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Inside Dunlop’s Bahrain Tyre Test

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A minor travel planning snafu at DSC Towers saw me spending a day longer than planned in the Kingdom of Bahrain – certainly not a major issue, and much less so when I discovered that Dunlop would be having the first of four days of testing at the circuit.

After a polite enquiry about potential access to what would normally be a closed test was greeted with a ‘yes’ it was time to drag my elderly Avis-rented Mitsubishi back to the Bahrain International Circuit for a fifth consecutive day.

After a mooch around the WEC Paddock, with several of the teams still completing their packing up it was time to pop along to the Dunlop compound for a brief chat with a very busy Mike McGregor, the man in charge of Dunlop’s testing and track support operation for the ELMS and FIA WEC.

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“We have 25 Dunlop guys here and around 1000 tyres for a four day test.

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“We’ll be testing in both dry (we hope!) and wet conditions, and with heavy rain forecast overnight we might have to change our plans for the wet sessions!

That plan involves fully wetting the 5.4 km circuit through the use of water bowsers, 25 of which are posted strategically around the circuit to attend to a section of track each.

With the wet sessions planned for darkness under the circuit lights it should provide sufficient water to run full wet sessions.

“It will enable us run full wet and into intermediates,” said Mike, “so hopefully the weather plays ball and we can get through the programme.”

The test is being run from BIC’s support pits, home to the GP2 and GP3 cars for the weekend’s action, the teams now long gone after completing their races by lunchtime on Saturday.

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10 cars were present on Monday, the three WEC LMP1 Privateer entrants from Rebellion and ByKolles, a pair of GTE Pro Aston Martins running with Beechdean Motorsport branding (The 2015 spec #99 and 2016 spec #97 Vantage GTEs) and five LMP2s: both G-Drive Ligier Nissans, the Strakka Gibson Nissan, Signatech Alpine’s #36 A450b and AF Racing’s BR01 Nissan.

On the driving front the Rebellions were in the hands of Messrs Beche and Imperatori (#12) Kraihamer and Tuscher (#13). Both regular race drivers were present for the ByKolles CLM.

Aston Martin Racing fielded Jonny Adam and Marco Sorensen, aided and abetted by Dunlop Test Driver Daniel Serra who has put in a huge amount of testing for the men in yellow this year.

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Strakka’s regular full season trio were all present, Nic Minassin and Mikhail Aleshin were on duty at AF Racing (though Roman Rusinov was driving the #44 in the early running!).

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Signatech tested young America Gustavo Menezes throughout the day with their regular drivers likely to share testing duties for the remaining days.

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The G-Drive cars meanwhile were in the hands of Olivier Pla (below) and Pipo Derani (#28) and Sam Bird (#26) with Rusinov also present.

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For LMP2 of course the game is relatively straightforward, performance and durability on test for 2016. The cars testing, of course, provide a good spread of the chassis likely to be seen on track in the WEC and ELMS next season with Ligier, Gibson, Oreca and BR cars running.

Why though were the Dunlops being tested on the GTE Astons and LMP1s?

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The answer is, for very different reasons, as Dunlop explained:

GTE first!

“We have tested with Ferrari and Porsche already in 2015 (DSC readers may remember the un-numbered Ferrari which ran at the Nurburgring WEC test) but need Aston Martin data.” said Mike.

“Beechdean Motorsport are providing an Aston Martin to help us with our 2016 European Le Mans Series confidential tyre range.

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“Daniel Serra (below) has worked with us on the GT development and he will be one of the drivers working with Beechdean which will give us continuity of feedback.”

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Handily for Aston Martin this also gives them the opportunity to take back to back data with their 2016 car (with similar data no doubt gathered at yesterday’s WEC test where the cars ran on their regular Michelins!)

First things first though, there is no active plan for AMR to switch to Dunlops, Beechdean though will run on Dunlops as part of their 2016 ELMS plans with Andrew Howard’s newly acquired Vantage GTE, the GTE class in the ELMS now being a single tyre supplier class.

After a rocky start at the opening of the 2015 season, Dunlop’s GTE tyre developments have gained much praise from the ELMS paddock and whilst, in deference to the private nature of the Bahrain test, we aren’t going to be revealing lap times, those we hand timed today are only likely to add to the emerging good news story here!

So why are the LMP1 Privateers testing? Does this mark an imminent entry into the class by Dunlop?

“CLM and Rebellion have agreed to help us test tyres with a view to 2017.

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“The new LMP2 regulations include a bigger front tyre with cars having more power and higher downforce so testing with the LMP1 non-hybrid helps us simulate those properties in advance of the new specification cars being available.”

Perfectly straightforward, and eminently sensible, particularly in a class that numerically might be a rich commercial seam.

Of course again the LMP1 teams will be watching the data with much interest. But there is, again, no sign of any immediate plans to effect a switch.

The four days will see long track sessions enabling the teams to experience and feed back on the tyres throughout full, and double, stints, Night or day, wet or dry, for four full days!

Tyre testing then is a regimented, resource hungry, repetitive process, but as we’ve seen in endurance racing in 2015 when they get it right the results are astonishing. Roll on 2016!

GG