With 2012 Auto GP welcomed Kumho Tyres as its Official Tyre Supplier.
The Korean manufacturer was eager to support the championship in his decision to provide drivers and teams two different compounds for each race weekend, and even decided to go for a purpose designed “supersoft” tyre for Marrakech, to help the Auto GP competitors in coping with the low level of grip typical of street tracks.
It was a huge undertaking for Kumho, especially considering that Auto GP is the biggest and more powerful single-seater they ever supplied tyres for.
Steve Thompson, Kumho’s European Motorsport Manager, was happy to explain us how the tyre manufacturer faced the Challenge:
“Designing tyres for a new car is always a challenge, and with Auto GP we knew that we were raising the bar. Not only we had to build new tyres for the most powerful car we have ever worked with, but we also had to provide two different compounds that eventually became three with the introduction of the ‘supersoft’ tyre for Marrakech. Anyway challenges are a welcome part of our job, and they give us a lot of experience that then can be used on our production tyres, so we were happy to go for it”.
Kumho was coming from a long experience in F3, how much of that has been carried into the design of the Auto GP tyres?
“Not much. Obviously the know-how we got with F3 in terms of behavior of a racing tyre in many situations was useful, and some materials are the same because they are specific to competition rubber, but apart from that we were starting from a blank sheet. Compared to F3, Auto GP has more of everything: more power, more downforce, more speed, more weight, and each one of this aspects has a big influence on tyre design. There’s a lot of thinking and testing before finalizing a design: we both wanted performance, Auto GP and us, but at the same time we wanted a safe and durable tyre. Now that the third race is approaching I can say that we’re satisfied with the outcome”.
Let’s come to the two standard compounds: what’s the difference between the two?
“The construction is exactly the same: once you find one build that works fine with the car, there’s no point in changing that, partly because two different constructions would require very different set-ups and so make life more difficult for the teams.
So we just focused on the compound. We did create a range, and then we picked-up the two that emerged as the best suited to the car. The feedback we’re having from the teams is good, and surely we met our main aim: the soft tyre is consistently quicker than the hard one, as required by Auto GP. On the durability side, probably the soft isn’t wearing as quickly as the championship organizer would like, but we still haven’t faced the high temperatures that we expect in Brazil and USA. When we design a tyre we always have to bear in mind the temperature range it will face, as well as make it suitable to the highest possible number of set-up choices made by the team. All in all, we are really happy of where we are”.
Marrakech will see the debut of the “supersoft” tyre, can you explain why such a compound is needed in Morocco?
“Street tracks are made of normal tarmac that gets used day by day by the normal commuter traffic, including heavy veichles. Generally that means that the grip level is very low, the surface is often uneven, and that’s made worse by the dirt and the dust. So we thought that teams and drivers would have been happy if some extra grip was available, and we went for the supersoft. With the race weekend being held in April we didn’t expect too high track temperatures and so we could really go for a very soft compound. With a stickier tyre the drivers’ life will be easier, no doubt about that”.
Any advice on how to use those tyres in Marrakech?
“Nothing special. Obviously with the ‘supersoft’ getting heat into the tyre is easier, drivers will immediately notice that. Apart from that, we expect the track to change a lot throughout the weekend. In the first practice there will be dust and dirt everywhere, but session after session the racing line will become clean and rubbered, improving the performance and asking the teams to make some set-up changes if they want to make the most of the improved grip. The track has some very hard braking zones, drivers will have to take care of their tyres there, the last thing you need is flat-spotting them and then cope with the vibration until the end of the race. We also expect overtaking to be tricky because there will be a lot of dust out of the racing line, so drivers will have to bear that in mind when trying a move”.
source: Auto GP, autogp.org