Michelin Pilot Super Sport "25th Hour"
As part of Michelin's launch of their updated Pilot Super Sport ultra high performance tire they invited Club Lexus along to test their latest release. The tires are available in a number of sizes that should fit with most of Lexus' lineup. A full list of sizes is available here, and Michelin informs us they are expanding their options.
We were informed by Michelin that we could expect 12% better handling, last twice as long and better braking. What's that all to mean? They also are not the cheapest tires on the market. Michelin had some vehicles fitted with their new tires, as well as their most popular competitors (Bridgestone Potenza RE050A, the Continental ContiSportContact and Pirelli PZero). Oh, and we were at California Speedway. I suppose we better test them out!
A Lexus IS-F which was fitted with the Michelin's, and we completed a couple of laps of a modified version of California Speedway's road circuit. The circuit provided us with a couple of good transitions, steady state corners and speed restrictions to ensure that we got a good chance to test out the hoops and keep the Lexus' brakes (and Michelin's insurance policy) in check.
We followed up the laps with back to back laps of the Pirellis, which is one of my preferred brands of tires if I am honest, but the difference was startling. Perhaps it isn't surprising that the marketing numbers quoted earlier are against the Pirelli's. The traction the Michelins provided at the front end was impressive, as it was at the rear, and when it eventually let go, it was a gradual affair that you could measure out with a little adjustment of the throttle. Not so in the Pirellis. It was obvious at the first corner when the Lexus' front end headed towards the wall like a bull to a red flag. Not so much grip at the front then. That's ok, it made it up with a lack of traction on the rear, and I just couldn't find the right amount of throttle on exiting the corners and ended up doing my best Ken Block impression exiting the corners arms full of opposite lock, a simultaneous little giggle from me, and a few stern words from my instructor. My bum-o-meter says there is a significant difference between the lateral grip offered by both tires, but in particular the way in which both tires transition into oversteer: the Michelins on the throttle, the Pirellis on a whim. Apparently there's about a two-a-lap difference; I think it would have been more without this amateur behind the tiller.
Brake and autocross tests were next, with the the Bridgestone and Continental respectively. Both tests were done in BMW 328is. I struggled to identify any difference in braking, if I am honest, both wet and dry, but the numbers were proving otherwise, about 3-4ft shorter from 50mph. The Autocross showed that the Michelins had a much stiffer sidewall and was significantly less "wallowy" in transitions than the Continentals. Posted much faster times too. What was most surprising though was looking at the wear rate of the Continental was significantly greater than the Michelin, they looked like they should have been thrown out after a morning of Autocrossing; the Michelins looked like they would be good for the afternoon session as well.
All in all, I was impressed that Michelin didn't just bring their tires to a launch event, they packed all of their major competitors, which if nothing else, means they have some confidence in their product. The fact that they let us amateurs try to determine the difference between them is even more surprising. I could definitely find the improvement though, and think they are worth the 30 odd percent increase in price over the equivalent Continentals.
by Adrian Harris