Earlier this year, Pirelli and Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli announced that the TA class will see a significant change next season. With a growing emphasis on the technological as well as aesthetic proximity to the road car product, the brand new P Zero Trans Am TA class tires will switch from the current 16-inch tire to 18-inch tire and wheel package in 2022.
The most significant change to the tire (besides the size) is the reduction of the sidewall, which now resembles that of low-profile Pirelli tires that for years have been the preferred choice of the world’s leading performance road cars.
Reigning TA champion Chris Dyson and his team have worked with Pirelli over the last two years to develop the new tire package. In this edition of Trans Am Corner, Dyson walks through the process of tire testing, the impact the driver has during testing and he also gives the insider details of how the new tire will positively affect the class performance.
TA: How does the tire testing process work as a driver?
CHRIS DYSON: Tire testing is one of the most demanding and rewarding processes a driver can undertake. You have to be relentlessly consistent and focused and you have to approach every single run with the same mentality and focus. You have to be alert to how the car balance changes on every set of tires you evaluate and you have to make sure you are recording your own responses to how the car changes on a given set. You need to remember what you liked about each set and which features perhaps don’t work as well.
This basis for comparison only grows as you introduce more variables over the course of one or two days, so you need to filter your feedback accordingly. It’s very physically taxing because you are doing more track mileage in any given day of tire development than we would ever do during any normal Trans Am race weekend. The challenge is pushing yourself to perform as well on the last set of tires as you did on the first run because the engineers require it and every tire set warrants the same approach.
TA: What differences did the larger tire base make to the TA car?
CD: The biggest improvement with the 18″ wheels is consistency in grip and also in ride control. The smaller sidewalls deflect quite a bit less than the 2021 tires, and this in turn improves responsiveness to inputs and also gives a platform. The compound also works more effectively through the corner so we are faster everywhere.
TA: How did you work with Pirelli to find the right composition?
CD: This process began two years ago with some preliminary evaluation testing, which was very encouraging but gave us a lot of indications of where further improvement could be found. The testing plan for 2020 began at Homestead late winter, but was interrupted by the COVID-19 problems. We resumed testing this past summer and Pirelli brought a range of options to assess at Road America. Once we had established the tire constructions and compounds that were the most promising, Pirelli was able to refine the options further and the last test at VIR gave us the “finalist.” The key objectives were performance, durability and heat-cycle resiliency. We did more than ten race distances’ worth of testing at Road America and VIR.
TA: How will the new tire and wheel benefit drivers?
CD: The package will give drivers more responsive and grippier tires, better ride and bump control, and the larger wheels allow competitors to run a different brake package that will be better cooled and should give better brake life and shorter stopping distances. The drivers will all be able to go faster without any fundamental changes in how the car performs.
TA: How did your feedback assist in developing the final product?
CD: I was very transparent with Pirelli in my comments and took a broad view that this had to be a tire that not only would be faster, but that would be suited to all drivers competing in the series. I have had the privilege of doing quite a bit of tire testing in my racing career for multiple brands and I brought my entire experience base to the process, and I believe that will help Pirelli to deliver a better product.
TA: Is it just you and the Pirelli team part of this process or is your whole team involved?
CD: It’s a full team effort to do a tire test. Everyone has their part contributing to the final product. I would like to thank the following people from my team who put in a lot of time to make sure everything on the No. 20 ALTWELL CBD Ford Mustang ran smoothly during the testing:
Scott, Crew chief and Car Engineer
Cliff, transmission and rear gear specialist, also tire prep, and fueling car.
Matt, logistics manager, composite specialist, coach work specialist body/paint
Steve, number 1 mechanic, and tire specialist/tire changer
Cody, chassis technician, tire changer
Wyatt, chassis technician, coach work
Jake, chassis technician, coach work.
Andy, data and chassis engineer
TA: Anything else about the process that we didn’t ask that you would like to share?
CD: I would like to commend Pirelli and the Trans Am Series for taking this step, and I was honored to lead their efforts on track. The 18″ wheels are the global standard and Pirelli has tremendous resources and data with their global footprint across elite motorsport. Our races are going to be even more impressive and exciting in 2022, and I believe this tire development only makes the series and the cars more attractive.