Avoiding red flags at every track day.
By Nick Ienatsch, February 2, 2021
Everyone knows we crash on cold tires, but riders continue to crash on cold tires. My last crash (2013) was a cold tire—if you don’t count a stuck float coating the rear tire in Yamalube and 110-octane fuel—and most of my instructors’ last crashes were cold tires. And we’re supposed to be the professionals!
I’m just back from Homestead Miami Speedway where we completed our first-ever ChampSchool and combined it with a trackday weekend put on by our friends at N2 Trackdays. We had a cold-tire crash in the school, and there were more than a few during the N2 days.
Let’s Discuss All the Problems:
1. Lean angle is not your friend: We leave the pits on a cold tire and might be sitting in the middle of the seat because “it’s just the warm-up lap.” Wrong! Go full-GP right away. More body hanging off the inside of the bike equals less lean angle if all other things are the same. Try to look like Marquez right away. Get off the side of the bike.
2. The vast majority of cold-tire crashes are underloaded tires: We get to the first long-radius corner slowly because “it’s just the warm-up lap.” We enter the corner slowly and don’t need the brakes, so we’re riding through the beginning of the corner with the throttle open. Therefore the weight is to the rear, front tire is unloaded, and the contact patch is small. We get to where the radius tightens, or the “direction change,” and just add lean angle with the throttle open. Bam, we’re down because that little cold patch of rubber and silica (front tire) has no grip. We asked the front tire to steer the bike without a load on it. We must learn to close the throttle and even sneak on 2 percent of brakes to put a load onto that little piece of hard rubber that needs heat to become rubber with mechanical and chemical grip.
3. Waiting on pit road: We pull our warmers at third call and roll onto the grid, but a rider in the previous session runs out of gas on the checkered flag. The crash truck rolls, and we sit with heat leaking off our tires. We might even get impatient. When the green flag waves our tires have cooled and our ire has risen. When forced to wait, our first priority must be tire temperature.
Think “cold tires” in every scenario…
4. Our competitive urges become our first priority: We roll onto the grid at third call and spy that rider we feel compelled to catch and pass. That thought becomes prioritized above cold tires, and we ask too much of a tire not yet at temperature. Make cold-tire management our first priority in every session.
5. Forgetting that tires have two sides: At Inde Motorsports Ranch, our winter home in Arizona, the first four corners of the 21-corner lap are all right-hand turns. By the fourth corner, the Dunlop Q3+ tires we run are starting to feel pretty darn good. “Time to go, baby!” Bam, we’re down in turn 5 because the left side of the tire is still cold and untouched. We must remember to warm (use) both sides of the tire; if our track has a predominance of left-hand corners, the left side of the tire will warm more quickly than the right.
6. We are told to “follow me” in a session: A coach or a friend invites us to follow them and they leave the pits quickly on blanket-warmed tires while we roll out on air-temperature tires. We mistakenly prioritize staying with them over warming our rubber. Then we crash chasing them because our tires simply aren’t ready for their pace. Warming our tires is priority one, no matter the offer.
7. Not taking note of the weather: A windy, cold, overcast day produces pavement temps that make tire-warming an even longer process. A chilly wind pulls heat off the pavement even if the sun is shining. That same chilly wind pulls heat off our tires as we sit in hot pit waiting for our session’s green flag. Winter trackdays are phenomenal in terms of comfort and cool intake air, but extra care and time must be given to tire warming.
8. We don’t note the pace: Some trackdays mandate “no passing” for the first two laps of the first morning session. We pull our warmers and roll out, only to be caught behind someone who is extra cautious and slow. During those two laps, our tires lose heat as they roll unloaded around the track. We then crash on the third lap as we impatiently blast past on tires significantly cooler than they were in pit lane. When we’re forced to ride slowly, we must restart our tire-warming procedures.
9. We pull our warmers with gloved hands: Third call echoes through the paddock and we yank our warmers and roll out. Unbeknownst to us, our front warmer popped a fuse and that tire is cold. We crash because we weren’t in the habit of always pulling our warmers with at least one bare hand to check heat. If a crew member pulls warmers, they must check the tire surface temperature with a bare hand.
10. Mid-session changes: It’s common to pit halfway through a session to make a change to the bike. As our tires sit and cool, our mind is on the change. As we roll back out on a cooler tire, our mind is on the results of the change, and that is not the correct focus. The results of the change can only be focused on after our tires are back to temperature.
Liquid-cooled tires: We will occasionally ride on a drying track, or a track with puddles or streams that don’t dry as quickly as the line dries. We might think, “Be careful through the stream because wet pavement can be slippery,” but I’ve seen some extremely gifted riders crash after the stream. They tip-toed through the water and then went back to speed too early. This crash is also due to stream water getting into our tires’ siping, but we must take into account the cooling effects of water on rubber.
At ChampSchool our habit is to yell “Cold tires!” as we are getting ready to ride. We’ve learned to tell students to re-warm their tires after they get off a two-up lap because we’ve had cold-tire crashes on bikes that have sat for five minutes in a chilly breeze. Same advice after we’ve stopped to watch a demonstration before a drill. We’ve learned to stop the van in turn 5 at Inde Motorsports Ranch or turn 3B at New Jersey Motorsports Park to identify these turns as the first left-hand turns of the lap and a common place for cold-tire crashes.
We’re learning through hard knocks. You don’t have to learn this way; think “cold tires” in every scenario described above, whether you’re on the street or track. Use our experience to skip over the silliest, stupidest, and most-avoidable money waster in our sport: the cold-tire crash. “Cold tires!”
More next Tuesday!