Technique developed to detect illicit enhancement of racing tyres

A team of researchers from the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Programme of the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) have inspected the illicit treatment of racing tyres with volatile chemicals to improve function. The team claims to have developed an effective method to determine if tyres have been doctored.

The IUPUI researchers analysed tyres from the vehicles of first-, second- and third-place finishers of speedcar races across the US. Approximately 15% tested positive for illicit chemical treatment.

Concerns about cheating in motorsport are increasing with the introduction of commercial products claiming to have the ability to boost performance while remaining "undetectable." Tyre treatments, in particular, have become a major concern for the administrative bodies that regulate motorsports.

Speedcars race on small tracks requiring skilful handling of tight curves. The prohibited commercial tyre-treatment products, applied in liquid form days before the race to evade detection, soften the tyres, enabling better handling of curves and higher lap speeds.

"We used a technique similar to that used by forensic scientists to detect trace amounts of gasoline in fire debris," said John Goodpaster, forensic and investigative sciences director and associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology. "This kind of technique had not been previously used to detect performance-enhancing tire treatments. We were able to identify even low levels of illicit chemicals, which would result in disqualification if found in a competition. Out of 70 tyres, 10 returned a positive result for the presence of prohibited treatments."

Prof Goodpaster notes that in addition to detecting prohibited tyre treatments his team’s technique could be used to evaluate race car fuel, motor oil, lubricants and cooling agents - all of which could be chemically altered to provide an unfair advance to a vehicle.