Monday, 8 August 2011 12:39 PM
French rubber fanatics Michelin offer a tyre for every kind of car and for every kind of tarmac-adhesion-application; be that economy-focused, road and track mixed, track-biased or totally track ready. And as you would expect from a fanatic they think of nothing else but lovely sticky rubber.
Thousands of hours and millions of pounds of R&D go into these critical contact patches that many of us understandably take for granted, but, if you are one of the ever-growing tyre connoisseurs that’ll take a track day or two in your road car – be that in a used but still pokey Astra Turbo or a factory-fresh, full-bore 911 - you’ll be interested in Michelin’s range of ultra-modern tyres. And TotallyMotor tested them to boiling point, in some incredible cars, on the F1-famous Estoril circuit in Portugal.
The Estoril circuit was built in 1972 and has hosted some the greatest drivers and fastest cars in motorsport history. It’s tight and twisting in places, with some technical turns and elevation changes, and a straight long enough to see speeds of up to 160mph in some of the more beasty Michelin cars we drove on this July day.
But why a racetrack? Well, for a start Michelin are heavily involved in motorsport and have been for as long as man has been going fast in machines, and they’ve recently clocked up their one-thousandth win at the top flight.
We’re all aware of the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race and you’ll see a Michelin sticker on many of those tortured night racers, including this year’s winning Audi R18 TDI. That motorsport tech trickles down to the road cars we drive probably more so that any other racing-to-road technology.
They also wanted us to drive some pretty vicious cars. They also – thankfully – wanted to take full advantage of the safety and security that an ex-F1 racetrack has to offer, just in case grip lost out to skid in the battle of talent versus enthusiasm.
Road-focused, but track ready: Michelin Pilot Sport 3
The Pilot Sport 3 is aimed at sports-flavoured cars – your GTIs etc - that spend most of their time on the road (perhaps making spirited progress down the odd deserted back lane) but that could also step onto the track from time to time.
Wear rate, wet grip, price and decent dry grip are the wide-ranging focus of these tyres.
In the rain you’re going to need tread. In the dry, the less tread you have the sharper your turn-in and more tenacious your corner grip will be. But, on UK roads, the law says that we need at least 1.6mm of tread on our tyres to cut through and expel standing water.
With 8mm of tread – fresh from the mould – the Pilot Sport 3 has relatively tall tread blocks; perfect for cutting through and throwing away on-road water. Michelin showed us in no uncertain terms what wet braking is all about; slamming on the anchors on a sodden track in identical BMW M3s; one shod in Michelins, the other in a comparably priced competitor tyre.
The test was conducted at 80kph (50mph) and monitored by GPS, and it was pretty simple.
Stop the car as quickly as possible. Bend that brake pedal!
The mighty M3 is as impressive stopping as it is accelerating and after a run on the wet course in the Michelin M3 and the competitor M3, I can confirm that the winning tyre in this test was the Michelin which stopped the M3 in 22.8m compared to 24.9m for the other tyre, with me driving.
Michelin averaged-out everyone’s test data and found that the Michelin M3 stopped in 23.4m and the competitor M3 in 24.2m; a difference of just under one metre. A big enough gap to keep bumpers and pride intact on that wet and slippery winter’s morning.
In the dry and on the track and you will start to feel the Pilot Sport 3’s all-round restrictions. That tall tread and all-weather compound aren’t perfect for full-on track action, though they will return enough grip for fun. The issue is more with the taller tread moving around under the car, making it feel unsettled and ultimately squirming and squealing more than a more track-focused tyre.
It’s an all-season tyre that’s safe for the rain, and while you could take on a track day with the Pilot Sport 3, if you and your car are a quick combination then you need to look to Michelin’s more apex-attacking tyres in part two, featuring the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 GT3 RS…
By Daniel Anslow
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