Race tires age more like eggs than fine wine. I’ve made several posts about the importance of checking date codes when buying tires. But does tire age really matter?
Anecdotal evidence is obviously anything but scientific… but sometimes these anecdotes can open eyes to some surprising revelations.
The NASA Spec Miata Rain Tire is the Toyo RA1. The RA1 is pretty famous for wearing like rock… and since a racer’s set typically only see use in wet conditions they usually end up lasting a VERY long time. I didn’t want to sit out rain races, but my budget couldn’t handle spending $750 on a new set of tires that I may use for one or two races a year. I found a set of “used” tires (used for just 2 wet sessions) for less than half of full price. They still looked brand new, the problem was age. They were already 6 years old.
For any other tire, I would have balked, but Not RA1’s. They have a reputation of working very well until the cords show through, being affected way less by age and heat cycles than other race tires. SCCA Spec Miata’s rain tire is the Hoosier H20… Called a “One Heat Cycle tire” by many. They have a reputation for being mind bendingly fast in the wet, but also shredding like cheese in a grater in conditions that are anything short of monsoon.
The Verdict? My old RA1’s have proven to be FINE as rain tires. I’ve needed them more than expected… including my initial competition school with rain so heavy I was just barely able to see some of the corner stations. The tires were, and remain totally manageable, despite a concerningly old age.
That said, being able to stay on the pavement is essential, but racing is much more than that. Tires need to not only be good but they must be competitive.
So… how do they stack up?
The final race of the 2019 season was also a very wet affair. At this point, my RA1’s were 8 years old. My standard excuse about being way down on power from the other SM’s was cut thin by the conditions (I may have ~130psi compression numbers, but at least most cylinders are close!). Like any true racer, I had to rush to prep a new excuse if I didn’t finish on the podium. Could I blame any shortcomings on my rubber?
Meanwhile, another racer in the group, Pete Mcintosh didn’t bring rain tires. After nearly packing up, he was able to borrow a set buried in the back of a friend’s trailer. Problem is, they had been collecting dust for such a long time that they were already a full 10 years old.
How did he (and I) do?
Not only did Pete do well on his ancient tires, but his best lap eclipsed the next driver by nearly 3 full seconds…. building a 48 second lead by the end of the race. As for me, I didn’t do anything spectacular, but did just fine. At the time I was happy to get to a comfortable position and with season points on the line, play it conservatively to avoid a spin and dropping some places. I finished mid pack where I had most the season.
Now, it should not go unsaid that Pete is a fantastic driver. While his dry race lap times are near the front, they’re usually somewhere within our typical half second spread. However, he has more laps around NJMP in the rain than anyone I know, and has the chops to get a seat in some pro series races as well.
At the end of the day… Could Pete and I have gone faster on fresh RA1’s? Maybe. But with him clearing P2 by 48 seconds, and me pulling a comfortable gap over others (on Fresh rubber) whom I usually battle with from flag-to-flag… I’m Very happy with what my current rain tires can do. Rain seems to be an equalizer for not just power, but also tire compound. I clearly have a lot to make up in my driving, not my tire budget.
How about other race tires? One of the key enemies of race tires is heat. The fact that My RA1’s are only ever on track in the rain keeps temps down significantly and I assume, extends their useful life. If you get an 8 year old tire up to mid-summer hot operating temp, you’ll likely have some ill effects. NASA’s dry Spec Miata tire, the Toyo RR is one of the longer life R-Compound road race tires. In my experience, they can be great for the year after their first heat cycle, but have a noticeable drop in performance after that year. After two years they have a larger drop and it would be quite a stretch to call them competitive.
This story is anecdotal so proceed at your own risk… I can’t recommend taking any 10 year old tire on a race track, I wouldn’t even recommend using a tire older than 5 years. So do as I say, not as I do; And if anyone has any 6 year old RA1’s to dump, give me a call.
Like what you just read? Check out more posts about doing Track Days and Racing on a budget HERE.