Q: When should I make the move from sticky street tires to race tires?
A: You should move from street tires to race tires when you can consistently drive each lap to the limit of grip and keep a smooth driving technique. Street tires don’t have nearly the same grip as race tires, and only have a certain limit that can be reached. The Ford Performance Racing School uses a street tire because the grip level is lower and it’s easier to get to the maximum grip level at a lower speeds. When you exceed the grip level, the drop-off in grip is less severe and more progressive. This teaches how to control a car at peak grip and when you exceed that grip. A race tire is harder to get to peak grip for racers just staring out, but once you reach the peak grip of the tire, the drop off is more sudden and extreme, and it’s harder to control. This can lead to an easier loss of control. At the Ford Performance Racing School, we start all the students in the Ford Mustang GT on BFGoodrich street tires and teach the students the fundamentals of driving and how to push the car to its limit without exceeding it.
The key to racing is consistency. When you move to racing slicks like we do in the Ford Mustang Boss-FRS race cars, you will find it’s easier to push a car to the same limit as the street tires because that is only a percentage of the total grip. The race tires will be more difficult to drive close to their grip limit and will take a longer learning curve to comfortably drive at that limit. When the slicks get hot and greasy, that’s when learning on street tires is beneficial because the car is going to lose most of its grip — but you have the knowledge to drive to the peak level of that grip. For example, I’m racing in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and after a pit stop with brand-new slicks, the car does everything you want it to. It’s the perfect car. Throughout our stint we have to conserve tires, but no matter how much you conserve, with 30 minutes left the tires always drop off. That’s when training with street tires and knowing what to do when there is no more grip to be found really pays off, because you still have to push for a good finish.
Tyler Cooke is a driving instructor with the Ford Performance Racing School and a professional racer in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.