Neutral Contour Technology was used in the development of the low-profile NCT tyre in the late 1970s, the introduction of which was a milestone in the development of high-performance tyres. NCT theory states that if the internal stresses within a tyre can be equalised, then an optimum balance in ride and handling can be achieved. Simply put, a car’s performance can be significantly improved if more tyre tread can be firmly placed on the road.
Modern computer technology permitted Goodyear engineers to make full use of Purdy’s theory. In street tyres this resulted in the NCT tyre, and in racing tyres it spurred the development of the very successful low-profile Fl racing tyre — the Eagle Fl — which, with its distinctive directional tread for maximum water evacuation on rain-drenched circuits, became the wetweather racing tyre all others were judged by. The directional tread created a new trend in wet-weather tyre development and led to the introduction of the Goodyear `Gatorback’ low-profile highperformance tyre series. The Eagle VR tyres for the Chevrolet Corvette with their Formula 1 heritage became almost
legendary and established Goodyear as the leading manufacturer of tyres for fast cars. A host of new-generation Porsches, Ferraris, MercedesBenz, Lotuses and Toyotas all fitted Goodyear low-profile tyres. These added a dimension previously not readily available to the pleasures of driving a fast car. It is from this technology and know-how that Goodyear most recently developed its Eagle NCT 2, which is gradually
being introduced to the British market to cater for selected performance machines in the Saab, Mercedes-Benz, Opel and Peugeot ranges. It is the logical derivation of the Eagle NCT which has gained such a strong reputation as a performance-car tyre over the past few years, reflecting 25 years of Goodyear motor racing technology. It was in 1965 that the late Richie Ginther scored Goodyear’s maiden Grand Prix win at Mexico City at the wheel of the works Honda, the first in a long line of Formula 1 successes for the company which has become the most staunch and successful tyre supplier to the international motor racing community. Like few other areas of the sport, motor racing improves the breed in terms of production tyre technology in a quite dramatic manner. In a competitive and challenging business, Goodyear’s role in forcing the pace of tyre technology can be largely linked to its successes on
the race track.
For the past three seasons every World Championship Grand Prix has been won on Goodyear rubber and the current Eagle F 1 tyre owes its unrivalled record of Fl supremacy — which includes 17 Drivers’ World Championships, 18 Constructors’ tides and 232 Grand Prix victories — to the Neutral Contour Technology theory. However, it was not until computer technology came into its own that Goodyear’s Research and Development engineers could really put the theory into practice. The result was the highly successful Goodyear Low-Profile Racing Tyre — the Eagle Fl. Using the enormous experience gained from the company’s many Fl victories, Goodyear then developed the Eagle Fl wet-weather racing tyre.
Its race-winning tread has straight circumferential grooves and open-shoulder radial panels, a uniquely effective combination for dispersing water quickly and efficiently, reducing the possibility of aquaplaning while offering sustained control and stability.
It was in 1964 that Goodyear established a race tyre design, development and production base at Wolverhampton, England, and this remained the focal point of the company’s Formula 1 competition operation until 1980, when all race tyre manufacturing was transferred to its US corporate headquarters in Akron, Ohio.
Goodyear provided tyres for Honda and Brabham in 1965, and Ginther’s win at Mexico City in the last race of the 11/2litre Formula 1 set the ball rolling. The company’s first World Championship followed in 1966 with Jack Brabham’s Repco-engined Brabham. It was the 40-year-old Australian’s third world title, adding to those he notched up in 1959 and ’60 at the wheel of a Cooper, and his Goodyear-shod machine reeled off four successive victories to clinch the crown during the course of that summer.
Not content with winning the Formula 1 title, Brabham also took the Formula 2 Championship in a Goodyear-tyred car. That may have been only the American tyre manufacturer’s second season in Grand Prix competition, but it had demonstrated its complete technical mastery of this challenging arena and set the Formula 1 world alight.
The following season, 1967, it was Brabham’s team-mate Denny Hulme who grasped the World Championship, again using Goodyear rubber. Moreover, by the end of that year a full-scale tyre war had developed in Grand Prix racing and development had reached feverpitch. The main reflection of the progress achieved was the ever-increasing width of the tyres.
In 1965 Goodyear had been using tyres with a 5-inch tread width. By the end of that season they had expanded to 6 inches; the 1966 season saw 71/2-inch tyres and, at the beginning of 1968, Goodyear unveiled 111/2inch-wide rear tyres for its three contracted teams — Brabham, McLaren and Dan Gurney’s AAR company. By the middle of that year, Gurney’s Eagle was running a rear tyre with a tread some 131/2 inches wide. Between 1968 and ’70, Goodyear added another seven Grand Prix wins to its tally, but at the end of 1970 an event took place which would have far-reaching and significant effects on the level of the company’s success and associated technical development. Jackie Stewart, the 1969 World Champion, had suffered an uncompetitive season during 1970, so his team owner, Ken Tyrrell, decided to build his own Formula 1 car for 1971. Initial testing showed great promise, so Goodyear signed the Tyrrell team and its drivers, Stewart and Francois Cevert. Stewart was undoubtedly the best tyre test-driver in Formula 1 at the time, shrewdly appreciating the benefits to be gained from pounding round as many
circuits as possible during the off-season evaluating many different tyre compounds and constructions. In effect, Stewart was to help Goodyear write the ‘tyre testing manual’ for Formula 1 in the early 1970s and his arrival in the Goodyear camp was marked by another intensive development programme.
All this investment and commitment paid off handsomely during the first year of the Goodyear/Stewart/Tyrrell alliance, Jackie winning the 1971 World Championship with six Grand Prix victories, while Cevert ended up third in the points standings.
The 1972 season saw a continuation of the development programme started by the introduction the previous year of smooth, ‘slick’ tyres which had no real tread pattern, an innovation pioneered on the US drag racing scene. Dispensing with the tread had been made possible by the enormous progress made in tread compounds and internal constructions, a process aided by two key advances in tyre manufacturing technology.
The first was the introduction of new moulding techniques which permitted the construction of tyres with thinner treads that greatly reduced heat buildup, the second the evolution of heat-resistant rubber which actually offered significantly better traction. From the start of the 1971 season, all dryweather tyres had been slicks. Towards the end of the 1972 season a second significant spin-off from drag racing made its presence felt in the form of a new type of tyre construction: a soft ‘wrinkle wall’ tyre carcass
was introduced which would wind up like a spring out of slow corners, literally catapulting the car out onto the straight. It came too late to enable Jackie Stewart to retain his title, but Jackie and Tyrrell bounced back magnificently to take the championship again in 1973, the Scot retiring at the end of that season with a then-record total of 27 Grand Prix wins to his credit.
Emerson Fittipaldi picked up Stewart’s gauntlet on Goodyear’s behalf in 1974, winning the championship for McLaren. From 1975 the tyre manufacturer found itself with a Formula 1 monopoly after the withdrawal of its only rival. But the company maintained its commitment to a sustained programme of research and development at the upper limits of vehicle behaviour attainable only by a Formula 1 car, despite being the sole supplier to the Grand Prix business. In 1978 Mario Andretti successfully fended off Michelin’s challenge to take the championship in his Goodyear-shod Lotus, while Alan Jones did the same for Williams in 1980. Nelson Piquet was on Goodyears when he scored the first of his three world titles in 1981, and so were the next two champions, Keke Rosberg, driving for Williams, and Piquet again. The 1984 season saw the allconquering McLaren-TAGs take F! by its throat on competitive tyres, but the following year this famous team switched to Goodyear and it has remained with the Akron company ever since. Since 1985 every Formula 1 World Champ
ionship has been won on Goodyear rubber.
At first, all Goodyear Formula 1 racing tyres were of bias, or cross-ply, construction, the first radials being produced in 1984. Initially radial construction was used only for the rain tyre, but it was soon incorporated into all the company’s Formula 1 products. As things stand in 1989, all such tyres have to conform to a
size restriction laid down by the sport’s governing body, FISA. This states that the covers must not exceed 26 inches in overall diameter and 18 inches in overall width when fitted to the wheel rim and inflated to operating pressure. The real tyres are made to the maximum of these dimensions, while the fronts are slightly smaller to provide optimum balance and handling.
Goodyear Eagle Fl radial racing tyres are designed to operate at inflation pressures of between 18 and 20 pounds per square inch at the front and bet ween 16 and 18 pounds per square inch at the rear, the pressure varying slightly depending on the characteristics of the track surface and climatic conditions.
Throughout any season Goodyear will select its tyres from a range of compounds, its choice dependent upon several considerations such as track surface and length, likely weather conditions and so on. Tracks fall into three broad categories: low-grip street circuits such as Monaco and Phoenix; medium-speed tracks like Estoril; and high-speed tracks, into which class only Silverstone has really fallen this year.
The logistics involved in servicing 13 teams on a World Championship trail which encompasses 16 races all over the globe are truly daunting. Goodyear brings in the region of 2300 Eagle Fl radial racing tyres to each event, transported within Europe by a fleet of six articulated transporters. To service the Grand Prix business there will be 22 Goodyear Racing Division personnel, including management, engineers, public relations staff and tyre fitters.
Generally, Goodyear will have a choice of two potential race compounds available, along with an ultra-soft qualifying tyre which is usually good for between one and three laps only. There are occasions, of course, when both race compounds may be used during the course of the same Grand Prix. This situation can arise for various reasons.
A driver may express a preference for one compound over the other, even if there is no perceptible performance difference. On the other hand, tyre performance data, generally based on temperature, may determine that the faster cars must race the harder of the two available compounds, while the slower cars can use the softer tyre. There are also occasions when a driver will use the harder compound on one side of his car, the softer on the other. However, all such tyre choices and set-ups have to receive the approval of the Goodyear race engineers who attend every Grand Prix to monitor tyre performance and advise the teams on tyre choice.
The value of Grand Prix racing as a testing ground has always been that it pushes components to the outer limit of their performance. If a component or material works in a racing environment, it will work under normal operating stresses with a large safety margin. It is for this reason that experimental carcass materials — the fabrics forming the skeleton of the tyre — are frequently tested in racing tyres as part of their development.
Goodyear’s Director of International Racing, Leo Mehl, has summed up the company’s approach to motor racing in general and Formula 1 in particular, by saying: ‘There is no question in my mind we are the number one tyre company in Grand Prix racing and intend to stay that way. We welcome competition from other tyre companies in Formula 1 because the benefits which accrue from this business are split pretty well 50/50 between the technical feedback and the advertising benefit. But you run the danger of losing both benefits if you don’t have the stimulus of competition. Goodyear has a long-term commitment to this business.’ That level of commitment certainly shows. The development of the range of Eagle high-performance road tyres started with the Eagle NCT, which was then supplemented by its big brother, the Eagle VR. This tyre, which was specifically developed to meet the exacting
requirements of performanceplus car owners, has a directional tread pattern virtually identical to that of the Eagle Fl wet-weather race tyre. The range is now being further expanded by the introduction of the Eagle NCT 2 radial highperformance tyre.