Goodyear-NASCAR press conference

GOODYEAR-NASCAR PRESS CONFERENCEStu Grant, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Robin Pemberton Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

MODERATOR: We appreciate everyone coming in today for the Goodyear tire test. It's always good to be back here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but we thought we'd give you all an update on the hard work that's being done by Goodyear and NASCAR and others. To do that we've got Stu Grant, who is general manager of Goodyear Worldwide Racing that's here with us. Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition for NASCAR, and in a few minutes we'll bring in a couple of drivers, Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin.

At this time, I'll turn it over to Stu Grant. He'll make some comments, and we'll open it up for questions from the floor. Go ahead, Stu.

STU GRANT: Thank you, Kerry. We tested here in the spring of '08 and developed our tire recommendation. We felt that everything went as planned and we chose a proven right-side compound for this Car of Tomorrow, first Car of Tomorrow race at this facility. Again, one of the reasons we did that was we wanted to have a known quantity of proven compound. We did not see anything out of the ordinary at our tire test, but when we got here for the race, we did not have the results that we had anticipated. The high wear rates that we initially saw just never went away. And the track never rubbered in, and we never got more than about 10 laps on the right rear, 10 to 12 laps the entire race.

So after that, we did an extensive analysis of everything involved in the equation, looking at the tire operating conditions, looking at the manufacturing of the tire itself, looking at the track surface and so on, just to leave no stone unturned. And just kind of let me tell you a little bit about that whole analysis to bring you up to speed on where we are in that whole process.

The first thing we did was we wanted to verify that the right-side tread compound was exactly what we intended it to be. We did all that research internally in our own manufacturing process and everything. We were satisfied that everything was fine. We actually went as far as checking our raw material suppliers, as well, just to make sure that we didn't have a raw material supplier change that would have indicated, would have perhaps given us some different results on the racetrack like we saw. We didn't experience anything there.

So then we began the rest of the analysis, and it was really interesting. We gathered a lot of the rubber-particle dust from the race that we had here in July to analyze the particle size. We looked at the tire operating conditions and, you know, we saw that the additional load and additional slip that the right rear tire saw was considerably more than it was in 2007.Then we started to do some laboratory analysis to try to figure out, ‘OK, why did we see that kind of wear debris, why did the track not rubber in?’To make a long story short, what we found out was that the additional load and slip that the right rear tire saw changed the particle size of the wear debris.

Instead of seeing the rubbered-in racetrack like we saw in 2006 and '07 on that compound, the particle size was so much smaller. If you were here, you saw it, it was this dry, dusty wear, and consequently the track never did rubber in.So the next thing we did was, again internally in our laboratory, we said, ‘All right, let's change this tread formulation, modify it to see if we can change the abradability of the compound, and increase, change the particle size so it's conventional, you saw conventional wear characteristics.’ We were able to do that. So that's kind of been the path we've been going down.Knowing that we needed to change that particle size, we've done formulations that give you the stickier wear, for lack of another term. We came here, we tested with Kyle Petty a couple weeks ago, saw some very, very encouraging results out of that test. And, you know, of course we're here with a lot more cars yesterday and today, and perhaps tomorrow. We've got what we believe to be a good start toward a 2009 race recommendation and, you know, just look at the racetrack, you can see there's a groove in the racetrack where the cars are going around, just kind of looking normal.We've got rubber debris on the outside of the groove, and we're seeing some significant improvements in wear.

So what's our objective out of this test? You know, we're going to test again in April to finalize our '09 tire recommendation. This is a big step in order to gather data to determine what we want to do to finalize our tire recommendation next April. But I can say at this point that we're really, really encouraged with the results that we have seen in terms of our tire wear at this test so far.

MODERATOR: OK, thank you, Stu. Now we'll take questions. If you have a question for either Stu or Robin, raise your hand. We have a wireless mike here in the audience. This is being streamed live, so if you can state your name and affiliation, we'd appreciate it. Thanks.

Q: Jamie Little, ESPN. Right now, obviously, it's a lot cooler here on the track from when we raced here in July. How big a factor is that and is that why you're coming back in April?

GRANT: Historically you see higher wear rates when it's colder. What happens is, when the track heats up, I don't care what track it is, the track heats up, oil comes out of the racetrack, things get a little slippery, and the wear is not as severe as it is when it's colder. But you see probably more of an effect on ambient temperature -- sorry, you see more of an effect on tire running temperature maybe than you do on tread wear. But I don't see a significant effect on the cooler temperatures on tread wear that we see today, no.

MODERATOR: Who has the next question?

Q: Rich Nye with WTHR here in Indianapolis. Stu, can you explain it in a simple term as did you need a harder or a softer tire here or is it that simple to explain?

GRANT: Simple terms, softer. I used the word ‘stickier.’ Honestly, what we did was we got a lot of our research scientists involved in analyzing this whole project, and they're kind of interested in getting involved with particle sizes and things like that. So when we gave them the challenge of, ‘All right, increase the particle size of this abraded rubber,’ they took it on and made some formulation, adjustments to give us this sticky wear. And I guess to simplify it, softer would be a better term, yeah. Softer rather than harder, correct.

MODERATOR: Next question. We've got one up front here, please.

Q: Stu, Dick Mittman, 500 Old-Timer. Have you ever had this happen before this drastically as happened this last time?

GRANT: No, we have never seen anything this drastic, I have to say. But, again, looking back when we had some discussions with NASCAR about -- here, let me back up. About what, three weeks to a month after Indianapolis, we went down to Daytona and shared with NASCAR what our theory was at that point in time. One of the things that came out as a result of that discussion was: ‘You know, you guys, we're kind of seeing the same wear, dusty wear characteristics at Dover. It's an abrasive surface, it's concrete. You know, we have Dover coming up, maybe you should look at that tire recommendation and maybe use that to see if your theory is correct or not.’ That's what we did. We changed the right side rubber for the second Dover race and made it a little softer, a little stickier, and the results were great. We had an excellent race at Dover; the wear was conventional and it really made a difference.

So, honestly, you know, Dover by no means was as severe a condition from a tire wear standpoint as Indianapolis, but we did see the same tendency there, and we were able to make an improvement there with our, using our theory we developed out of our Indianapolis analysis.

MODERATOR: Other questions? Got one right there. Go ahead.

Q: John Oreovicz, Stu, I've covered IndyCar racing for the last 15 years, and Goodyear was involved for about half of that. Tire failures, I can't remember the last major tire issue they had in IndyCar racing. Simply, why is it so difficult to produce a safe and reliable tire for NASCAR?

GRANT: I like to think we produce a safe and reliable product. I will also say the operating conditions a NASCAR car sees is considerably different than the Indianapolis tire. You're talking about a car that's twice as heavy, tire that's half as big, so the unit tread pressure is significantly higher on a NASCAR tire than an Indianapolis tire. It's just a different operating condition.

Q: John Schwarb, I'm sure you haven't had time to analyze everything that happened at Talladega, but how surprised are you what happened there, especially considering that track is known as being smooth, nothing like the abrasive surface here?

GRANT: That was unusual, wasn't it, because like you say, Talladega is a very smooth racetrack and we've had very good races there in the past. I mean, I'll tell you at this point, we are taking all the tires that lost air back to Akron for analysis. I will tell you right now, at this point the indications are those are punctures from the racetrack or something off the car. If you look at the way the race developed, you had essentially the race started off with a green-flag run with a debris caution about the time of the fuel stop, and we ran about 50 laps without any issues. In a 40-lap span in the middle of the race, with very few laps on those right-side tires, we had four right-side air losses for whatever reason in that period. Then for the next 100 laps, everything was fine again.

So like I say, we're going to complete our analysis, but that's our early indication.

Q: Did you say there were four punctures, and they were all right sides?

GRANT: That's our theory at the moment. Again, the engineers on site at the time were able to determine that the first one, Reutimann's was a puncture; they found that. The next three we're bringing back to look at.

Q: Steve Ballard from the Indianapolis Star. You said there were no indications of any problems when you tested here in the spring. Do you have a sense at all of why the problems didn't show up then, or what might have changed between the spring and when you came in to race?

GRANT: What we saw in the spring at our tire test was right-side tires that wore out in about 10 laps. But we saw that in '06 and we saw that in '05. So at that point in time, there was not an unusual data point for us. Fine, the right side -- there's hardly any rubber on the racetracks, we're here with three cars, 10 laps on the right-side tire, not a problem because we know that we all know that the track is going to rubber in just like it had in'06 and just like it did in '05, same compound, it should rubber in. All those things we thought were going to happen. We made the mistake of assuming that the track would rubber in, and it did not.

MODERATOR: Question right here and then we'll jump over there. Go ahead.

Q: Robin, is the Car of Tomorrow involved at all in this situation?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, the teams have made some tremendous gains with it. We haven't made any rule changes, but the teams have caught up and found ways to make their cars handle. And, you know, that being said, it's also made it more difficult for Goodyear. As speed gets into the cars, it creates a little bit different scenario for tire wear. One of the things that we had done on a test a couple weeks ago was take some of the bits that the teams have used early in the year that have changed and became more fashionable, whether it's the rear steer of the cars or anything like that, and then to go in there and try to make sure that that is not what has added to the extra wear and tear. So we've put a check in a box of a lot of those bits and pieces that the teams have used to improve the handling of their cars.So it's -- as the car evolves, and it will continue to evolve just like all race cars do over years, it will be a moving target for Goodyear and everybody involved.

MODERATOR: We also have up here now with us two of our drivers were kind enough to come by today for a few minutes and visit with you. Of course, we've got Mark Martin, one of the veteran standouts in our sport, we appreciate Mark coming by. And Kasey Kahne, as well. So they'll both be available for questions, as well. So we'll continue with the Q and A. If you have a question, raise your hand.

PEMBERTON: Mark did the Dover retest when we did the new tire at this last race.

Q: Once again, John Oreovicz, Robin, I think this might be a follow-up to Dick's question there. Could a contributing factor to this be the fact in their quest to get a new speed out of the car, the teams are running radical setups, like watching on TV, it looks like they're going down the straights sideways.

PEMBERTON: If you watch any form of racing when there's competition out there, teams will push everything to the limit, doesn't matter what it is.If it happens to be something that you're not looking at -- I can remember the time when they were here for the 500 with Roger's cars and to make them handle they had to do some extreme stuff with the rear axles, you know, to probably put the 1,200 horsepower to the ground. But, nonetheless, you'll see that from time to time as cars evolve. You know, you've got to hand it to the guys, they do everything that they can to gain an advantage, and as you can probably remember in the spring of the year, around May, some of the things were getting a little out of hand. We pulled back and put some rules in place that would take care of the rear axle steer.

MODERATOR: Go ahead, question right here.

Q: Question about the Car of Tomorrow.You mentioned the additional load and the additional slip of the Car of Tomorrow versus last year in '07 and '06.How much additional load is on the rear of the car?

GRANT: Obviously it's going to vary from track to track, but another 200 pounds. The main thing that we saw when we compared '07 to '08 was, and you know, I'll give you a number, the car saw an additional load and additional-- here, saw an additional load over 84 percent of the racetrack. If you just do a lap around and around, it had increased load over '07 at various levels, 84 percent of the time. Additional slip at various levels at 79 percent of the time.

So in the tire, the right rear again is what I'm talking about. The right rear saw more load and more slip over a lot of the lap around this racetrack.

MODERATOR: Steve, did you have a question?

Q: Yes. Stu, if as Robin said this is going to continue to be a moving target, the next Brickyard 400 is nine months away. Is there fear what you learn here this week is going to be obsolete by the next time?

PEMBERTON: Before you lead with that one, it is a moving target, but as I think everybody can probably relate to some point in their life, when you introduce something new, the learning curve is very, very steep at first and changes what people and teams do to compete.

GRANT: That's exactly what I was going to say.

PEMBERTON: Yeah, I'll bet. So that being said, as teams get to their cars and maximize things, you know, I think part of that, the slope will slow.

I can say that through the history or -- I've been in the garage area a lot longer than I care to admit, but the car development never stops, never, ever, ever stops. What we see here is early on with something that's brand new to the drawing board, the learning curve is steep. Teams get there in a hurry. It's fierce competition, but we think that it will eventually slow down, it will take on more of a normal slope as we've seen over the past years.

Go ahead, Stu.

GRANT: Honestly, Robin, it is what I was going to say. We saw that so much early on when we got ready for Daytona, we saw huge changes in the car from when we tested in August of '07 to go to Daytona in '08, and it was the same early in the season at a lot of different races. Like Robin said, things will level off. That advancement on the team side is going to get smaller and smaller as the development gets more and more refined.

That's two things. One, that's why we're going to test again in April, because we know that the car that we see in April is going to be different than we're testing with today, but, you know, that's our job as a tire supplier to anticipate those requirements. It's our job to talk to NASCAR, to talk to these drivers, to talk to the crew chiefs, to see what's coming and anticipate what we're going to see at the race. That's what we have to do. We're going to test in April to anticipate the conditions that we're going to see in July of '09.

MODERATOR: If we can get a couple questions to the drivers, too. They're on a little bit of a time crunch.

Q: Jeremiah Johnson from WXIN here in Indianapolis. Mark, I'm curious as you came to the track this week if you allowed yourself to think back to maybe your thoughts, your memories of what happened here, maybe the frustration and are you confident improvement is being made right now?

MARTIN: No, that never crossed my mind. You know, it was another day at the races. Not every one of them goes perfectly, and I've seen -- hadn't seen that one but I've seen a lot of days, you know, a lot of strange days with all kinds of issues and all kinds of obstacles. So I think one of the things that these guys may have pointed out or may not have, is knowledge and I believe that, you know, Goodyear has learned a lot from the Brickyard 400 to today and will make them much better in a much better position to anticipate, you know, what the future needs will be as we go forward.Certainly great progress, great tire at Dover, and great progress here for us today and yesterday.

MODERATOR: Next question, back row.

Q: Mark, what do you see or feel in the tire that you're testing right now?Would this be a tire that could put on a good race today here at the Brickyard?

MARK MARTIN: Well, you know, I think so. We're still early on into the long runs, but we just put 20 laps on a set of tires in the neighborhood and that didn't happen. Actually, the tire is more drivable than what we had. We certainly didn't have any complaints about the grip level that we had with the other tire, but what they've got for a controlled test tire here is faster, great grip and, you know, it's lasting two or three times, you know, at least twice, maybe three times the distance already. So kudos to these guys for what they've learned, and they'll use that, like I said, to anticipate our needs going forward.

MODERATOR: Go ahead. Kasey, maybe your thoughts, too, on what you've seen out there yesterday and today.

KASEY KAHNE: I think it's came a long ways. We've practiced yesterday a little bit with where we ended the race on the tire for the Brickyard 400 and then kind of made our car better throughout the morning session for the control tire that we were on. And then did some runs on some of the new tires for the future, I guess. I think, you know, they're much better as far as the grip, as far as turning. I would say you would be able to race better, too, with some of the tires we ran yesterday afternoon behind another car. I think our cars would work a little bit better. So to me everything was good. They lasted. You know, there's a lot of cars here but not nearly what there would be on a race weekend when rubber does lay on the track to where it just opens up, you know, and I would think we would easily be able to run a fuel run right now with the tires we're looking at and hopefully we keep looking and finding better stuff. But yeah, Goodyear has done a good job to really help t  he situation. I feel like the control tire was a good tire right off the start.

MODERATOR: Question across the room.

Q: Eddie White with 1070 ESPN here in Indianapolis. A lot of our listeners are still upset about the show. They had a hard day that day. How hard was that day for you two guys?

KAHNE: For me, I was -- at the end of the race I thought about the fans, what they had to go through and the people on TV, maybe. I would have thought much more difficult for them than myself because what I was faced with was we knew going in what we had. After a couple of runs, we knew it was going to be like that all day long. So from there it was just how do we do the best job we can on 10-lap tires or on 10-lap runs and make sure we save the right rear enough that you don't blow it out later in a run. So for me, I would like to run more than 10 laps, but it was challenging to run those 10 laps and to still -- we ended up seventh, which ended up being a great day for us. So I thought it was a challenging day and I would have liked to run more, but we didn't get to that day, so it wasn't that bad for myself. I felt a lot worse for the people watching.

MARTIN: I've done this stuff a long, long time, like I said before, and I have all kinds of things, all kinds of stories I can't even remember, you know, of and some I want to forget. So it was not any more bizarre than many other race days that I have had through the years in NASCAR and in late models themselves even before ASA and late models and stuff.

So, you know, I think we were all sorry, but we -- I felt like that we collectively together made the best race under the conditions that we had possible, and I was actually proud of NASCAR and the competitors for getting through it without someone getting hurt. It was what it was. It was 10-lap sprints, but it was a race and it was unconventional, for sure.

MODERATOR: Question here, over here.

Q: This is a question for Stu. Given what you know about what happened in the last race and the goals that you want for wear in the future races, what is a good lap number for tires to wear out that you want here at Indy?

GRANT: Well, what we expect to accomplish here is essentially what we shoot for at most races, which is a tire that will last a gas stop. At some tracks you see tires that will, that will go longer than that, but, you know, by and large you change a right-side tire when you put fuel in the car, and we'll have a tire in 2009 that will last a gas stop.

MODERATOR: Other questions? Anyone else? Got one across the way there.

Q: This is for Kasey and/or Mark. As Stu and Robin said, this car is a moving target. You know that; you're in charge of trying to get as much speed out of it as you can. At this point in the season, are you surprised to still have all these tire issues, and have you felt the tire development has kept up with what's been doing with the car development?

MARTIN: I didn't realize we had many tire issues. You know, we had trouble here. What went on at Talladega is, you know, some of a mystery, still a learning process. Could very well have been, as Stu said, punctures. You know, my only question is when we have a puncture, why does it destroy before the driver feels it, you know? But to be real honest with you, exactly what Stu explained to you, whatever term you want to use, the duty cycle of this product that they're trying to give us is incredible. You know, this car or the old -- or the old car, either one, the demand that we put on these tires is unbelievable. The limited downforce, the incredible speed, the incredible weight, incredible horsepower, you know, what we ask of them, you know. So I really -- I didn't think that we had had that much, you know, that much trouble with the tire, considering.

KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, I'm really in the same boat with Mark on that. I think for myself with this car, it has changed from last year to this year. Last year, every month I had a different feeling when I would get into the car and how much it changed as far as our team and our company learning the racecar and getting it better. Now it seems like we're getting more of a good playing field. We're close all the time and slowly kind of making gains with the car. So as far as the car goes, I think we're creeping up on it, and we're getting a lot closer. The changes aren't going to be nearly as drastic as they were last year or maybe even early this year. The tires, I mean, it's a tough thing. I think of it as the tire could be probably as important as anything to do with the race car as far as the load and putting a race on and how it handles, how you feel it as a driver and being able to race with other cars. I think the tire has a ton to do with everything. So it's not an easy pro  ject for Goodyear, and they're stepping up and doing the -- they're figuring out how to do it the best way they possibly can, and I think that's why we're here these couple days and we'll be back before the Brickyard 400 next year.

MODERATOR: We'll take one more question for this group and then we'll let the drivers go outside for some one-on-ones. Go ahead, Jamie.

Q: Stu, just to keep up with the progress, as you said, you guys added a test here in April. Are you planning on adding any more tire tests for 2009 to keep up with the car?

GRANT: For 2009 at Indianapolis or overall?

Q: Overall, all tracks, all tires.

GRANT: We've got a very aggressive tire test program for '09. Again, we'll be back here in April, but we've got several short-track tests planned, some super speedway tests planned. We'll be testing quite a bit for the first half of 2009.

Q: More so this year?

GRANT: We've got one more test this year at Homestead just to, a little confirmation test, a small test to get ready for that event. That's what we have left in '09 -- sorry, in '08 for the '08 season. Then in December we're going to go to Las Vegas, and that's obviously in anticipation of the race at Las Vegas in '09.

MODERATOR: OK, we appreciate everyone, Mark, Kasey, certainly appreciate you all being here for us today. Robin and Stu are available inside here. We'll let Mark and Kasey go out in the lobby area.

Again, thank you for everyone coming and have a good day.

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