In short, yes, race cars have much different tires than cars you would see on normal street driven cars. While they may look relatively similar, and share some qualities, the engineering, design, and function are vastly different, even between other race cars. A dirt kicking rally car would have much different tires than a Formula 1 car, due to the nature of the course they are driving in.
We’ve provided some high level look into the differences between the tires.
First example we have is the Rally car tire. Aesthetically, these may be the most similar to regular street cars, due to the similar sizes and groove patterns. However, the key difference for Rally tires you may be able to spot is the thickness of the tire as well as the pronounced treads on the tires. This is due to the need for rugged tires going over various terrains at high speeds. Beyond that, they are not too different than street tires. Some even come with studs in the tires to grip the road better during snow and gravel courses.
No Tread Tires
The tread less tires are most commonly seen on open-face race cars such as Formula 1 and Indycar but can also be used in many of the sports car racing leagues. As you may have already noticed, these tires do not have any treads in them. This maximizes their grip on the asphalt, providing the necessary traction these race cars need to put power onto the ground and maintain huge amounts of grip onto the road.
Why no treads? Generally, treads help move water away from where the tire meats the road, preventing hydroplaning. Since race cars are driven under specific conditions, racers can forego the tread designs to have as much rubber contact the road as possible. No need for treads when you know there won’t be any water on the course. Different from a daily driven car, where rain may suddenly start coming down. However, race cars do have a variety of different tires, including rain tires, which we will go into below.
You’re probably asking what’s so different about these tires. I mean, they do look pretty similar right? Surprisingly, not very different than your street driven tires. They are wider, sure, and composed of different quality of rubber but in terms of function, they are not very different in their design.
The main function of these tires is to allow racing in the rain. If you tried to drive tread-less tires in the rain, there would be massive amounts of accidents as hydroplaning would occur every few feet due to the flat design. These tires are meant specifically for the rain and help to push water away from the contact patch, ensuring the most grip in slick weather.
Be on the look out
We hope this high level summary of the different race tires help in some way of understanding when race teams swap out for different tires. While there are many differences in the variations, as well as the world of material composition, we’ll have that for a future article. See you at the next race!