Michelin's range of road and track tyres tested on the Estoril circuit in Portugal; for track newbies to racing regulars. Part 2

Michelin road and track tyres tested, two. Hard!

Monday, 8 August 2011 1:03 PM

Ferrari 458 Italia on Michelin tyres

The Ferrari 458 Italia outruns the sun on the Estoril circuit

Part 2: Road ready, track tough: Michelin Pilot Super Sport

Michelin’s very latest tyre to come to market is the Pilot Super Sport and it’s packed with that trickle-down motorsport tech we’ve talked about.

Super Sport shares the same tread height as the Pilot Sport 3 – 8mm – so it can clear water and cover the motorway miles, but with the very latest compound technology you get some impressive on-track grip and, very importantly for our track day fans, up to 50 per cent more track laps than its predecessor. 

These are the three key technology points behind the Super Sport’s ability to perform in all kinds of road conditions and hard on the track:

Twaron belt. Twaron is a high-density fibre used in aeronautics, protective military gear and motorsports. Very high wheel speeds produce centrifugal forces that make the tyre expand away from the wheel hub; a ballooning effect that could see the contact patch of the tyre misshape from flat – where we want it to be – to a more pointed face; hence trimming the contact patch. 

The Twaron belt wrapped around the inner carcass of the Pilot Super Sport tightens the centre of the tread more than at the shoulders, or edge of the tyre, as the wheel speed increases, and as a result, the centrifugal force is more effectively restrained and the contact patch remains flatter. 

Dual compound technology. This Pilot Super Sport technology involves the use of two different rubber compounds on the right and left sides of the tread – developed by Michelin for the Le Mans race.

The outside shoulder – that takes the most punishment during hard cornering – uses a compound reinforced with carbon black – a petroleum product that’s tough and good at dissipating heat. 

The inside shoulder features a compound that’s a little softer and, using its tread structure, ready to grip in the wet. A soft tyre with tall tread will grip in the dry and wet, but that soft rubber will wear out too quickly. A dual-compound tyre like the Super Sport mixes good wear rate and wet grip to cunning effect. 

Variable contact patch. The contact patch, or the tyre’s footprint, is the only thing keeping you and the car on the road during acceleration, braking and cornering, and we need as much of it as possible to be in contact with the road. 

As forces are exerted on the tyre, especially through hard turns, the tread-face of the tyre wants to deform and change shape, often reducing in size and therefore grip offered. 

Michelin developed their Pilot Super Sport with the latest digital simulation software and engineered it to keep the contact patch size and temperature as constant as possible, even at high stress situations. This makes the grip more constant and predictable, which is just what you want when hurling your pride and joy into a 90mph corner. 

On the track and the step up in fast-performance is about as noticeable as the barking 420bhp, 4.2-litre V8 engine sat behind me. Turn-in is quicker; sharper, and mid-corner grip is tighter with less tread-squirm, and as the Estoril laps build – with an Audi R8 test car hot ‘n’ roaring beneath me – the Pilot Super Sports offer confidence-building grip and composure. 

Track day fans that aren’t quite ready to take on the Stig and, with up to 50 per cent more track laps on offer, want to drive their car home at the end of the track day, should take a look at the Pilot Super Sport. It’s very good in the wet, too.

Track-focused, but road legal: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup+

We’re stepping into the fast ‘n’ furious world of apex-hungry rubber with the Pilot Sport Cup+; a tyre for serious track day driving where dry grip rules supreme. 

Wear rate, universal condition usage and ultimately price all play second fiddle to serious stick – you get where we’re coming from when the finest and fastest from BMW and Porsche come fitted with Pilot Sport Cup+ as standard equipment; namely M3, 911, GT2 and GT3.

Estoril again offers up its seductive curves but this time we’re behind the wheel of one of the most (successfully) raced “road” cars currently available to buy; the Porsche 997 GT3 RS. All £110,000, 444bhp, 3.9secs to 60mph and 193mph of it. 

Out of the pit lane, rolling on the power and all feels the same as with the other, less track-focused Michelin tyres we’ve already sampled today. But with a softer, stickier compound and shorter, 5mm tread blocks, these Cup+ tyres are just one step below full slicks and should deliver some pretty mind-bending grip, especially in this flat, low, wide track weapon GT3. 

The 3.8-litre boxer engine gives a razor-sharp response to every throttle input and it’s immediately clear as I enter the track via a gently curving right hander that this car is as light and quick as it looks; the pinnacle of Porsche production performance. So I toss it into the first proper bend hard and with little respect for either car, tyres or track. 

The front-end turn-in is incredible – way quicker and cleaner than I was expecting, even on these top-grip-spec tyres – and now we’re through this bend and onto the next before my brain can even begin to work out how much quicker this car and tyre package could’ve done it. So now it’s a race of pride between me and these Cup+ tyres. I have to get the GT3 going quick enough to catch these tyres out!

Through the next bend; mid-corner and there is no noise. No squeal and squirm of moving and slipping tread blocks – the tyre's tread-face feels flat and connected to the track, and the GT3 just laps it all up. 

With the engine over the driven rear wheels, the GT3 will always give you great out of corner grip under hard acceleration, but these Cup+ tyres are really digging in. Hard on the brakes for the hairpin and again there’s just no movement, even with the ceramic composite mega-stoppers trying to bend the chassis upwards like a Bavarian banana. 

I pick my apex spot, turn in, and easily get there. I’m going just too slow to work the tyres beyond adhesion, and if I do go fast enough to trouble their traction it’ll be one huge off, should ambition outweigh talent. 

It’s a whole new rubber-ballgame; driving a serious track car with serious rubber under it, and my brain needs the recalibration of many hours with this car on these tyres to get to the next (incredible) level. 

So, if you’d rather go to a track day than your son’s birthday party, Michelin's Sport Cup+ tyres certainly deserve your wide-eyed attention.

Part one is here

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By Daniel Anslow

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