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Car Tuning: Tires and Rims

Enhanced performance of a tuned car, naturally, requires selection of special tires and rims. Many of those who fall for a sports look will tell you that low-profile tires are the real deal if you aim for speed. And, they will be right up to a certain point. Precisely, to the point when they approach the first corner. The math behind a sensible selection of tires and rims is somewhat more complex and requires balancing a few factors that have an impact on performance. In the text that follows, we will talk about those that we identified as the most important.

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Which Factors Affect Tire Performance?

The Existence of a Groove, Its Pattern and Depth

Tires that have the largest possible contact patch to the road, i.e. those that have no groove in the rubber, are those that achieve maximum traction and speed. On the downside, such tires don’t provide full control on wet roads, thus increasing the danger of unwanted sliding.

The Width of the Contact Area

The wider the tire, the bigger the area that touches the road, which leads many people to the conclusion that wider tires provide a faster, easier and safer drive. The truth is, however, that the width of the contact area produces more friction, thus slowing the vehicle down. Therefore, choosing the right width of the contact area is a shrewd compromise between the maximum speed and the best possible curve handling.

The Height of the Tire’s Sidewall or “Tire Profile”

The choice of the tire’s profile will depend on its purpose. The low-profile tires will perform best on straight and oval tracks. However, if pushed beyond limits, they could lose grip when cornering. Rally tracks and demanding terrains require a higher profile tire.

The Composition of a Tire

Depending on the tire’s purpose, its composition will be soft, medium hard or extremely hard. Softer tires yield more grip and friction, but they wear out faster. On the other hand, harder tires yield less grip, but they last much longer.

What Kind of Tires are Used for Tuning Purposes?

As you already concluded, choosing the right tire will depend on its use.

Slick Tires

Slick tires are used for racing purposes only. The name tells us that the tire has an entirely smooth tread. There are, however, variations intended for wet tracks (W), with certain grooves cut into the tread. Slick tires come in various dimensions, hardness, quality and durability, and you will most often see them in Formula 1 competitions.

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Slick tires have been used in Formula 1 since 1971, except for the period between 1998 and 2008 when they were banned.

Grooved Slicks

A popular name “grooved slick” is used for a tire that has the exact same composition of a slick but is engraved with a certain amount of grooves whose purpose is to eliminate aquaplaning. If not DOT approved, they are used for racing purposes only, to be more precise, for rally races. They became known as R-compound tires.

If DOT approved, they can be used on streets. Unlike their slick counterparts that last for the duration of one race or one racing weekend, DOT approved grooved slicks can last 5-10,000 km (and yet, far less than commercially available ultra-high performance tires).

Ultra-high Performance Tires

When we choose commercially available tires for our tuned car, we will normally aim for those of the highest quality and grip. Such tires are usually seen in N (factory) race class, in which only serially produced cars take part, where modifications are allowed when it comes to lowering the car and enhancing brakes and shock absorbers.

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Are There Summer/Winter Types of Racing Tires?

Unless in some specific rally types, races are usually organized in dry summer periods, when the only type of precipitation one can expect is rain. Winter racing competitions require special tires which can be either studded or non-studded. Studded tires have attached studs, or bolts, to make connection with the surface (snow and ice) instead of the tire.

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Rally Sweden, also known as “Rally to the Midnight Sun”, means driving on snow for three days.

Tires or Rims: Which to Choose First?

Rims on which tires are mounted also make a very important element of a tuned car. If the dimensions of the rim are limited by the rules of the competition, we will first choose the rims and then select tires that can fit the given dimensions. If this is not the case, we can decide which tire will be the fastest for going straight and taking corners, and then follow manufacturer’s recommendations for corresponding rim dimensions. We need to bear in mind though that any parameters which don’t match could compromise stability and overall performance.


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