– Isle of Man TT, Le Mans and Nürburgring 24 Hours held on successive weeks.
– Three events that use public roads, and challenge human & technical limits.
– Three events that encourage open tyre competition to drive performance.
– A major logistical and technical challenge for Dunlop.
Motorsport purists often long for the days when categories such as Formula One were untamed, less sanitised and more unpredictable. Tighter regulation and conformity has crept into modern motorsport. However, there are some events on the motorsport calendar that live on the edge rather than in the middle of the road and this year three of the greatest epics all take place within three weeks of each other. The two 24-hour marathons at Le Mans and Nürburgring, plus the undiluted challenge of the Isle of Man TT, make June the month of real racing for real racers. Unsurprisingly, for a brand born more than 130 years ago with the sole purpose of winning, Dunlop remains at the beating heart of these three great races.
In just three weeks, Dunlop expects to supply and service more than 5,000 tyres to teams at these events. All three events feature open tyre competition, meaning teams, drivers and riders have chosen to use Dunlop rather than the tyre choice being enforced by regulation. It’s this spirit of competition that drives Dunlop to develop tyres that can be pushed further, harder and faster than the previous year.
Isle of Man TT
The Isle of Man TT has barely changed from its origins more than a century ago. Nowhere else tests man, motorcycle and tyres in quite the same way.
The island, nestled in the Irish Sea, is proudly independent, meaning it can govern on matters of major importance – such as not having speed limits on rural, public roads. That means the 37 miles/59 km lap involves a unique blast through sleepy little villages, alongside rivers and then charges across the moorland around Snaefell Mountain. The TT features every kind of corner, but in general, the course is awesomely fast, with a lap record set by Dunlop-shod Peter Hickman last year of over 135mph/216kmh. Riders spend most of the lap with the throttle wide open in fourth, fifth and sixth gears, threading the eye of the needle through hugely quick sweeping curves with trees, hedges and lamp-posts lining the track.
Tyre choice is critical at the TT. Super-high average speeds and several jumps are taken at more than 150mph, creating huge stresses on both compound and construction. Dunlop is the most successful tyre brand in the history of the TT, with the last 13 Senior TT wins being gripped by Dunlop, but the nature of open tyre competition means there’s new technology every year. This year Dunlop has focused on a compound that heats up quicker, essential to boost rider confidence on a chilly morning before racing down Bray Hill after the start line.
Race week, which is preceded by several days of practice, starts and finishes with events for highly tuned 1000cc Superbikes, producing more than 200 horsepower and nudging 200mph/320kmh on the fastest parts of the course. Most riders also compete in the other two major classes, for 600cc Supersport and 1000cc Superstock machines.
Dunlop tyres have competed in all but two of the TT events since its 1907 beginnings. In the last 15 years alone, riders have chosen Dunlop to claim more than 60 victories and 150 podium finishes across classes including Superbike, Supersport, Superstock and the all-electric TT Zero races.
The high speeds of the TT circuit have helped to create Dunlop’s ‘JLB’ technology. Jointless Belt Construction reduces tyre growth caused by centrifugal forces at high speeds from 15mm to 3mm. JLB results in smoother handling, with straight-line stability and reduced ‘weave’ effect – a big advance for Dunlop’s road riders.
Le Mans 24 Hours
Dunlop has an unparalleled history at Le Mans. Since the tyre brand’s first win in 1924, Dunlop-equipped cars have topped the overall podium 34 times – more than any other tyre company.
From the Bentley victories of the 1920s, the Jaguar D-Type era of the Fifties and the epic Porsche versus Ferrari battles of the Sixties, Dunlop is part of the soul and fabric of Le Mans. Into the Eighties, the glory years of the Porsche 956/962 and Jaguar XJR series brought more overall wins for Dunlop.
In recent years, Dunlop has focused on the ultra-competitive LMP2 class as the equality of the cars means it is a true benchmark of tyre performance. 2018 saw Dunlop’s eighth consecutive win in this category, but there’s no room for complacency, as Motorsport Director Ben Crawley explains: « We relish the competition. It pushes our team to develop new tyres each year, and this year we introduced an upgraded specification for the build-up to Le Mans. It was used to win in the FIA World Endurance Championship at Sebring and was used by Jean-Eric Vergne to take a record-breaking pole at Spa. Vergne was 1.8 seconds faster than in 2018, showing that development drives performance. »
LMP2 provides the biggest proportion of the 62-strong field, with 20 cars on the entry list for this year’s race on June 15/16. Of these, half the class has chosen Dunlop. Three slick and two wet-weather tyre specifications are permitted in the regulations, which need to meet the needs of all the Dunlop teams. The same specifications of tyre used in the Le Mans 24 Hours have to perform at all of the FIA World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans circuits, coping with track temperatures lower than 10C (such as at Spa this year) and higher than 40C.
Crawley explains the teamwork involved: « Having evolved the designs during the off-season, we work with the teams in testing before setting compounds and constructions for the season. Dunlop engineers and teams work closely to fine-tune set-ups to get the best performance for each individual car and driver combination. Suspension settings and tyre pressures directly affect performance in terms of both speed and durability. Lap times for the 24 Hours are getting faster year after year, but speed is just one requirement from the tyres. Dunlop designs rubber for multiple stints and this communication, collaboration and expertise between drivers, engineers and our technical team is key to winning. It is as much about human performance and teamwork as product development. »
Nürburgring 24 Hours
Too dangerous and too fast for Formula One. That’s what drivers said about the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 1976. Yet, more than 40 years later, it’s being used for arguably the toughest around the clock marathon in motorsport.
Long, confined, fast and dangerous, the 16-mile/25-kilometre track is the last untamed circuit that is still allowed to hold a car race of any meaningful status.
« The track is very old school, very challenging, » explains Crawley. « The race has become a battle of the big manufacturers. Top teams, including the Phoenix Audi team, have chosen Dunlop in their quest for success, but we also supply tyres across many of the classes that make up such a diverse field including all of the cars in the TCR Touring Car class. »
There are few events with quite so many different tyre manufacturers represented on the grid, so Dunlop goes up against just about every possible industry rival.
For the drivers, the Nordschleife provides continuous pressure. Changing lines with the grip levels available and the traffic on the circuit, especially with the speed differentials between the variety of classes, means that it is tough with the cambers, elevation changes and surface variations. The massive grid is divided into multiple classes, with the lead cars coming from the GT3 protagonists. Regular GT and Touring Cars are also accommodated, with most of these teams being regulars in the VLN endurance series that is held at the Eifel circuit throughout the racing year.
Historically, the race has been a happy hunting ground for Dunlop, scoring 18 overall victories. Dunlop triumphed in the first four consecutively, with Hans Stuck (1970), Helmut Kelleners (1972) and Niki Lauda (1973) among the winning drivers. Indeed, no other tyre manufacturer got a look in on the top step of the podium during that decade. The most recent Dunlop win was in 2017, when Connor De Phillippi, Kelvin van der Linde, Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Mies snatched victory with just two laps to go.
In addition to the 24-hour race, Dunlop has a proud history at the Nordschleife. The official race lap record (on the Nordschleife without the GP extension used for the 24h) still stands from 1983 when the late Stefan Bellof hustled the
fearsome Dunlop-shod Porsche 956 to a 6.11.13 record. Motorsport experts still consider this to be one of the greatest laps in the history of the sport.
Teamwork drives success
Dunlop racing tyres are created by a multinational team. With design experts in Birmingham (UK), Colmar-Berg (Luxembourg), Montlucon (France) and Hanau (Germany) it’s a mighty cross-border effort to go racing. The tyres for each of the three races will be shipped to each event in Dunlop’s distinctive yellow truck convoy, with the paddocks at each circuit being turned into three of the busiest fast-fit tyre stores in the world during June.
The epic June ‘Trilogy’ may be the height of Dunlop’s racing season, but they are just three of more than 300 races a year that Dunlop service across car and motorcycle racing. From January to December, it’s a race that never ends.