A Continental Controversy

Photo Courtesy: Bimmerfile

Christopher Weil/Correspondent

Throughout the entirety of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, many         teams across all of the different classes shared one common issue: tire punctures. Not only was there a tire failure on the fan-favorite No. 23 United Autosports entry of Fernando Alonso, but a total of five tire failures were the cause of retirement for the defending winner, the No. 10 Cadillac of Wayne Taylor Racing. The issue was so severe that Continental Tire had its Director of Marketing, Travis Roffler, issue a statement on live television. This report included various details such as the fact that these were the same tires that had been used in the previous four years of the Rolex 24; this was its 5th year of use. So what exactly went wrong?

For starters, it’s apparent that some teams abused their tires to find a competitive advantage. The easiest way of doing this was to run very aggressive camber angles, which would help the car retain traction better under load in a corner, thus allowing a car to turn at a higher rate of speed. Before every race, Continental Tire gives every team some information on the tires being used, and included in this information is the maximum suggested camber angle. Running outside of this suggestion would increase wear and potentially cause blowouts as it did for many teams.

Among with increased camber angles, teams were running lower tire pressures. Part of the reasoning for this was actually due to the temperature of the race track. As the track becomes hotter teams will run lower tire pressures such that once the tires are up to temperature, they aren’t over-inflated. While it may be severely overlooked, the 2018 Rolex 24 had the highest recorded temperatures in the past five years. Due to the track itself being hotter than normal, many teams were running pressures lower than what Continental Tire recommended, which was increasing wear as well.

The only confusing part of this whole situation is that Continental Tire themselves confirmed that the No. 10 Cadillac of Wayne Taylor Racing was not running any values outside of what was suggested. While they blew five tires, their sister cars, who were also within the tire guidelines, managed to get away with either blowing just one tire, or none at all for the case of the winning No. 5 Cadillac DPi. It was previously confirmed that two of the five issues with the No. 10 car were simply due to running over debris, just plain bad luck. The other three, however, are a little more
complicated to explain.

In a bid to gain time over their opponents, teams were double-stinting tires at the Rolex 24. What this means is that when the cars would pit for fuel and tires, they wouldn’t take tires, just fuel. The tires on the car were already heated up to the optimal temperature, and not changing them shaved off some valuable seconds in the pits. Due to the tires being warm out of the pits, the teams would also manage to not lose time compared to exiting the pits with cold tires. The tire blowout of the No. 31 Cadillac DPi was actually due to them triple-stinting the tires; something that definitely shouldn’t have been done. Continental Tire never made their tires with the intention of triple, let alone double-stinting in the first place, so it is clear that many teams were pushing the tire to the maximum. The three tire failures of the No. 10 Cadillac that were not from running over debris all came when they were double-stinting tires. They had simply worn the tire out too much, and with the increased temperature of the race track, there was simply too much heat in them. It’s no surprise that the car going the fastest around the track was the one to overheat their tires the most.

A similar event to this actually took place in Formula One in 2005. Known as one of the most controversial races in F1 history, the tires that Michelin had brought to the United States Grand Prix, which was previously held on the road course layout of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, were completely inept of taking one of the regular oval turns at high speeds. Going through the final turn at full-speed would have caused the tire to fail after just ten laps; this being in an era where F1 drivers were not allowed to change tires in a race and were expected to complete the entire 73 lap race distance on one set of tires. It was more than guaranteed that all of the cars with Michelin tires would have crashed due to a tire failure at some point in the race. This forced all of the drivers using the horrible Michelin tires, including Fernando Alonso, to have to sit on the sidelines, because taking part in this race with the Michelin tires would have violated an Indiana State Law in which it is illegal to put others at risk knowingly. On the other side of the garage, the Bridgestone tires that other teams, one being Ferrari, were using, proved to be completely safe to go all 73 laps. Ferrari cruised to a first and second place finish with the third place finisher being a full lap down. Even without competing in this race, Fernando Alonso still had the overall F1 points lead at the end of the event, and would subsequently go on to win the 2005 Formula One World Drivers’ Championship title. Michelin did their best to make it up to the teams and fans of the race, including refunding every fan in attendance at the 2005 race as well as giving them a free ticket to the 2006 race. Given that fans saw a complete race at the 2018 Rolex 24, there is absolutely no reason for Continental Tire to do anything to reimburse fans.

It still does look terrible for Continental Tire that their tires failed so much during this race. The failures cost Fernando Alonso a shot at winning and kept Jordan Taylor from getting two in a row. Thankfully, Continental Tire has already announced that they will come back with a better more durable compound tire for next year such that fiascos like this will not occur again. There are many times in motorsports where the unexpected happens, and this is one of those cases. Going forward Continental Tire will be very keen to prevent another issue like this from happening again. One can only hope that the 2019 Rolex 24 has no tire issues of any sorts and that the outcome of the race is down to the drivers and the performance of their cars.