Dunlop and Honda pit Isle of Man TT legend against BTCC champ
- John McGuinness swaps Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP for BTCC Honda Civic Type R
- Gordon Shedden shows off his riding skills aboard Honda Racing’s TT winning machine
What happens when you pit double Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion Gordon Shedden against 23-time Isle of Man TT winner John McGuinness, head to head on each other’s race-winning machinery? Dunlop and Honda hosted the unique event at Scotland’s Knockhill circuit on Monday, which saw Gordon swap his race-winning Halfords Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Type R for John’s Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP for 30 laps of the Scottish track.
The two vehicles are very different – the number of wheels aside – but the similarities are the brand of chassis and tyre manufacturer – Honda and Dunlop. The sportsmen are different too, but both Gordon and John are at the peak of their sport, both capable of using the tyres to their maximum to achieve the best lap times. Whether that’s in a 27 lap race, over 21 miles against 31 other cars on a smooth race track, or a single 37.73-mile lap of the daunting Isle of Man TT Mountain course, held on closed public roads.
Swapping machines is no mean feat – to get competitive lap times, they both needed to learn the car and bike respectively in just a handful of laps. During that time, they also had to adjust to the very different tyres that were the only thing between their vehicle and the tarmac.
Tyre Talk – the differences
- Size matters – the contact patch on a bike is tiny compared to that of the car, just the size of a credit card. At around 3-4 times smaller it has to take a power to weight ratio quite differently (close to 1 for a motorcycle against close 0.25 for a BTCC). And that is just for the rear tyre. The front contact patch on a motorcycle is yet again even smaller and needs to cope with the bike slowing at close to 1G deceleration.
- Wheely important stuff – the BTCC wheel is 18 inches in diameter – an inch bigger than that of the TT rear wheel, although the overall tyre diameter is actually bigger on a motorcycle. This means the tyre mechanics are different.
- A bit on the side – Gordon needed to rely on the side walls of the tyres on the Fireblade, while John’s Civic Type R was (mainly) squarely on the base of the tyres. The motorcycle tyre will deform more in the sidewall and tread area to key into the asphalt and generate grip whereas the BTCC tyre will mainly deform in the sidewall area to withstand the weight and get the support required.
- Under pressure –tyre pressures vary. There’s up to 1.1 bar of difference between the bike and car pressures to get the best performance – double the pressure in the front tyres when cold for the bike compared to the car. A motorcycle tyre will run between 1.5 bar to 1.6 bar hot, whereas a BTCC tyre will be aimed to run at 1.85-1.95 bar hot. It may not seem such a big difference for most people but Gordon or John would have spotted that change of tyre performance with less than 0.1 bar difference!
- The magic ingredients and construction – While some ingredients or at least concepts may be tried in one discipline and transferred into another, the secrets inside the tyres are very different – but they have to stay secret.
John McGuinness: “It was brilliant; I didn’t want to get out of the car to be honest. The first session all happened really fast but then I settled down into a groove. The whole mindset changes when you swap from what you know to something new, and I was a bit nervous, but we’re all racers and just want to go fast.
“It’s hard to see the apex, you’re strapped in tight, and it’s quite warm in there. You’re breathing in engine fumes and there are lots of rattles and bangs, it’s such a different world but I was shocked by how nice and precise it was. Dunlop put on some soft, sticky, amazing grippy tyres on the Honda Civic Type R and they gave me so much confidence to go fast.
“My Honda Fireblade had the same tyres we used at the TT where we did a 132.6mph average lap and we brought it here and did some riding on those same tyres which is testament to Dunlop and how good their product is. You know we put our lives in the hands of a few things, but tyres are such an important part of the package.”
Gordon Shedden: “It was absolutely out of this world, you maybe build a picture of what you think it’s like in your head, but nothing compares to it when you’re out there. It’s phenomenally fast but once you get used to it you learn to relax and get more confident. It was an absolute privilege to have a go.
“It was the first time I’ve ever ridden on a slick tyre and I cannot believe the grip that the contact patch the size of a credit card can actually give you, it’s just absolutely mind blowing. The speed obviously is as you’d expect, the world passes by at a million miles an hour. I can only imagine what it’s like going round the TT course, and John is welcome to stay on that!
“Each stint I started to relax more and get more confidence in the grip that was available. The brakes on the race car are fantastic with four big slick tyres to hold the thing on, so you wouldn’t believe the bike would have the stopping capability that it does.”