What Does a Formula E Tire Engineer Do?

This is part of Electronic Design’s TechXchange Talks series and the TechXchange: Formula E Racing.

It takes a lot of people to make a successful Formula E team. At Mahindra Racing, they have quite a few engineers to make this happen. I was able to talk with Carlos Rayo, Mahindra’s Tire Engineer, to get more insight into what he does for the team and how he got there.

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Transcript

Wong: If you take a look at any race car as you’ve known that it’s got tires on it. Carlos, you’re a tire engineer. What do you do to make sure that all these things are working properly?

Rayo: Sure.

So obviously, as a tire engineer, I look after the tires on our race car here at Mahindra Racing.

So it’s actually quite a fascinating topic. Tires in race cars or, well, in the car, really, because tires is quite a living thing within the car. It’s quite a complicated thing to understand and obviously to get it right when you talk about simulation, for example, and that’s a little bit what I do.

So as a tire engineer, my role is to try to, from a side simulation, I try to gather all the information that we need from data that we’ve got on the car in order for us to replicate that on our virtual model that we’ve got, for example, the driving simulator that we’ve gotten on our own in our headquarters.

So, obviously, because it’s such a complicated element of the vehicle to try to get right, is also quite an important one. There’s a lot of sensitivities, too, as to how to behave.

For example, obviously, track layouts will play a very important role on temperatures and pressures and different things. For example, different surfaces in different tracks, we have a completely different effect in the way that these tires generate the grip, which is, at the end of the day, what we try to optimize.

So, yeah, basically I try to make sure that our simulation tools and simulation environments capture these behaviors from the real vehicle and from a real tire as close as possible so that once we keep track we are as close as possible to where we thought we would be and hopefully our pre-event simulations helped us extract some potential from that vehicle.

Wong: Excellent. So what is your role during the race?

Rayo: So during the race, generally when we arrive to a race track here, we will have already done a lot of homework beforehand. So that means we will have prepared, at least run, all the simulations that we think will give us the best performance in terms of how we use the tires in this particular track on this particular set of conditions. Because obviously different temperatures and different countries in the world in different weather conditions will affect tires very differently.

So cutting down this homework will allow us to obviously capture what we think is going to happen. So when we are on track, we start doing some free practice sessions, which will allow us to decide if what we did back home was actually quite close or we’ve missed something.

So in case we missed something, we would try to correct for that. We would try to understand why we under-estimated or over-estimated some effects, and we would try to correct for that so that by the time we arrived to the important session, which is qualifying and race, we are obviously as close as possible .

Obviously, some things that we might do is to try to understand the race. For example, the surface roughness of that particular track, that’s something that we look into. We measure the tarmac properties of each track that we go to because sometimes you might believe that you know where you’re racing because you’ve been there in the previous season, but, actually, even tracks change very much, from season to season .

And, if the track has been resurfaced or a few things have changed or even the temperature is five or ten degrees higher from where you were last year, actually, you might see what you are doing. But it might be not as close as you thought it was.

So yeah, on track, we make sure that all the homework that we send back home is accurate enough, and if it’s not, we try to correct for that.

Wong: So how do you prepare for the race?

Rayo: You know, exactly what sorts of tire we are going to be bringing along and putting on.

So it’s obviously there is a lot of preparation which is, as I said, the bit of homework that we do before hitting the track is a little bit different than, for example, other conventional racing cars. For example, Formula One, because we haven’t got a different set of tires or different components that we can use.

That means that we need to make sure we understand these tires that we’ve got because there’s going to be a lot of tire management throughout the weekend.

We are going to be reusing tires that we have already run on, for example, in practice, and then we might decide to run on those once again on qualifying or race on.

Obviously, as I said at the start of the of the interview, tires are a living thing.

When you’ve got a tire in the morning, you would use this tire for the first session of the day, and that’s never going to be the same as it was this morning. It’s going to be constantly changing. It’s going to be its properties on its sensitivity in the way it works. It generates grip. It is always going to be constantly changing.

So, yeah, essentially making sure we understand what we want to do with this tire so that at the end of the day, everything that goes on top of it, any set up optimizations or raising performance engineers might decide to do or anything that’s to do with control systems or anything that goes beyond on the chassis level is all going to be going through tires.

So we need to make sure that we understand how they work so that we can optimize anything else. Obviously at the end of the race is very important, and this is the kind of simulations that we run. It will give us the base work once we hit the track to decide how good we’ve optimized everything based on simulation and how much we need to deviate, or optimized for using actual data from the car once we are there.

Wong: Okay. So how did you become a tire engineer?

Rayo: So a tire engineer is probably not the kind of role you think when you were a kid. I guess is not the kind of thing you say, “Well, I’m going to be a tire engineer.”

But I’ve always been very, very passionate about cars and about motor racing. I knew what I wanted to do back then. So I studied mechanical engineering back in Spain, I’m originally from Spain, and eventually moved to the UK with my master’s in motorsport engineering.

To be honest, I didn’t have any particular interest from tires up to that point, but once you get involved in Formula Student racing, which is basically a student level of competition where you design the cars, and you do your own sort of racing competing with other universities.

So I actually took the tire topic, and started getting quite interested in that.

It is, I think, a very fascinating topic for the reasons I explained before is something that many people don’t really think about. It’s just these black round things that you get on the car and really, at the end of the day, they just do nothing, but, in reality, they are one of the most complicated elements.

So it is very hard to get to understand them, but once you try to understand and you realize that there’s a few trends and few things that you can get out of it and how important these are, because everything ends up going through tires at the end of the day, racing or even on road cars.

So you realize that it is actually quite an important job and an important thing to understand.

So yeah, I just got interested from Formula Student from there ever since.

I’ve actually been working in the automotive industry as a tire engineer. So I have not deviated from that and eventually landed on this job at Mahindra Racing a few months ago.

Wong: Excellent. So what other roles have you had in either motorsports or engineering?

Rayo: So, as I said, I think for about five years I’ve been working in the automotive industry, which was also about tires, so I have been a tire engineer for quite a while now.

And yeah, it’s very different industry because, in the world of automotive, you try to optimize a few of the things that obviously are not still relevant for racing. But at the end of the day, it’s still the same.

You try to understand tires. You need to get some data, then later use it to create your virtual model and make them react and behave like the real ones. So at the end of the day, it’s not so different.

It’s been a bit of a change as well.

In racing, there is not so much that you can test because there are some regulations that limit the amount of testing and the number of hours that you can test and what you can do. So, obviously, you need to be a lot more creative and this has been part of the interesting challenge so far.

Wong: So how did you get started in Formula E and why this particular series?

Rayo: Well, I guess this is actually quite a conventional sort of path for anyone that’s been on the lookout for the Formula E, perhaps as an automotive or race motorsport engineer. Initially I studied mechanical engineering because it was what I was interested in and what I thought would give me the opportunity to become an engineer in the world of motorsports.

Once I started my master’s degree, which I think in the UK they had their own team, which is actually quite their reputable team, it was quite a good opportunity for me to get started in the actual world of racing rather than just the pure economical way of applying physics and math to it. So it was very interesting.

On the Mahindra side, they tried to move myself as much as they could and find people who run other racing teams and try to get my hands dirty by going out and understanding how real things work.

And that’s definitely something that’ll help you later on once you get into a more professional setup. This is the case, for example, where many things are actually transferable and then you realize that there were things that you learn that are actually transferable. That’s definitely very useful.

Wong: Excellent. Well, thank you, Carlos, for filling us in on what a tire engineer does, and we’ll look forward to seeing you in the pits in the next race.

Rayo: Thank you very much.

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