceway to the highway.
I recently had anopportunity to drive a Skip Barber prepped Formula 2000 car at theworld-renowned Sebring International Raceway. The Skip Barber Drivingand Racing School (skipbarber.com) offers several courses from a coupleof hours for the novice to several days for the advanced class. Theyutilize a number of production cars such as Porsche, BMW, Lotus, Mazda(Miata’s, RX-8s and 3s) along with Formula 2000 cars, which is what Ichose for my racing event. The cars are open wheel and currently use aMopar 4-cylinder engine strapped in a low-slung rigid chassis.
TerryEarwood, chief instructor, who has a long, rich history in racing, gaveus about an hour of humorous classroom instruction before turning usloose. The Skip Barber program is sponsored by Michelin’s BFGoodrichbrand and the spec tire is the BFG g-Force Sport. This is the same tirethat we sell every day with DOT numbers and full tread depth. Thesestreet tires are capable of attaining 1.4 g’s on this car. Take a lookat the close up of the tread on an actual car.
Youwouldn’t know that this tire has been running 100+ mph and pulling thekind of g’s mentioned above if you didn’t watch the car pull off of thetrack. The tread is worn smooth and doesn’t show any signs ofshredding, which is a remarkable feat considering the track isconcrete. I and the other drivers were amazed at the torque from thepower plant and still more amazed at the level of mechanical grip thatcould be attained from the g-Force Sport tires.
In addition toindividual classes, there are corporate programs for groups that can beused as incentives for reaching sales goals or specific periods ofemployment. Think about how your employees would react if you offered achance to go to one of these courses as a reward for their commitmentto your company. Or good customers who mean a lot to your business. Oras a prize you can offer to customers or a fund-raiser for a localcharity. The opportunities to leverage these kind of programs andthere are many of them around the country are endless.
The Skip Barber racing programs are designed for pure excitement and challenge the driver to learn techniques such as:
High performance driving and racing instruction
Braking and cornering skills
Advanced car control skills
Finding the racing line
Finding the limits of a race car
Exploring your personal driving limits
Applyingknowledge gained in this program can help you to understand howdifferent types of tire construction can either improve or adverselychange the handling characteristics of most any vehicle.
Sohow does this help you in your daily life of selling tires? Byunderstanding how a performance tire attains and exhibits itscharacteristics, we can apply these same principles to daily driversthat may not be a performance vehicle.
For instance, I recentlyhad a customer who drives a Subaru WRX STI come into the store. Aftersome small talk about how he liked the way his car handled, I asked himif he would be interested in running it at the local Sports Car Club ofAmerica event. He expressed an interest in learning how to control thecar in a closed-course environment. This led us to the main reason hecame to the store: he wanted to know what type of tires were availablefor his wife’s Honda CR-V.
He started by asking me if we couldput a 60-series tire on it. I checked the OE size and it came withP215/65R16 T-rated all-season tires. His question made me curious, so Istarted asking some questions. The first of which was, “Why do you wanta 60-series tire?” His reply was that he felt that the vehicle didn’toffer much control and thought that the lower profile would give himbetter handling.
I now realized that what he wanted wasn’tjust a lower profile tire, but better handling. He normally drives theSTI, but when he rides in the CR-V he feels like it is going to flipover because of the high center of gravity and “spongy” tires. I took afew minutes and discussed the handling characteristics of performancetires. I suggested that we change to a 225/60R16 tire size, whichincreased the footprint and maintained overall diameter within our +/-3% industry standard. I also increased the speed rating to H, knowingthat the sidewall would have more rigidity. This is a great way for youto demonstrate your tire technology knowledge.
You probablyhave several 225/60R16s in stock from S-rated up to V or Z. Keep themout on the floor where you can allow a customer to press down on thetire and feel the sidewall rigidity of the higher speed rated tires. Inmy conversation with this customer, I explained how an H-rated tirewould not have the tendency to lean as much and would transfer moreroad feel into the steering wheel. That leads to crisper response, anice characteristic in a panic situation where the driver needs to takeevasive action to miss debris in the road or another vehicle.
Withlittle compromise, the H-rated tires have much better mileagewarranties than in years past. I showed my customer a couple of optionslike the BFGoodrich H-rated Traction T/A. We also discussed the GeneralAltimax HP from Continental. The two tires were nearly identical intheir performance and with a $50 rebate from Continental, the selectionwas made.
Once installed, I road tested the CR-V to get a feelfor the handling. As expected, the tires responded well to steeringinput. A couple of lane change maneuvers gave a feeling of confidencethat wasn’t there before. I had the owner drive the vehicle to get hisreaction, as well. Needless to say, he was very pleased and commentedon how he never realized how a tire could affect the handling to such adegree.
I know that many of you are not comfortable sellingcustom wheels, but this could have easily been a scenario where I wouldhave not only suggested a wider tire, but an increase in wheel diameterto reduce the sidewall deflection even more. But, bear in mind, theroad feel will increase dramatically as well, so take a balancedapproach based on what the customer is willing to accept.
Inaddition to the racing aspect that you would expect, Skip Barber offersdriving courses that are targeted toward vehicle control and safety. Ifyou employ delivery drivers or would like to know that your techs whotest drive vehicles are well prepared to drive a variety of vehicles,this program should be considered.
Some of the specific areas focused on in this program are:
Advanced car control skills
Skid and slide recovery
Accident avoidance maneuvers
Driving overview which includes professional driving techniques
Thisprogram could pay for itself if an employee applies the principleslearned here to help avoid damaging a customer’s vehicle.
Asfor locations, the choice of tracks and programs are strategicallyplaced throughout the U.S. If there is a race track near you, odds arethere is a racing program you can participate in.
You can check on the Internet for a list of programs and events to determine the best one for you and your team.