Currently reading: Tyring work: tracking the life of rubber at Nurburgring 24
Pit stops are crucial in a race that lasts a full 24 hours. We track the life of a tyre at the Nürburgring

Some tyres live a long but not very glorious life, rolling away for tens of thousands of miles.

Others, as the cliché goes, live fast and die young, burned up by race cars – even those doing endurance events.

Unlike most GT3 races, where the regulations require all cars to run on the same tyres, the rules of the Nürburgring 24 Hours allow multiple tyre suppliers.

Falken’s N24 GT3 race tyres are all made in Japan, but they compete only here in Germany, and solely by the Porsche 911 GT3 R pairing of the company’s own race team.

On the sidewall of each tyre is a barcode. This is used by the race organisers to check when a tyre is used and by Falken to manage its stock. Conveniently, this allows us to follow the life of a soft-compound slick tyre throughout the weekend.

Qualifying passes and the race starts before our chosen tyre sees any action. With the weather remaining dry and the cooler temperatures of the night approaching, the perfect conditions for the sticky slick are looming. Well before it might be needed, it’s mated with a wheel in Falken’s temporary mounting station and then, like a high-level athlete, wrapped up in a heated jacket to get warmed through.

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At 9.45pm, almost six hours into the race, the call is made to switch to the soft slick tyres and the pit garage explodes into life. Our tyre, along with its three team-mates, is removed from its warm cocoon and stacked onto a tyre trolley.

Tools, fire extinguishers, signal boards and bottles of compressed air are hustled into the pit lane. The stack of wheels is rushed from the back of the garage towards the open door. The mechanic skids to a halt before he bursts into the pit lane. Two others each grab a pair of wheels by the spokes, one with each hand – one front and one rear.

It’s manic, rushed and exhilarating – but too fast. The team is prepared well before the car arrives. There’s a wave of calm as the crew waits silently, ready to pounce on the 911 when it appears.

With a thrashing of transmission and a high-pitched squealing of brakes, the #33 noses into the pit box and there’s another spike of energy.

The pit crew leap into action and the wheels are lifted clean off the ground as the mechanics run to each side of the car. Even carting two wheels at chest level, the guys move at pace, running around the 911.

There’s a fury of hisses, whizzes and clunks as, one by one, the four corners of the Porsche rise up, a fuel hose is jabbed into its nose and the old wheels and tyres are yanked from the hubs. The freshly clad rims are attached and the sticky warm new rubber is lowered onto the cool beige concrete of the pit box.

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The storm of activity dies down yet again; there’s nothing more to do except wait until the fuel tank is full. Everyone is motionless.

Then, after almost three minutes in the pits with one last pulse of energy, the fuel hose is yanked from the car, the signal board is raised, the engine starts and, with a yelp from our tyre, the 911 bursts forward with a well-calculated spin of the wheels.

It may be our tyre’s big moment, but over the following eight laps, the next 70 minutes or so, everyone is hoping that it simply continues to roll and nothing remarkable occurs.

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That is if you consider its main role unremarkable: transmitting about 550bhp to the asphalt, keeping some 1220kg of 911 supported as it pulls 1.6g of lateral force for more than 126 miles with well over 600 corners.

Just before 11pm, after a thankfully uneventful session, our tyre’s stint is almost over and the pit-lane panic starts again. The chaos of the stop ends in four spent tyres being rolled unceremoniously into the garage.

Here, our tyre is jumped on by a new team wielding thermometers and pressure gauges: Falken’s tyre engineers. Four are from Japan and one is from Germany. They take the temperature of the surface of the tyre at three different points: the inside, middle and outside. They thoroughly inspect the tyre and, even though it was monitored while the car was on the circuit, take a pressure reading.

Despite being tortured around the Green Hell for more than an hour, our tyre still looks respectable. The sidewall is smudged, the identifying barcode not as clear, but its surface isn’t torn apart, just a little rougher. To the untrained eye, it looks like it might cope with another stint. The engineers know better, and it’s removed from the rim, never to be used again.

Still, our tyre has one more useful task to perform. It’s sliced across its section, including any useful or revealing damage found after its inspection. This sliver of rubber is sent back to Japan to be analysed and help improve future tyres. Its fast-paced life may be brief, but our tyre will have a lasting legacy.

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Race technology on the road

Motorsport is more useful as a marketing tool than anything else these days, but there are still occasions when competition technology finds its way to road cars.

Falken has used the N24 as an environment in which to test new innovations. One experiment that proved successful and found its way into Falken’s road tyres is an aramid-reinforced structure. Aramid is a strong, lightweight synthetic fibrous material that is often used for helmets and body armour. One of the most famous types is Kevlar.

After using aramid fibres in its race-tyre construction and proving that it can endure the pressures of a race car on the world’s most demanding circuit, Falken has introduced the material into its new ultra-high-performance tyre, the Azenis FK520.

The new aramid-fortified structure has allowed Falken to reduce the weight of the tyre by 10% while also making it stronger. Not only are performance and feedback supposedly improved but so too is fuel economy. Not very motorsport but very welcome nonetheless.

Will Beaumont

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