In the gruelling world of motorsport, endurance racing is one of the toughest disciplines of all. For an hour or more at a time, the drivers must race at the limits of their cars' performance, yet mustn't push so hard that they over-stress mechanical components or tyres. As official tyre supplier to the British GT Championship, Avon Tyres Motorsport fully understands the importance of 'going the distance'; that's the result of more than 50 years in top-flight motorsport and why Avon Motorsport's tyres are used in more than 150 race series around the world.
In a smartly liveried enclosure in the paddock area there's a nervous hush. A group of neatly uniformed mechanics is lined up either side of the British GT Championship race car; they wear tense expressions and are poised for action. Suddenly someone shouts 'go' and the scene explodes into a blurred frenzy of motion.
To the ear-splitting soundtrack of pneumatic spanners, mechanics slide jacks under each end of the car, and as the racer lifts slightly off the ground, others are undoing the wheel nuts and throwing 'used' wheels and tyres out of the way. With split-second timing fresh wheels and tyres are shoved onto the hubs and the pneumatic spanners chatter again as the wheel bolts are done up again. The jacks drop the car to earth again and there's a shout of 'stop!' A stopwatch clicks off and while the timing is checked the team catches its breath. A moment's consultation and then the verdict - it was a quick tyre change, but not quick enough, so let's do it again…
Of course, in the British GT Championship, chances are that you won't need to change your tyres at all during the race, but it pays to be prepared, particularly if the weather is changeable, which is why the teams practice such drills. And while the teams psych themselves up for the race, in the background Avon Tyres Motorsport engineers are also getting ready for a long-weekend's worth of heavy duty competition.
With free practice sessions typically taking place on a Friday, Avon's highly experienced crew of technicians must arrive the day before and set up camp, unloading race tyres, inflating them, marking them up for identification by each of the individual race teams, balancing wheels and generally ensuring that operations will run smoothly for the following few days. Because Avon Motorsport supplies the 'control' tyres for the championship, this means that all the teams must collect their tyres from this central source; it also means keeping a lot of tyres in stock.
Although during the free practice session the race teams have no official limitations on their use of tyres, Avon's skilled technical squad is nevertheless on hand to offer advice about tyre pressures and temperatures and what sort of rubber compound is best for a particular circuit. This is an invaluable support service that enables the race teams to benefit from a bank of experience that includes Avon Motorsport's participation in the legendary Le Mans 24-hour race.
In a bid to make the racing as close as possible, the British GT Championship organisers limit competitors to just two sets of slick tyres per race weekend. These tyres then have to last throughout qualifying and the two one-hour races on Saturday and Sunday (or the single two-hour race, depending on the circuit). Which means you have to look after your rubber, because once you've used up your allocation, you don't get any more; unless it rains, that is, when you're permitted any number of grooved tyres.
Part of Avon Motorsport's job is to manage the distribution of tyres to the teams. To ensure fairness the tyres are allocated on a random basis, but there's always a need to ensure that all the tyres are to the same top-class standard. After all, Avon doesn't want any accusations of favouritism! But as many race championships and series are organised along similar lines, Avon Motorsport is well practised in the arts of impartiality and quality control.
Prior to qualifying Avon's paddock enclosure bustles with activity as final preparations are made and the individual piles of tyres for each race car double-checked. Then, at a specially appointed hour, the race teams descend in a multi-coloured swarm of slick uniforms to collect their tyres and scurry back to their own areas. Once they've gone it's eerily hushed in the Avon enclosure, but the silence doesn't last long before the tidy-up operation begins and, if the weather is looking dodgy, the grooved 'wet' tyres need sorting.
Qualifying is another busy time for Avon Motorsport's engineers, because although all the teams have their tyres, there's still technical information to impart and advice to offer on how to shave vital extra tenths of a second off a lap time through the way those tyres are set up.
With the qualifying session establishing where each car sits on the grid, the period before the first race begins is dominated by the teams' mechanics and engineers putting the final tweaks to their steeds. Some of the drivers are lending a hand, others stare off into space as they clear their minds of everything except steering the perfect line through every corner of every lap and taking the top place on the podium as the chequered flag falls.
But even when the cars are lined up on the grid, Avon's engineers are still hard at work, checking tyre pressures and temperatures, answering questions; only when forced by the start line siren will they break away from their duties. With their engines revving angrily and their eyes focused on the light gantry that will soon tell them that the race has begun, it's all down to the drivers themselves.
For the moment the Avon Motorsport engineers' work is done - until the next race.