Motorsport

Liveblog: PH in Dubai

Sunday 13th January 2013

Day Two dawns, and we're off to the Dubai 24h to catch up with some PH racers


Tyre launches perhaps lack the glamour of some press events but usually compensate with a nice location and interesting activities. So we've sent Alex off to Dubai to see how much new Dunlop Sport BluResponse he can burn off in clouds of smoke in the name of valuable and relevant product research. And then meet up with locally based PHers to get a feel for Dubai car culture in the land where supercars rule the roost and you can fill your tank for a tenner. He'll also be checking in with the Dubai 24-hour race too.

Check by for regular updates and find out how he's getting on here...



Saturday, Dubai Autodrome
Apologies for the radio silence today; a complete inability to find some internet access prevented me from updating, but fear not as the wait is over!

Another 7am wake-up call brought us back to the land of the living after a slightly bleary evening lastnight. Memories are thin on the ground, but we can say with some certainty that the evening involved a large tent on the beach filled with food and endless Merlot, followed by a sizeable 125th birthday cake, a visit to the hotel bar, and a slightly giggly ride to the top floor in the all-glass lift with some other motoring hacks. Not that we're all children at heart, or anything...

Another day, another Powerpoint presentation...
Another day, another Powerpoint presentation...
The net result was a slightly fragile tinge to proceedings throughout the morning. First up, it was back on the bus to the Dubai Autodrome to watch some of the Dubai 24h race, of which Dunlop is the title sponsor. Before we could do any of that, though, we 'enjoyed' another presentation on Dunlop's motorsport history in a hospitality suite. A highlight came in the form of a few words from Bernd Schneider, between stints at the wheel of his Black Falcon Mercedes SLS GT3 - the car that went on to win the race. Once he was allowed to head back to his pit garage, though, talk returned to tyre temperature data recording equipment, giving us cause to daydream about the noises coming from the race proper just outside the room.

Eventually, we were released. We headed straight down to the paddock to see if we could find Garage 12A, home for the weekend to SVDP Racing. This small team, running a BMW 120D in the D1 class, was a bit special to us as it consisted partly of PHers, taking part for no reason other than the sheer thrill of it. It's a special kind of driver that wants to do this, though - when we caught up with them, some of these guys had only had an hour's sleep since yesterday morning.

SVDP's 1-Series battled through to a great result
SVDP's 1-Series battled through to a great result
I spent some time chatting with British team owner and driver Spencer van der Pal (no prizes for guessing where the team name came from), but our chat was cut short when the BMW pulled into the garage for an unscheduled stop, the driver complaining of a vibration from the rear. Spencer and his mechanics sprang into action; I watched from the sidelines for a bit, then wished the team luck and made my exit, mainly because the last thing they needed was a useless hairy lummox standing in their way, but also as it was nearly time for our shuttle back to the airport. That isn't the end of the story, though - you'll be able to read a more in-depth article on SVDP and their race on PH soon.

With ten minutes to kill, we headed back up to the viewing gallery above the pits and watched as 458s, 911s, SLSs and all manner of touring car style ephemera blatted past. We were staggered to note that the grandstands were all but empty; given that entry was free, it seems astonishing that so few people should want to come and see the race. It left me pondering the UAE and its relationship with cars. Here's a country renowned for its love of exotic machinery, and yet when motorsport comes to town in such a big way, few seem to bat an eyelid. That said, the grapevine suggests it was busier yesterday afternoon and into the evening; perhaps we were just there at the wrong time. Even so, it seems this race still has quite a way to go before it reaches the stature of some of the more mature 24h enduros.

It undoubtedly has a character of its own, though, the Dubai 24h. And with the buzz of more spectators, it'd be something really quite special. There's a friendly, relaxed air floating around the paddock, and the facility as a whole seems superb. There's a unique appeal to watching motor racing in the middle of the desert, too, with blazing sunshine, deep blue skies and glossy skyscrapers looming in the distance through the haze. It's quite unlike any endurance race you'll find in Europe. Whether that's enough to see it flourish remains to be seen - but we found ourselves hoping that it does

It's been an enjoyable trip, of course - the PR hospitality has made sure of that - but seeing the UAE first-hand has been the highlight, and it's had a profound effect on our impression of the country's car culture. We'll save our thoughts on that for another day, though. For now, we'll sign off with the fantastic news that we received when we landed back in the UK, which was that the SVDP boys came home in first place in their class. Hearty and very well-deserved congratulations to Spencer and the rest of the team, and what a way to round off a fascinating couple of days.



Friday afternoon, Yas Marina
The afternoon's first task has been to test the wet and dry grip of the new tyre. At this particular launch, the modus operandi was a coned track set up on a large bit of concrete, with half of it wet with sprinklers.

Tricky one, this. First we were barked at to leave the traction control on - which would make it impossible to get an idea of breakaway. So we ignored this instruction and headed out.

PH was best at this, obviously...
PH was best at this, obviously...
The chance to hoof a rear-drive car around on a slippery surface is always fun, but in this instance it did prove a reasonable way to test the tyre's characteristics on the limit. It was marred somewhat by the fact the dry part of the track became wet after just a few minutes' use, and we could have done with a little more time to get used to the cars and the circuit, but there was enough time to work out that the BluResponse felt more sure-footed and confidence-inspiring in wet and dry cornering than the Michelin rival laid on comparison, though the Michelin troubled the ABS less under hard straight-line braking. Whether you'd be able to tell much difference in off-the-limit use, though, was another matter - and a subject I'll be blogging about anon.

From there, it was on to the slalom course. The plan was to divide us into teams of two, then race teams against each other in two back-to-back slalom courses in identical Merc SLK200s. This was designed to allow us to experience the steering feel available through the new tyre, but in reality it was near-impossible to tell in such a short space of time. Instead, the event degenerated into a flurry of inter-team banter; as you'd expect, in the knockout competition that followed, PH found itself on the winning team!

The final test was an on-road drive, which in all honesty told us more about the Merc C200s we were doing them in than the tyres themselves. There was a tickle of tyre noise, the steering was precise enough, and the suspension comfortable - all thing's you could expect us to say of the Merc, but what bearing the tyre had on these factors was, frankly, anyone's guess.

With the work of tyre testing done (conclusion: these new Dunlops seem to be pretty good, but beyond that and with little to compare them with, it's hard to say a great deal) it was time to repair to the hotel once again. Tonight a 125th-anniversary celebration of Dunlop is planned. I think it's safe to say the empirical testing work is done for the day.

 



Friday morning, Yas Marina circuit
After yesterday spent on two different planes and mostly at 39,000 feet, we finally arrived at the hotel at midnight local time. Straight to bed was the order of the day, as this morning's schedule was to start with a wake-up call at 7am - that's 3am on our body clocks. Nice.

Learning rubber, not burning rubber
Learning rubber, not burning rubber
The reason for that hideously early start was the packed schedule of events that lie ahead. Before any of that, though, a coach transfer through the desert to Abu Dhabi, our destination for the day. Yes, you guessed it - we'll be spending the day here at the Yas Marina circuit, involving ourselves in the methodical business of tyre testing (or, to put it another way, making lots of noise and smoke in a series of mid-range Mercs).

Before we can get behind the wheel, we have to have a presentation. On the surface, this is a dull affair - an hour of being talked at about tyre technology - but some interesting stats come out of it that tell us some things about the tyre industry as a whole.

Most notably, this new Sport BluResponse is geared heavily towards better fuel efficiency, despite being what Dunlop calls a high performance tyre. The company is claiming a 40 per cent improvement over its predecessor in rolling resistance and even an improvement in the tyre's aerodynamics to that end. Notably, they don't claim any handling improvement - it's clear where their priorities lie. The presentation also reveals that tyre companies see 16-inch as the biggest-selling size of the moment. We allow ourselves a brief snigger at the mention of a 'low heat generation bottom compound' before moving on to the first of the day's activities.

PH honour upheld against rival hacks
PH honour upheld against rival hacks
Which is a 10-minute race on the Yas Marina kart circuit. This has less to do with tyre testing and more to do with having a bit of a laugh, if we're honest. The circuit is slippery with sand and features a couple of tricky corners, but once the tyres warm up your humble correspondent gets the hang of things. As a gentleman of a portly persuasion with little karting experience I wasn't expecting great shakes, but was pleased with third in session and fifth overall, from a group of 27. Requisite jokes are made by those further back in the field that their karts were obviously fitted with inferior tyres. Lunch beckons, and then the real 'work' begins in earnest.

 

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