The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night for the conclusion of the Firestone 600.
Ahead of the race, Paddock Eye spoke with Firestone’s newly appointed Chief Engineer and Manager of Race Tyre Development, Cara Adams
What does the role of manager of race tyre development entail?
So, the manager of our race tyre development group is the one that essentially sets the pace for our terrific group of engineers and scientists which I am very recently one of. We have great group of chemists, mechanical engineers and technicians that work together to assess the performance of the Firestone Fire Hawk race tyres and decide what changes we need to continue to improve and innovate our tyres to have fantastic tyres for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
As chief engineer, what does your track-side role involve?
While we are at the track, I will be at the majority of the races next year, I think I was at all but a couple the races this year and while we’re at the track we serve as an interface to the race team, to the drivers, all of our engineering staff will talk to the drivers their working with but if there are any questions with the IndyCar Series, talking to some of the chief technical people, the aerodynamicists when it comes to determining what loads the tyres are going to see and to work closely with the series trying to provide a tyre that is both a great tyre for the competitors to race on that’s something that works well with our partners at the Indy Car Series.
How did you get involved with Firestone’s IndyCar programme? Was it something that just came about?
It was definitely not something that came about, I actually worked in our college, on Formula Fae and I believe in Europe you call it Formula Student, it was a programme where you design and build an open wheel type race car so I got to do that in college and really, really loved the idea of working with cars specifically open wheeled based cars. It was really amazing for me and my goal was to find a position where I could use that passion for motorsport and do something that is important and able to provide something of value to racing. I started with Firestone back in Bridgestone, we actually provide the Firestone racing tyres, so I started with the company back in 2003 and I worked in a group that helped original equipment vehicles, matching the tyres to the original equipment vehicles so the vehicle dynamics group with that and I had a very strong racing heritage so I found the manager at the time and I introduced myself to him and I asked him what of skills or traits your ideal engineer might have and he described to me a few things that he was looking for, somebody that understands computer programming, somebody who could understand vehicle dynamics and basic tyre behaviour and I said well I know maybe one of those but I am going to study and I am going to learn a little bit more and I understand you don’t have any opening now but when you do have an opening I want you to be able to bring into that group. So I studied a lot of that and it was maybe a couple of years afterwards when a position became available and of course I interviewed for the position and well the rest is history.
Do you have any advice for any women who want to get involved in motorsport on the engineering side of the sport?
Really to be persistent and advice for any young women or young men who are interested in getting into the sport, if you can find a mentor, that’s always ideal and knowing what you want and being persistent is really really good. I have a really quick story that I’ll tell you about a young lady that came up to me in Milwaukee and she was a junior in high school at the time, and she told me she was interested in engineering, so I kind of took her under my wing and added her to my Facebook and reached out to her and she is now a professional engineer working with Harley Davison, and it is really neat to see, and so my advice to young women is to find a mentor and my advice to engineering professionals is to be that mentor.
Firestone recently conducted a test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, firstly how did that go?
Sure, it was a good test. We were able to do a one day test because the drivers were very happy with the performance of the Firestone fire hawk tyres in the 100th running of the Indy 500 so we just wanted to go there and try a few compounds and changes. The test itself went very well, we had two primary test cars and we had extra test sets we gave to about four additional test cars. So the test went well. We are in the process now of doing out analyses of the tyres afterwards and we are going to use of the this data to basically to we have a heritage of improving on our tyres year after year so that is what we are looking at now to come up with some specifications for the 101st running.
Secondly, will any of the information gleamed from that test be used for this season or was it purely focused on development for 2017?
So Indianapolis is a pretty specific track and what we learn at Indianapolis may help us a little bit on other super speedways, but the track has a pretty unique demand being a 2 and a half mile oval with relatively tight corners and long straights so what we learn there we may be able to use a little bit at super speedways but it’s a little bit of forward thinking. When we go to design a new tyre for Indianapolis we start pretty much a year before hand and sometimes even further before that. When we’re at Indianapolis for the actual race we are already thinking about what we are going to do for next year. There’s a bit of a design process for Indianapolis specifically, some of the other tracks our road course and street course engineers are able to be very quick to react because the tracks are a little more similar, so if we see an area where we want to change the performance of the tyre in one area we can do that a little bit more quickly.
The Verizon IndyCar series announced the 2017 schedule yesterday, there is an additional oval on the calendar with Gateway Motorsports Park, Do Firestone take a different approach to developing tyres for ovals compared to road and street courses?
The constructions and compounds for ovals and street courses and even road courses are fairly different. We use a similar compound family but for example, at Indy and at Texas this weekend, we have a different left side compound than to the right side compound and the thing with construction is even though the tyres look similar in size, if you’re on an oval you’re always turning in the same direction. If you are always turning left you have load transfer that happens on the right side tyres. The right side tyres higher spring rate has to be little higher and a little stiffer to maintain some of those loads and these compounds need to be more durable. So, there is a lot of different science that goes into engineering a tyre for a road and street course and goes into engineering a tyre for an oval.
This weekend, the series returns to Texas, Will Firestone have the same compounds available to the teams for the conclusion of the race as the ones that were brought to the race in June?
Absolutely. We are trying to use the exact same tyres that we had so for the teams that already had tyres leased out to them, we kept these tyres separate because they already have their own markings and a lot of the teams get the tyres and they do really detailed wear measurements so we want to try and make it easy on the teams and give them back the exact tyres they had last time wherever possible.
With the return of Watkins Glen next weekend, how useful was the recent test there for gathering data for the race?
We had some really fantastic feedback from some of the drivers on Watkins Glen, they really liked the compound construction we brought. With the track being entirely repaved it has very good amount of grip so we went to the test prepared with compounds and constructions for this increased amount of grip, so we are happy with the race tyre we’ve selected, so we’re excited for next week.