Monday, April 10, 2006

The Joy of Stickies

Tires are an important part of any kind of racing. Autocross is no exception. Even in the SCCA's "stock" class, real street tires are not an option if you want to win on a regular basis. For that reason, I purchased a set of DOT R-compound tires for competition this year. R-compounds are technically street legal, but are very very soft and wouldn't be used by anybody as a daily driver tire. They are, however, the tire of choice for Stock and Street Prepared autocross classes, as well as Showroom Stock and other road racing classes that require "street" tires. In my region, we call them "stickies."

My last experience with stickies before this year was in a parking lot in Cincinnati in May 2003. I was campaigning my old Sentra SE in G/Stock and had a separate set of wheels with Kumho stickies on them. I drove to Cincy the night before. Prior to the event kicking off, I, and dozens of my competitors, began the arduous task of changing tires. I didn't get very far. My street wheels had been put on last by a local tire shop, apparently with an air gun. The lug nuts were super tight. As a result, the first nut I tried to loosen up (I loosen the lug nuts a bit before jacking up the car) was really being resistant. I pushed and pushed on my breaker bar - even tried to stomp on it to get things moving. Finally, after a couple of minutes of struggle, something gave. It wasn't the lug nut. It was the socket itself - it cracked right down the side. I broke a piece of Craftsman steel with a lifetime warranty. I was pissed. The only thing that kept me sane was knowing that it happened on the first lug nut and not the last and I could run the event (and drive three hours home) on street tires.

For the next couple of years I ran on real street tires. Ultra-high performance street tires, yes, but street tires nonetheless. When I bought the Civic last fall with plans to go Mini hunting in H/Stock, I knew it meant a return to stickies and tire changing. So I managed to put my hands on a second set of stock-sized wheels (no mean feat, believe me) and bought a set of Kumho Ecsta 710s for tires.

It took two months for the weather to improve enough to make changing tires worth it. In January (on street tires) and February (on snow tires - don't ask), I got some feel for how much better the Minivan felt with Koni struts/shocks and HPS brake pads. But I was unprepared for how the stickies simply transformed the car in March. All of a sudden, I had grip! No, let me rephrase that - I had GRIP! There was one corner on course that I just knew I wouldn't make cleanly - I was carrying too much speed. No worry. The stickies let out nary a squeal as I cruised on throgh the corner. Three runs later, I had a class win by 2.5 seconds and a 3d place finish (out of 71) on the PAX index.

Yesterday was our April event, with beautiful spring weather. A smaller turnout meant six runs (!) instead of four, but one thing stayed the same - the grip! Another class win, another 3rd place on the PAX (.016 second behind 2nd), and 10th overall (out of 43) on raw time. More importantly, I got several comments on how smooth I looked and how well "stuck" the car looked during runs. Overall, a very encouraging couple of outings. One more regional event and I'm off to the SCCA National Tour event in Peru, Indiana. Then the real fun will begin.

Speaking of the April event, check out these action shots (courtesy of Martin Valent):

I suppose the moral of the story is this: Stickies are expensive. And changing tires twice a day is a pain in the ass. But they're fun. A whole heck of a lot of fun.

1 comment:

Saturday Night Racing said...

I am running a racing class at the Speedrome in Indianapolis called Hornets. We basically race stock 4 cylinder cars with almost no modifications and have to run 195/70 street tires. The only thing I have found in this size close to a "stickie" is a Sumitoma HRT 200. Do you know of any other tire that would work better?