Goodyear at Le Mans: The insight into a driver-tire engineer relationship
What it takes to build an effective collaboration between driver and tire engineer
In the FIA World Endurance Championship, Goodyear provides each team with a tire performance engineer who works exclusively with a racing team to maximize its performance, often across multiple seasons.
The essence of the relationship between tire engineer and driver is unique, and rarely replicated anywhere else in the world of sport. Drivers rely on their team to give accurate information to help them navigate the gigabytes of data that power a modern endurance operation.
One example of this is LMP2 driver Gabriel ‘Gabi’ Aubry from racing team Vector Sport and Goodyear track support engineer David Billingham. They discuss the working dynamic within the inner sanctum of a modern racing team.
“It’s a crucial element to what we do as a team and how I’m able to perform as a driver,” explains Aubry, who first raced at Le Mans in 2018. This year, he’s undertaking a full WEC season with the Vector Sport team.
“The Goodyear partnership helps us understand how to develop the right setup and race strategy. The engineer and driver partnership is vital. It helps us understand the tires so we can extract maximum performance across a stint and race.”
It’s striking how enthusiastic Gabi is when talking about the value of a dedicated Goodyear engineer. “It’s a triangulation between driver, team engineer and Goodyear. With the lack of tire warmers at rounds other than Le Mans this year, it’s been a significant shift, particularly in qualifying, to how we approach delivering the maximum. The approach to warmup is now more important.
The Goodyear engineer who works with Vector Sport is David Billingham, who has worked with racing teams for the last 20 years. He explains the task of delivering performance: “During a race, an engineer will be sat in the garage listening to all the radio communications between the driver and chief engineer. We can tell how the car is behaving through the live telemetry from the car during the course of the stint. When it comes to pitstops, we also advise whether none, two or all four tires should be changed.
“Tire temperature and pressure are particularly important when the car is out on track. That, combined with driver feedback, is what we use to evaluate vehicle performance.”
When a tire returns after a session, David will analyze the tread and carcass to determine its capabilities on a given track surface and condition. This informs the team of the optimal stint length. “At Le Mans, teams could run three or four fuel stints on a set of tires. That saves the team valuable seconds in the pitlane, but they need the conviction that the set will remain competitive.”
Goodyear tires’ “huge operating window”
Both Gabriel and David praised the performance of Goodyear’s latest specification of dry and wet tires, with just a single spec used for the entirety of the WEC season. “Goodyear has developed a really impressive tire with a huge operating window,” says Gabi. “A few years ago, three compounds were required to cover an entire season, now we only need one.”
David echoes that sentiment: “The biggest impact we’ve seen is the additional challenge the driver faces. On a damp track, with only a single slick and full wet available, that’s quite a challenge for drivers to go from a tire that’s designed for one extreme wet condition to a tire that’s suitable for dry running. The tires can operate across the full spectrum of track temperatures we see throughout the year, and can get up to temperature quickly.”
About The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
Goodyear is one of the world's largest tire companies. It employs about 74,000 people and manufactures its products in 57 facilities in 23 countries around the world. Its two Innovation Centers in Akron, Ohio, and Colmar-Berg, Luxembourg, strive to develop state-of-the-art products and services that set the technology and performance standard for the industry. For more information about Goodyear and its products, go to www.goodyear.com/corporate.