WorldSBK commentator Steve English sheds light on one of the hottest topics around the paddock right now: tyres, and why the SCX is proving to be a dividing line with some teams and riders…
Throughout the 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, we've seen once again that the debate over the SCX tyre refuses to go away. In this week’s Tech Dive, Steve English looks at the philosophy that led to the development of the SCX tyre originally introduced for the ten lap Tissot Superpole Race. Over the last year, it has become one of the biggest talking points in WorldSBK as more and more riders have used it successfully in longer races, and it doesn’t look like changing any time soon.
PIRELLI: always developing
If you want to create tension in a racing paddock, the easiest way is to throw in some variables. Inevitably, it takes time for people to adapt and get the most from any new developments. In WorldSBK, Pirelli provides the control tyres but whilst the Italian manufacturer could easily halt development on their Superbike tyres and fly under the radar away from any criticism, they choose a different tact. They develop new solutions on a constant basis and leave it up to teams and riders to get the most of any available solutions. Giorgio Barbier, Pirelli’s Racing Director, says that their tyres are simply a “tool” for teams to work with and that each solution has positives and negatives. It’s up to teams and riders to determine how to make best use of solution.
Pirelli has brought a host of developments in recent years. Typically, they introduce them slowly and as teams adapt, the newly developed tyres suddenly become the norm for racing conditions. This was the case in 2018 when the larger profile rear tyre was first introduced. The goal for this target was to ensure more even wear of the tyre throughout a race, A by-product of that was that it helped allow heavier riders to push to the limit throughout a full race distance. Michael van der Mark was an early adaptor to it and the lanky Dutchman quickly made a step forward. By the start of 2019, this tyre had become the standard choice for the grid.
In the lead-up to the 2019 campaign the Tissot Superpole Race was introduced. The ten-lap race was seen in different lights by many within the paddock, but Pirelli saw it as an opportunity to develop something new. The Italians are an outlier in racing, with qualifying tyres and intermediates available at each round they’ve tried to offer as many solutions to as many problems as possible. The Superpole Race required a new solution; the SCX tyre was born in a bid to offer teams a shorter lifespan but more grip and faster lap times.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: “The teams have a basket of solutions…”
“The SCX tyre was developed to give a special tyre for the Superpole Race,” recalls Barbier. “When Dorna introduced the 10-lap race, not everyone was sure of why the race was introduced but actually it was a brilliant idea and we decided to prepare a specific tyre for this race. At the beginning with the SCX, we brought it just for the short race and teams had four tyres for the weekend so they would test the tyre in practice and make sure it would last ten laps for the race and then use that in the Superpole Race.
“After a few races, riders understood how to use it in the shorter races and tried to use it in the longer races. By last year, the second year of the tyre, there were a lot of riders using it in the longer races. At some tracks it worked very well, and at others it didn't. It worked well at Aragon but at Estoril it was very tough for the SCX tyre last year. I'm excited to see how it will be when we return to Estoril.
“The teams and riders have found a way to make it work and it was really interesting last year because we saw lots of the taller riders use the SCX in races, Toprak Razgatlioglu or Michael van der Mark or even Chaz last weekend at Aragon, showed that the tyre can be used by heavier riders. The tyre is a tool for the riders and every tyre needs to be used differently. The SCX might need a different riding style or a different setting but it's just a tool for the riders. The teams have a basket of solutions and it's up to them to make it work for them.”
DIFFERENT TRACKS, DIFFERENT RIDERS
At some tracks that will mean that the soft compound of the SCX tyre works well but at others it can be a risk to use it in the longer races. For Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), the decision is very dependent on the conditions. Throughout the winter he performed several back-to-back race simulations with the SCX and the SCO, a harder compound developed with feature length races in mind, with the difference negligible for the Kawasaki rider.
In the dry race at Aragon, Rea opted for the harder compound so that he could play it safe. It was a decision that helped him lead home a Kawasaki one-two but the real drama about tyres was further back. With the majority of the field opting to use the SCX tyre, the tension that had been simmering inside the paddock was ready to overflow. Before a wheel turned, Scott Redding (Aruba.it Racing -Ducati) complained about the advantages available to riders able to use the softer tyre while he can’t make it work. Racing is Darwinian and it really is survival of the fastest. If you can make the tyre work for you, it’s an advantage; if you can’t, you need to find a way to get the best result.
Without the ability to use the SCX tyre, Redding would need to use a harder tyre and try and make it work. When he saw Rea and teammate Alex Lowes open a gap in the early laps, he assumed they were using the softer tyre and he didn’t give chase. When he found out the tyre selections, it’s fair to say he was shocked. Having been beaten fair and square, it was clear that there’s more than one way to skin a cat in WorldSBK.
The softer tyre provides a technical challenge but not one that is insurmountable for teams and riders. When teams talk about tyre compounds, it’s important to remember that they have vast arrays of data with which they make their decisions, and their choice is what they see as the best option to win. At some circuits, that option will be the SCX and at others it will be a harder compound. Aragon showed that there is no right or wrong answers but rather just calculated risks to get the best result. WorldSBK is in rude health at the moment because Pirelli has offered a solution that works across a wide range of bikes and temperatures. At some tracks, it will work for riders and at others it won’t.
For Barbier, the proof of Pirelli’s investment has been seen in the increased investment from manufacturers in the Championship: “In the last two years, we've seen how much Yamaha, Kawasaki and Ducati trust in the competition of WorldSBK. They've increased their participation with more teams. We've also seen BMW and Honda come back strong with new bikes. It's interesting to see the progress for the Championship from the manufacturers. We have good riders; good teams and the level is at a high level. We've seen private teams on the podium and the Championship is improving.”
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