An important contributory factor to success in motor racing, regardless of what type of event we are talking about, is of course the tyres. Understandably, it is not possible to rank the various components of a car as to importance, but without really good tyres you won't win many races! That said, you might have the world's best tyres, but if the team is not on top form or if any part of the car is not of the highest quality or correctly tuned, you still won’t win.
The tyres are the contact between the vehicle and the road surface and consequently we place great demands on them, primarily on their grip and road holding ability, but they also have to be accommodating. It is no good if they are unresponsive or oversensitive to surface irregularities, so that you have to struggle with them.
Modern competition tyres have to be much harder wearing than before. New rules limit the number of tyres allowed per driver per rally. This means that the tyres have to be used for about 60–70 kilometres before they are changed. This may not sound like a lot, but in many competitions grit roads are extremely aggressive on the tyres and consequently their positive characteristics such as traction deteriorate fast.
At the start of my career we basically used standard tyres and had at most two different types during a competition. Now it's common to have five or six different types of tyres to choose from, but you have to limit yourself to having two or three in the service area of the competition. Local conditions, weather and past experience determine which ones it will be.
What most distinguishes the tyres of today compared with those of 40 years ago is the grip. In pace with the increase of power in modern cars, tyres with fantastic grip have been developed. To achieve this they have generally been made broader, and there have also been amazing developments in the rubber compounds used in tyres. The exception is winter tyres, which remain narrow, and, of course, studded.
For tyre developers it is a great challenge to come up with tyres that have both good grip and are resistant to wear. To put it very simply, good grip requires a softer rubber compound, while hard-wearing tyres need a harder compound. For both the tyre manufacturers and us, the drivers, it is a matter of finding rubber compounds and tyres with exactly the right balance between these two conflicting demands.
Over the years it has been commonplace for the major competition teams to collaborate very closely with their tyre suppliers. Competition between teams and tyre producers has given us increasingly superior tyres. Unfortunately an increasing number of events within the field of racing are introducing rules that favour one single tyre producer. This is of course a way of reducing costs, but I am afraid it will limit the scope for development of tyres, which I think will be a disadvantage for motor sports in the long run. It may even affect private motorists since elements of new constructions and rubber compounds make their way over to standard tyres.
Both as a competition driver and as a test driver for manufacturers that include Dunlop and Michelin, I have test driven many tyres over the years. In test contexts it is essential that the driver drives in exactly the same way, lap after lap, and with all tyres that are put on the car, something that I have a talent for. After test driving tyres, I have to objectively inform the tyre manufacturers how I feel about the tyres, about how they behave, their positive characteristics, and any shortcomings I've noticed. When I started testing tyres I could often say which manufacturer they were from, even if I hadn't seen them being put on the car. Nowadays I can rarely tell, since the quality of the tyres from the leading tyre producers are so high.
In the same way as racing tyres, standard tyres have developed colossally in the last few decades. The difference in factors such as grip, road holding and wear are enormous, which benefits drivers, traffic safety and the environment alike.
Stig Blomqvist's best "green" driving tips
Environmentally friendly driving is becoming ever more important to those who drive both privately and professionally. If you want to drive in a way that has as little impact on the environment as possible, i.e. with low fuel consumption, then your first step is to get a good, environmentally friendly car that is economical on fuel, regardless of whether it runs on petrol, diesel, ethanol, electricity or any other energy source.
For driving economy you should drive as "smoothly" as possible. No sudden acceleration or braking. Pay attention, read the traffic, plan your driving and adapt your speed in good time. Then there will be a flow to your driving and the bottom line will be big savings.
It goes without saying that tyres are also very important for fuel efficiency. Find out what tyres will give you the lowest fuel consumption, there are great differences between various types! And make sure to maintain the right pressure in your tyres.
Stig Blomqvist (born 1946) is one of the most successful drivers ever in Swedish motor sport. He won the 1984 World Rally Championship and came second in 1985. He also won the RAC Rally (now called the Wales Rally GB) in 1971 and 1983, and had seven victories in the Swedish Rally (1971–84) as well as winning eleven Swedish championship gold medals (in rallying, hill climb, rally cross and reliability) over the period 1971–88. He also won the Swedish Touring Car Championship in 1990.
He drove in his first competition in 1964 and nowadays competes in the most famous races all over the world, together with co-driver Ana Goñi from Venezuela. They are currently competing in a Ford Escort. Their latest win was in autumn 2007 on the Costa Brava, Spain.