OC Register Article on Tires and Drifting

Great read in today’s Orange County Register newspaper by Marcia Smith.  Be sure to watch the SLIDESHOW for the photos from DC Chavez.  Thanks to Marcia, Team RMR, and the team at Toyo Tires for this article.  For the original article click HERE

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Some old tires don’t die, they just drift away
Smith column: It’s a rough life for a tire on a Formula Drift series car, like at this week’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

LONG BEACH — You’ve been tire-d.

Just imagine having one of the worst, most thankless and inglorious jobs in all of sports: Being a tire on a car that’s running Formula Drift series, which slid through the streets of downtown Long Beach last Saturday and will have another exhibition Saturday as part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend.

You’d be, say, a tire used by Formula Drift pro Rhys “Mad Skills” Millen, 35, of San Juan Capistrano, who drives the No. 6 RMR Red Bull Hyundai Genesis coupe.

A month ago, you had arrived at his Huntington Beach race shop on a pallet of two dozen tires shipped by Cypress-based Toyo Tires.

Your name: Toyo Proxes R1R, an extreme performance tire designed for serious street driving. And by serious, we mean accelerating at high “Fast and Furious” speeds, sliding sideways through corners as tight as the bends in a paperclip, fishtailing out of curves and generally being used and abused, scorched and torched in a driver’s heavyweight bout with the asphalt.

“Tires are the most valuable part of the race car,” said Millen, a 16-year veteran of motor sports. “You’re using your tires as braking and traction. Tires are your contact patch because they’re basically the only thing that keeps you on the road.”

That is, as opposed to having the car flip over and tumble into a retaining wall line with stacks of junkyard-bound tires.

As new tire, you’re a thing of beauty. You weigh about 25 pounds. You’re worth $225 off the shelf. You smell of fresh rubber. Your walls are unblemished black and spray-painted gold with “Toyo Tires.”

Your tread’s ornate pattern runs deep – eight 32nds of an inch – and you’re as tacky to the touch as a lint roller.

This is the best moment of your life. You feel special, distinguish from the long-lasting tires that get mounted on a minivan. Drivers and their crews love you because, as team manager Eric Cantore, you’re “grippy and new.”

Once at the track, you start to adhere to gravel, gum, pennies, cigarette butts and loose screws and bolts and pebbles that lodge themselves in your tread like corn in teeth when eaten off the cob.

You get inflated with nitrogen to a pressure ranging from 22 to 38 pounds per square inch. Your temperature is that of the street and the sky, which last weekend was about 75 degrees.

Then you go racing. The engine roars with horsepower and you spin, screech and scream as Millen hits the throttle at the flag wave of “Go.” In turns you spin even faster, hitting bends in the course close to 65 mph. Your rubber burns off. White smoke engulfs the car and the pungent odor of everything your made of – natural rubber, carbon black, sulfur, petroleum and the handcrafter’s sweat – tinges the sea air.

Four turbulent turns inside an abrasive Long Beach quarter mile wear you down, killing you by the second. You’ve lost tread. Flecks of melted rubber have left skidmarks on the track, sprayed the fender walls black and flown inside the cars shocks, fuel cell and air filter.

Then you stop. Crew members probe you with thermometers and check your pressure to see how you’re holding up. Your temperature after one lap on the drifting course has risen to 203 degrees down the middle, 175 degrees in the shoulder. Your pressure has elevated by five pounds per square inch.

Your hot, bloated, exhausted, smelly and coated in track debris. You’ve gone through the most painful microdermabrasion ever. You don’t feel very attractive anymore.

“When tires smoke,” said crew chief Costa Gialamas, “they give off a lot of interesting smells. And they’ll burn you. You can’t even touch them for about 15 seconds when they come off the track.”

You’ll go out for four more runs during a race event. By the fourth time around, you’re spent, approaching baldness and loosing your grip on reality.

“The more grip you have, the faster and deeper a driver can take the car into a corner and keep control,” said Toyo Tires engineer Hideki Ueha, using his tread meter to measure that half your tread has burned off after four runs. “Without grip, you’re useless.”

So you come off the car. Rejected. Used. Dismounted. After enduring maybe two treacherous miles.

You had given your life so that Millen could post practice runs several seconds quicker and six to seven miles of average speed faster than his competition. You would have been the first one blamed if Millen struggled.

“A tire can win me a championship, give me the fastest entry speed and the ride of my life,” said Millen. “And then when it’s all over, you’d get dismounted and thrown away. It’s quite sad.”

You won’t go up in a racer’s trophy case. You won’t get hung on a wall above a fireplace. You’d get shipped off to the tire disposal/recycling center on another pallet, an unsung hero taken out to the curb.

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