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Opinion

The dark arts "revolution" giving British GT teams a brain workout

Pirelli has completely overhauled its tyres used in GT3 competition for this year, with the new rubber getting its debut in Imola's GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup round earlier this month. The ground-up change means another factor for teams to consider in this weekend’s British GT season opener at Oulton Park

Ian Loggie, RAM Mercedes GT Cup

Balance of Performance is never going to get universal approval. But one of its upsides is that multiple manufacturers are capable of winning and setting virtually identical laptimes. Take the Pro qualifying session at British GT’s Oulton Park round last year, where 0.088 seconds split the top four – which included a Porsche, two Lamborghinis and a Mercedes.

But, while BoP will theoretically allow all seven GT3 constructors a shot at achieving similar times when the Cheshire track hosts British GT’s season-opener this weekend, it still boils down to the teams and drivers to find the perfect set-ups and extract their cars’ full potential. And that engineering nous will be more important than ever this year as the arrival of Pirelli’s new P Zero DHF tyre compound threatens to change the status quo.

PREVIEW: The Mercedes dark horse gunning for British GT glory

“I think that’s going to change the whole grid throughout the season,” reckons 2 Seas Motorsport co-owner Nick Cristofaro. “Everyone is starting with a blank piece of paper.”

Pirelli UK motorsport manager Jonathan Wells describes the new rubber, which will be used on GT3 and GT4 cars and contains an increase in renewable materials, as “the single biggest change we’ve really had in our GT range in the last 10 years”. It’s the result of a need to keep pace with car development and ongoing demands to improve sustainability.

“It is the first time that we’ve changed pretty much everything, so it’s genuinely a ground-up thing,” Wells explains. “Everything else has very much been about evolution, but this is more of a revolution for the first time.”

Feedback from teams is that the new tyre is faster – Wells admits the laptime gain had proven “bigger than we expected” – and thereby exerts more wear.

“If you’re inherently going quicker, the tyre has to be generating more energy and therefore the potential for it to go wrong at this early stage is of course there,” says Wells. “You can easily over-stress the tyre perhaps a bit too much, so it’s a big learning process.”

New DHF Pirelli tyres are faster and mean more management is needed as a result

New DHF Pirelli tyres are faster and mean more management is needed as a result

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Coming after a period in which the tread compound “has been remarkably consistent”, Wells says teams will have much to unpick: “They have to think, ‘What aspect of the performance is coming from the mechanical changes we’ve made to the tyre and what’s coming from the compound, and how do we best utilise that to not only get the ultimate peak performance but also to manage that over a longer run?’”

Cristofaro says “tyre management is going to be a massive factor” as teams manage the graining effect. “It’s very circuit-dependent as well,” he points out. “It’s not the case of having one set-up that works everywhere and you tweak the pressures. We’ll run different set-ups for different circuits to manage the tyre.”

He adds that the DHF also needs particular care to make sure it’s in the optimal range for qualifying runs and can be unforgiving when dropping out of it: “If you’re outside that window, then you’re nowhere, a difference between one or two seconds.”

Sandy Mitchell, the British GT champion in 2020 with Barwell Motorsport, has already raced the DHF in the opening round of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup at Imola earlier this month. The Lamborghini factory driver agrees that “to get the optimum out of the tyre seems to require a bit more effort and a bit more precision in everything you do, whether it’s temperature, management or driving style”.

"It is the first time that we’ve changed pretty much everything, so it’s genuinely a ground-up thing. Everything else has very much been about evolution, but this is more of a revolution for the first time" Jonathan Wells, Pirelli

“I think we might see teams and drivers having to just try different things,” explains Mitchell, who will again share with Adam Balon this season. “Everybody is still learning what the best way to do everything is, but I think it’s clear that it maybe takes a bit more management from everyone’s side.”

Mitchell believes that, based on Imola, “front-engined cars in the cooler conditions are having a bit of a better time at switching the tyres on”. But the question is, will anybody unlock something special come qualifying on Saturday? While Cristofaro concedes that “a lot of teams have done a lot more [test] days than us”, he believes that off-track work on rolling roads and damper dynos could have a tangible benefit.

Mitchell raced the tyre at Imola in GTWCE and reckons more effort and precision is needed to get the rubber into the right window

Mitchell raced the tyre at Imola in GTWCE and reckons more effort and precision is needed to get the rubber into the right window

Photo by: Jules Benichou/SRO

“There’s a lot of investment from our side to make it work,” he says. “But who knows? Until you do the first race, we could have gone the complete opposite way and someone might have found something by doing laps that’s better.”

Mitchell is well accustomed to tyre saving, having spent his 2020 campaign alongside Rob Collard carrying extra weight as a Silver pairing. Could this experience, and the knowledge Barwell has gained from Imola, play in his favour?

“It could be a good advantage for us, we’ve definitely learned some information,” he says. “It was pretty cold, so it could be quite comparable to British GT, especially at Oulton Park at this time of year!”

Tyres are a frequently overlooked element of racing, especially when there’s a single supplier and compound. But, until the teams get on top of it, the old adage that it doesn’t matter how good your car is if the thing that connects it to the ground doesn’t work could be oft-repeated in the early rounds.

Several teams from British GT, including the Enduro Motorsport McLaren squad, contested last weekend's GT Cup opener at Donington to gain experience of the new tyre in race conditions

Several teams from British GT, including the Enduro Motorsport McLaren squad, contested last weekend's GT Cup opener at Donington to gain experience of the new tyre in race conditions

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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