Why racing cars have smooth tires

Why racing cars have smooth tires

isolated black race car on white background
Race car tires are smooth so they can get a good grip!

Ever wonder how Formula 1 drivers dash effectively on racing roads? 

Nope. It’s not the engine. It’s not the bodywork. The real secret lies in their tires.

Unfortunately, not many racing enthusiasts realize this.

Racing tires help satisfy their need for speed. But why are they smooth and not treaded, unlike normal car tires? 

In this blog post, we will satisfy your curiosity by answering the question of why race car tires are smooth. We also listed other helpful facts about racing car tires. 

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Why do racing cars have smooth tires?

Red race car with big tire on display - Kevin Magnussen of McLaren F1 races on training session
JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, SPAIN – JAN 31: Kevin Magnussen of McLaren F1 races on training session

Racing car tires a.k.a. racing slicks or slick tires are soft, hot, and smooth, so they can have more grip, making the racer perform better on the race track. 

Smooth tires mean that more rubber will be in contact with the road. This is because the contact patch, or the oval-shaped area on the tire that touches the road, is wider. 

Moreover, racetracks are made of rough materials such as cement, sand, bitumen, or gravel—to match that roughness, the wheels have to be sticky and smooth. 

With this matching factor, the race car wheels can obtain more power. As a result, the driver can exert more torque, allowing the race car to accelerate faster. 

Meanwhile, during rainy weather, drivers must be able to drive safely on wet roads. That is why regular tires of non-racing vehicles have grooves—they need to disperse water to avoid aquaplaning. This is the term for tires floating in water instead of having a maximum grip. 

Slicks, on the other hand, do not have treads since they don’t have to keep off water or snow on racetracks. That’s because races don’t typically happen if it rains. 

Alternatively, they will use the appropriate racing tires with treads. But usually, races are rescheduled if it suddenly rains. 

Slicks are also incredibly soft, so they degrade faster if they become warm. 

Why is grip so important in racing?

A professional driver drifting car on an asphalt track.
A professional driver drifting car on an asphalt track.

We mentioned that the smoothness of the tires help them obtain more grip. But why is it so crucial in racing? 

In professional racing, you will be doing laps, which means you can expect a lot of turning, braking, and accelerating. Those techniques would not even be attainable if your race car wheels have a poor grip. 

Additionally, not all racetrack conditions are the same. If your race car tires’ have an unstable grip, it might not handle the challenges that lie ahead such as rolling resistance and uneven surface of a track. 

Grip and your safety also go hand in hand, since they prevent your race car from skidding when you’re turning, cornering, or braking. 

Moreover, to steer your race car effectively, you need directional stability. If your race car is directionally stable, you can easily regulate your steering control despite external forces making it difficult to do so. A good grip will help you achieve that. 

The importance of the tires in racing

We mentioned that the tires are the most important part of a race car. That’s because the grip is also the most crucial element in racing. In racing, if your wheels have excellent grip, it will give you plenty of advantages. 

As the only contact point between you and the road, you can’t undermine the importance of tires. Here are other reasons why the tires are important in racing. 

1. It allows you to obtain the required level of grip. 

Tracks of tires on a speedway

Some people make the mistake of overlooking tires. They often pay too much attention to the engine or the suspension system, when, in fact, the tires are incredibly imperative to your performance as a driver.

Grip lets you effectively turn, brake, and stop. However, it will primarily depend on your race car wheels’ temperature and compound, among other factors. This is why race car wheels are so important. 

Since racing demands a lot of grip, you have to depend on tires and their wider contact patches. With a larger contact patch, you can easily perform lateral actions such as turning and longitudinal actions like accelerating and braking. 

2. They affect your performance in every way. 

Grip affects every moment you make with a racecar. That means choosing the right racecar wheels will also make an impact on your performance, particularly your handling on the racetrack. 

Did you know that not all racecar wheels from the same brand perform equally? For example, tires that are pulled right off the bat from the assembly line will perform excellently but will deteriorate faster.

On the other hand, if the tires undergo a heat cycling process in post-production, they will perform better and last longer.

As a result, be extra inquisitive when shopping for racecar wheels!

3. Some race cars were crafted based on the tires’ design.

Motorsports competitive team racing

Typically, you would expect tires to be customized for the cars—but not for some race cars. 

Several race car manufacturers design their vehicles based on the tires themselves. Lola, and Courage, which is now owned by Oreca, are only a few of those manufacturers. 

How did they design race cars based on the tires? They made it possible by obtaining the data from tire manufacturers such as Michelin. After extracting the data about the tires’ materials and characteristics, they crafted the aerodynamics and overall design of the cars. 

With this kind of manufacturing process, drivers will have the opportunity to make more informed purchasing choices. That’s why if you’re eyeing race cars, don’t even dare to overlook the tires.

4. Traction, traction, traction. 

Your race car’s four tires don’t just exist for you to dash faster. One of their functions is to help you gain more traction. 

If you want to win a race, then your focus should also be on traction and not just on speed. You may not have the power to reach the absolute highest level of traction with your four tires, but you should aim closer to that level. 

Now, plenty of factors can affect your traction, such as the track’s health and design. That is why your tires must have the characteristics that can sustain traction at any given circumstance.  

5. The tires’ characteristics affect the spring rates. 

scarlet red Ferrari race car
Monza/Italy 08/31/2018 Sebastian Vettel in his scarlet red Ferrari SH71H during the opening practice at the very wet and cold Monza circuit ahead of the 2018 Italian Grand Prix.

The spring rates regulate the race car’s weight transfer. They also help you gain more grip during acceleration, especially if you are driving an F1 car. 

Interestingly, it has been recently observed by most experts that the tires’ sidewall, type, size, pressure, load, and temperature affect spring rates. That just shows how crucial race car tires are—they’re not just mere accessories.  

Additionally, in order to prevent your race car from oversteering or understeering, your tires must have soft front and rear springs. 

Other tires with good traction

Slicks have excellent traction but most of them aren’t approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in the United States. That means you can’t just drive them anywhere in your city—it’s not just legal and safe. Meanwhile, if you’re curious about DOT-approved tires that provide reliable traction, here are some of them. 

1. Track and competition tires

Just like slicks, track and competition tires are optimized for maximum performance on the road. The only difference is they have treads, although minimal. Most track and competition tires also have Kevlar, an incredibly strong fiber, which makes them more durable and efficient. 

These tires are approved by the Department of Transportation, which means you can use them on the streets. Nevertheless, we don’t suggest you drive with track and competition tires as they’re designed for professional competitions. 

2. Grand touring tires

These wheels may have grooves but they offer excellent traction. They are also designed to give the driver efficient handling and relaxing driving experience. Drivers who use grand touring tires commend them for giving them a smooth driving sensation. 

Additionally, you can efficiently drive your Sedan during winter with grand touring tires—they are both reliable for wet and dry seasons. And if you want something for the long run, grand touring tires are your guy—they last long even if you drive thousands of miles. 

3. All-season tires 

You can easily tell it from the name, right? All-season tires are all-around tires you can rely on, whether it’s Summer, Spring, or Winter. You can expect terrific handling with all-season tires as well. 

Now, all-season tires are trustworthy companions on dry and wet roads. However, they don’t have that laser-focus, specialized feature, unlike Summer tires. Although, they last longer too, which is nice if you love traction but don’t like high-maintenance tires.

RELATED: Are Heavier Cars Better In Rain And Snow?

How to take care of racing car wheels

Auto mechanic changing a racing car wheel
Auto mechanic changing a racing car wheel

Racing car wheels require more specialized care methods compared to regular tires. They also degrade faster. Therefore, if you’re interested in racing, here are some maintenance tips you should remember. 

  • If you haven’t bought racing tires yet, take time to research. Think about the rubber and even the brand. The truth is that some have better quality than others, and you have to be meticulous to find them. 
  • Invest in a wheel sealant to prevent the chrome-plated steel from accumulating rust.
  • In case your racing car tires aren’t designed for wet weathers, don’t risk it. Replace them with all-season racing tires or just reschedule the race. 
  • Just like taking care of regular wheels, you need to use gentler cleaning agents for racing car tires.
  • Don’t clean the racing car tires while they are still hot. Before you rinse them with water and scrub with soap, wait and let them cool for a few minutes.
  • Damaged or punctured a wheel? You’re better off replacing it. You can let a mechanic inspect it but replacement is wiser—you can’t just risk driving on high speed with a previously damaged wheel.  
  • On the track, ensure that you or an engineer keeps an eye on the tire temperature. This will affect your performance. According to hoosierdirect.com, a wheel’s temperature should be no more than 200˚F.
  • To reduce the chances of a flat tire or a tire blowout, make sure to retain your tire’s most viable pressure.

RELATED: Ever Wonder Why Race Cars Tape Headlights?

1. Why are NASCAR tires smooth?

NASCAR tires need to be in maximum contact with the road. They are designed that way, so they can have an excellent grip. If the tires don’t have a good grip, there’s a high chance that the racecar will skim, instead of staying on track. 

2. Are slick tires legal on streets?

In the USA, full slick tires are not legal for use on the street. The Department of Transportation (DOT) approves if tires are safe for daily use on streets. If they are not authorized by the DOT, then you can’t just legally drive them anywhere. 

Additionally, slick wet weather, so you will be endangering your life if you use them on areas except for the race track. Although, a couple of racing slicks have been approved by the DOT recently. 

3. Why do they cover Formula 1 tires?

Formula 1 tires need warmers for insulation. By retaining the right temperature before and after racing, F1 wheels will obtain excellent traction during racing. Moreover, by covering F1 tires with warmers, engineers can easily keep track of a race car’s health and wouldn’t spend extra time measuring the wheels’ temperature.

In a nutshell

It is quite unfortunate that tires and their importance are often overlooked. Racing car tires help racers achieve maximum performance. 

By investing in a set of tires with a unique design, racers shouldn’t worry about grip as they turn and dash around the racetrack. 

Do you know other cool facts about racing car tires? Share them in the comments below!

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