This technology transfer from the racetrack to the street is the driving force behind Michelin's involvement. The Greenville-based tire maker has been IMSA's exclusive race tire supplier since 2019.
"It is really a laboratory where you can test a tire in the most extreme conditions, get the most amount of data and really get a jump start on the development because you've got that tremendous amount of data," Mr. Sullivan said.
These real-world data help Michelin understand how tires perform under different temperature and road conditions, which can be extreme depending on track design, he explained.
IMSA President John Doonan sees the partnership with Michelin as being multi-faceted.
Working with IMSA, a division of NASCAR, allows Michelin to test and analyze products under a variety of conditions and on a many different makes and models of vehicles. At last count, 18 car brands were represented in IMSA competition.
"There's a ton of learnings that the auto makers and Michelin can take from this laboratory, if you will, and apply it to their everyday consumer products," Mr. Doonan said.
IMSA races can take place under extreme conditions and that provides valuable information for Michelin when the rubber literally meets the road.
Wet-weather racing tires, unlike their dry-weather counterparts, have tread. Racing in wet conditions can help Michelin make decisions about tread patterns that ultimately find their way onto consumer tires. Mr. Doonan said.
"Decisions about tread patterns have come out of racing, especially in the wet-weather tire. We've learned a ton about from racing."
For Michelin, the business of racing is just that: a business. And one that's expected to be profitable.
IMSA racing tires are not cheap, with price tags that can be more than $600 each. Racing teams can go through multiple sets of tires during a single race.
Michelin has long valued the experience gained in real-world racing conditions, using knowledge learned in competition to help improve the company's products. It's a tradition that goes back to the late 1800s when the rubber company first saw a business opportunity in bicycle tires and racing.
"There is a direct correlation of what we do at the track," Mr. Sullivan said. "There's always been a history of motorsports equaling development. And I think that will remain the way," he said.
"There are some folks and it's every sport that they get involved in, a motor sport or another sport, for simply awareness and that kind of thing. And we'll never get involved just for that," Mr. Sullivan said. "There's going to be something we learn from it. So I think that's truly important and I think that's the fabric of our business."
IMSA, with a wide range of vehicle models, race-track configurations and race lengths, provides a variety of ways Michelin can research and develop its products.
Some IMSA races last 100 minutes. Others last an entire day. And night.
"That gives us a tremendous amount of data that, as you can imagine, we can take back to our research and development to understand and learn under the toughest conditions. We can figure out what's happened to the tires and how we can relate it to the production car tires," Mr. Sullivan said.
"We call it our accelerated development laboratory, which we can learn more about a tire in a 24-hour race than we can probably in months and months in working with modeling or simulation," he said.
Mr. Doonan also highlighted how racing tires used in extreme conditions can help inform Michelin about rubber compounds that ultimately can be used on tires serving the general public.
"Michelin can develop a variety of different load compounds on the sidewall of the tire as well as the overall tire itself. (That's useful) when it comes to then producing the tire that provides a good ride quality for the consumer that also provides good performance," he said.
Information, Mr. Doonan said, from "the race track in the most extreme environment can be immediately applied."
"We've provided the laboratory, we've provided the racetracks, we've provided the extreme conditions for them to do their work," he said.