How is Rubber Used in the Motorsport Industry
Business 174

How is Rubber Used in the Motorsport Industry

How is Rubber Used in the Motorsport Industry

A race driver is only as good as the team around them and the technology at their disposal. While drivers, engines and engineers play a pivotal role in any race team’s success, so do the countless rubber parts working right to the limits of their performance beneath those liveried carbon fibre chassis. Here, rubber engineering specialists Martin’s Rubber Company explain how their motorsport rubber components are designed, used and recycled.   

Motorsport is measured in fractional gains. Shaving a tenth of a second here or a few ounces of weight there can be the difference between topping the podium and making up the numbers in the pack. But when we talk about the minutiae of a race-winning formula, the lesser-mentioned heroes of the piece are the thousands of precision-engineered rubber components that perform right on the limit, just as much as any driver.

Current Constructor’s Champions McLaren have previously stated that each one of their F1 cars comprises more than 25,000 components. That’s 11,000 chassis components, 8,500 pieces of electronics and 6,000 engine parts. By anyone’s estimations, that’s a lot of things to go wrong! Which makes the haphazard finale to the F1 season in Abu Dhabi all the more galling, when human intervention turns a championship on its head.

150 years of fine-tuned expertise

Martin’s Rubber Company works diligently in the shadows of motorsport’s bright lights from our Southampton headquarters and our engineers have been producing high-performance moulded rubber products for more than 150 years. Little wonder then that race teams from F1 to WRC and BTCC have called on our expertise to eke out those precious extra performance gains from their rubber components.

“We understand the accuracy, quality and fine tolerances demanded by the motorsport industry,’ said Adam Hooper, Operations Director at Martin’s Rubber. “We match those requirements using state-of-the-art techniques, such as finite element analysis (FEA), to computer model how custom-moulded motorsport parts and their specially-formulated materials will perform under the extreme stresses of a race environment.”

FEA is a computer modelling technique used to predict a rubber material’s response to stress and strain. It allows manufacturers to test whether a specified design will function to the desired standards of performance before a mould tool is even manufactured. This can help minimise costly failures at the design stage. Think of the amount of time, money and headaches that can alleviate for a commercial manufacturer. Now, imagine how crucial that type of intelligence can be for a motorsport company. Virtually priceless.

The industry’s tireless behind the scenes efforts to gain those fractional margins needed to win races have brought FEA in motorsport to the fore. Having the ability to test concepts, products and technology to the point of absolute certainty of their competitiveness is hugely valuable – especially in an industry obsessed with controlling a dizzying amount of variables.  

Proven motorsport heritage

This fusion of in-depth material development knowledge, advanced techniques and close collaborative working with motorsport teams has seen our technical experts at Martin’s Rubber work on a huge variety of motorsport components. Components that, despite being less iconic perhaps than parts like F1’s Halo cockpit protection devices or KERS systems, are no less important to a driver and constructor’s achievements.

We’re talking unglamorous but essential parts like anti-vibration mounts, driveshaft boots and humble seals and gaskets. “Despite the advent of exciting new materials and technologies, it’s surprising just how often traditional ‘rubber’ products play a vital role in enabling the many technological improvements in motorsport to work efficiently and reliably,” said Adam.  

“Motorsport exposes rubber materials and designs to previously unheard of challenges in terms of temperature extremes, friction requirements and controlled stiffness. There’s often the opportunity for rubber to be combined in composite structures to create a final assembly that outperforms the sum of its parts. Rubber has consistently risen to all these challenges.

“The motorsport industry knows they can trust Martin’s Rubber because we are relentless perfectionists. We’ve developed well-established working relationships with designers and engineers across a wide range of teams and supply chains involved in the motorsport industry. Our high standards have seen us support constructors in Formula 1, WRC, BTCC, WTCC, LMP1, MotoGP, SBK and Motocross.”

With more than 150 years of rubber engineering experience and a proven track-record of producing high-calibre parts for the motorsport industry, Martin’s Rubber knows what it takes to wring out the maximum performance from rubber products. Whether a part needs to be lightweight, resistant to high temperatures, or capable of high tear strength (or a combination of all three), we manufacture parts that are built to the highest standards of performance, reliability and durability.

Achieving the impossible

Martin’s Rubber has assisted the development of countless motorsport parts, such as KERS system seals, low-friction suspension bushes and shock absorber seals. Now, as society collectively strives to find more environmentally friendly practices to conserve the earth’s finite number of resources, our rubber moulding experts are driving forward the next leap forward in innovation and sustainability with recyclable rubber. 

The fact of the matter is that tyre recycling is notoriously difficult. The combination of natural rubber, synthetic rubber (typically styrene-butadiene rubber or SBR), textile chords and steel makes it virtually impossible to recycle end-of-life tyres. Not to mention the oil, chemicals and other contaminants motorsport tyres will encounter on any typical race day. But there are other avenues for rubber recycling in motorsport.

The answer could lie with nitrile rubber, another type of rubber commonly used to develop numerous motorsport components. Owing to its formidable oil-resistant properties, nitrile rubber is used for everything from seals and gaskets to fuel hoses. Whilst high-specification materials like Kevlar enjoy the lion’s share of publicity and plaudits for their advanced properties, nitrile is the unsung hero behind the scenes. 

Nitrile rubber could have a crucial role to play when it comes to recycling rubber products in the motorsport industry. Martin’s Rubber has developed a proprietary rubber recycling solution, Remould™, that allows us to de-vulcanise end-of-life nitrile products and re-vulcanise them into new rubber compounds. Containing up to 50% recycled rubber material, these compounds can be recycled indefinitely using our closed loop recycling process.

This unique technology is still in its infancy, but we hope to see its impact extending to many industries, including motorsport. Rubber was once considered “impossible” to recycle. Now, could the motorsport industry achieve the impossible using our process? We certainly think so and we will happily offer advice and support to any motorsport manufacturers looking to strengthen their rubber recycling efforts.

So while the motorsport industry gears down for a well-deserved winter break, take a moment to consider all those hundreds of thousands of components lining up on grids and start lines all over the world. One thing’s for certain, there’s a lot more expertise and forward-thinking innovation that goes into motorsport’s most impressive car designs and team performances than just the smoking, shrieking tyres you see on race day.

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