Massive demands put on the left side of rear tyres at Phillip Island are unique. With so many track sections requiring a high lean angle but also an open or opening throttle, rear tyres do not just have to find side grip for a long time, but also large amounts of drive grip. And for long periods at high lean. Perfect conditions for overheating.
Phillip Island is like nowhere else on the planet in that regard and nothing of this is new, and even MotoGP has had tyres woes at the Australian track in the past.
But WorldSBK paddock tyre problems in Australia are now almost the norm, not the odd exception. Nor just for riders who just go too hard with no thought to tyre life. Especially in Supersport but also now increasingly in Superbike as the bikes get faster.
Lap records went this year, and race one was 12 seconds faster than last year. So the demands are going up. The PI weekend began with an edict that tyre pressures must be run at or above 1.6 bar, and would be tested on the grid.
Then after some more blow outs and a crash from Kenan Sofuoglu, the WorldSSP riders had a meeting with the organisers and then decided on mandatory pit stops for the WorldSSP race on Sunday. Then, that idea was spread to Superbike, after some riders had blistering or fails in race one.
Former racer Gregorio Lavilla, the Sporting Director of Dorna in WorldSBK, was one of those who decided to call the WorldSSP and then the WorldSBK races as flags to flag, with mandatory stops in certain laps, and he was asked why this was seen as the best way to proceed, rather than just fewer laps, for example.
He said: “We followed advice from the tyre supplier and there was no confirmation that any tyre on the specs could match race distance. So we went below the number of laps that the first incidents happened. So everyone on the table agreed that for the safety point of view this was the best solution. Obviously there were different opinions, but in terms of safety this was the only possibility we could do.”
For the part of Pirelli – which look set to only bring super-hard, super-durable solutions next time for Australia - boss Giorgio Barbier said" “We know that in this track especially, to find a good set-up to have a good race is not so easy. The difference in this place is that of you make the wrong things you destroy completely the tyre.”
Barbier added to his pre race comments after the action had been completed on Sunday by saying, “I would like to point out how, in reality, there was no unanimous consensus in the meetings with participants from all the classes, but some riders were in favour of riding full race distance or simply reducing the number of laps.
"However, in these situations it is fair that the majority should prevail, therefore this decision was taken. It is certainly disappointing for those riders who worked well setting up their bikes in the days ahead of the race weekend, succeeding in managing tyre wear well. The topic of tyre pressure remains a crucial point for us, because it is clear that if a tyre is not inflated properly, it cannot work well and this, lap after lap, can trigger problems, especially on a particularly critical and sensitive track like Phillip Island.
For this reason, Dorna and FIM, in agreement with Pirelli and starting from this round, have implemented a pressure control procedure a few minutes prior to the start, selecting a few riders at random. The first data collected gives pause for reflection: out of nine riders checked in the three races of the weekend, four were below the minimum 1.6 bar pressure recommended by Pirelli.”
Pressures are said by some to be a red herring, as they had problems above the magic 1.6 level but Barbier’s point that some riders were happy to carry on with the set-up they had and do full race distances were valid, given their pre and post race comments.
After the latest WorldSBK and WorldSSP tyre scares at PI, there is a lot of work to do to rebuild full confidence in the tyres around Phillip Island.
Telling competitors, especially at the first round of the year to simply go slower to save their tyres has also not gone down well in the paddock, as a general rule. The other guy will also try and go faster in racing.
As was stated earlier, expect slower lap times and less high-performing tyres at PI in the future, to make sure a weekend like this one does not happen again.