BMW and Dunlop have worked together in the most demanding arenas of sports car racing – and won. Pole positions led to race wins, race wins led to championships, and after several years of racing partnership, many shelves are over-crowded with trophies.
Tires – being the only point of contact between a racecar and the track surface – are tantamount to a racecar’s performance. They are inevitably central to race wins, and are probably the most under-appreciated elements of a racecar. The simple looking black round things that look all melty at the end of a race are truly the unsung heros of motorsport.
Of course, they’re not that simple. In actuality, they’re probably the most complicated and highly developed elements of a car’s performance. Their chemistry, construction, and tread pattern (if any) are constantly honed, reassessed, and further honed. Fractions of a second are hard fought for through tire development. Some of the biggest gains in performance are often found in the tires, if not through aerodynamics or power gains. The marriage of tire companies to race teams is thus elemental to success.
Ferrari kicked off this type of intimate relationship in the 1990s and early 2000s when they sent Ferrari engineers to embed in the Bridgestone development labs of Japan, and likewise accepted Bridgestone engineers to embed with their Formula 1 engineering teams in Maranello, Italy. The golden Schumacher years were hence born, and the advantage created by this technology sharing and co-development bore championship-winning fruit for many years.
So it was with BMW and Dunlop – frequent tire tests revealed avenues for performance gains, and after several years of shoulder-to-shoulder development, championships were won. Perhaps most notable were the hard-fought victories in the American Le Mans Series, known in short as ALMS. BMW and Dunlop shared plenty of champagne in 2010 and 2011 having claimed the driver, team and manufacturer titles in the uber competitive GT class. The likes of Ferrari, Porsche, Michelin and Yokohama were tamed by the victorious BMW M3 racecars, circulating on Dunlop rubber.
The tale of Dunlop racing success does not start in the 21st century, however. No, it supersedes the modern era of tire design by more than 100 years.
It all started with a common cold. John Boyd Dunlop – founder of Dunlop tires – took his son to the doctor to cure his malady. The doctor prescribed cycling (funny, how the practice of medicine has evolved) and so Dunlop set about making his son’s tricycle as comfortable to ride as possible. This included covering the metal rimmed wheels with a vibration absorbing coating. He bonded canvas straps with liquid rubber circumferentially around the wheels, thus creating three of the world’s first tires.
It wasn’t long before Dunlop was in the winner’s circle at motor racing events. In 1902 Dunlop claimed victory in the Paris-Vienna race. In 1923 Dunlop claimed their first Grand Prix victory and by the late ’20s Dunlop was pushing the boundaries of tire design far beyond what anyone thought possible.
In 1924 Dunlop won their first 24 Hours of Le Mans race, by 1937 they claimed victory at 24 Hours of Le Mans ten times.
In 1927 Henry Segrave set a land speed record of 231 mph (372 km/h) in 1927; Dunlop went on to set yet another land-speed record in 1947, equipping John Cobb’s Railton Mobil Special to a successful 634 km/h run – a record that stood for 23 years.
Through the 1950’s and 60’s Dunlop was dominant in motor racing, claiming 8 Formula 1 world championships after piecing together 82 Grand Prix wins, distributed among Ferrari, Lotus, Cooper, BRM, and Matra F1 teams. To this day, Dunlop remains in third place on the all-time list of Formula 1 Grand Prix victories fought among tire companies. An impressive feat, to be sure.
Dunlop went on to win at 24 Hours of Le Mans many more times, claiming 34 wins of the 81 Le Mans 24 races held thus far, partnering Jaguar, Ferrari and Porsche to illustrious victories.
The rest, as they say, is [motor racing] history.
BMWBLOG was given exclusive access to Dunlop Tire’s track-side motorsport operations, affording us the opportunity to document the logistical and technical preparation of race tires before they’re distributed to the race teams.
In short, the tires are hand inspected by highly trained and experienced technicians before they’re mounted on their assigned wheels using a tire-mounting machine. Next, a tire inflator, enclosed in a protective plastic box, quickly inflates the tires to a base pressure such that tire bead is achieved, with a loud “bang.” The tires are then inflated to the prescribed pressures as requested by the respective teams, before being balanced in a high-speed balancing machine, which is highly accurate to account for any imbalance whatsoever. Finally, a logistics tech labels and stacks the tires before they’re shipped off to the race teams, to be mounted and run at 10/10th pace – aiming for victory. This process can be seen in the below photo string.
At the end of the 2012 season, Dunlop withdrew from ALMS competition, causing BMW to partner once again with Michelin, with whom they claimed a ALMS title in 2001.
BMWBLOG would like to take this opportunity to recognize Dunlop for their significant contribution to BMW Motorsport’s success in ALMS, as well as for their generous hospitality when hosting BMWBLOG at the 2012 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – Mosport ALMS race.
Be sure to check out BMWBLOG’s exclusive photo gallery documenting BMW and Dunlop Tire’s tale of ALMS success.