We Drive Michelin's New Pilot Super Sport Max Performance Summer Tire

Monday, November 22, 2010 by Woody Rogers
Michelin Pilot Super SportSome three years in development, the new Michelin Pilot Super Sport is the long-awaited replacement for the class-leading Pilot Sport PS2 that has been a popular Max Performance Summer tire option for enthusiasts since 2004.

Michelin’s target for the Pilot Super Sport is to maintain the PS2’s good level of road manners and fuel efficiency, improve handling and braking in dry and wet conditions, while also stretching treadwear on the road and at the track. 

Like its predecessor, the new Pilot Super Sport features side-by-side tread compounds across its asymmetric tread pattern. In the outboard third of the tread, Michelin uses a compound mixed with a special carbon black elastomer taken directly from the endurance racing tires used to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, that helps provide high levels of long-lasting dry grip. A different compound is used on the inboard two thirds of the tread, which focuses on providing traction in wet conditions. 

Michelin has further developed the behavior of the tire’s contact patch, equalizing footprint pressure to aid handling and stretch treadwear. Part of this comes from the internal architecture of the tire which uses a layer of the unique aramid fiber Twaron to control the centrifugal forces as the tire rolls at high speed.

The Pilot Super Sport has already been homologated by Ferrari as the Original Equipment tire on the stunning Ferrari 599 GTO, earning the 2010 Ferrari Technology Award along the way.

Since only select Ferrari sizes are currently available today, Michelin gave us the opportunity to preview the Pilot Super Sport’s dry and wet performance at the Dubai Autodrome in the United Arab Emirates.

Michelin Pilot Super Sport OEM fitment demoWith the Pilot Super Sport already established with Ferrari as an O.E. fitment, Michelin is also working with Porsche, BMW M and prestigious tuners to homologate the Pilot Super Sport on some of the world’s most potent sports and super cars. Michelin brought along their lead test drivers, responsible for tuning tires to suit the distinctive performance characters of each O.E. fitment. Their team provided insight into what it takes to develop a tire for each unique fitment and provided us with some exciting hot laps to show off the fruit of their labor. Watch for the Pilot Super Sport to appear on several other top sports cars in the months to come.
Evaluating the wet cornering power of the Michelin Pilot Super Sport
Finally it was time for us to get behind the wheel and drive the Pilot Super Sport for ourselves. First up was wet cornering, where we drove Audi TTs around a 200' diameter skidpad, comparing the traction of the Pilot Super Sport with a competitor. The Pilot Super Sport felt as if it provided some additional cornering grip, as well as more predictable break away and recovery characteristics.

We followed this with an ABS-assisted panic stop in both dry and wet conditions, using different cars and a different competitor tire. Here, the Pilot Super Sport provided a slightly shorter stopping distance in the dry and an equivalent distance in the wet.

Our favorite test was dry handling, using a 1.1 mile section of the circuit. We drove two Porsche 911 Carrera S, fitted with Pilot Super Sport and a competitor’s tires. We didn’t compare lap times, but were able to feel a difference from behind the wheel.

The Pilot Super Sport felt more responsive, Driving the Pilot Super Sport at speed on the Dubai Autodrom circuitand used its cornering power to turn down to the apex with authority. The massive Porsche ceramic brakes made easy work of the stopping duties. While we could easily engage the ABS with both tires, the Pilot Super Sport allowed for a harder application before triggering the anti-lock system. Also impressive was the overall handling balance of the car fitted with the Pilot Super Sport tires, bolstering driver confidence during cornering and allowing for a harder application of the throttle on corner exit. 

We installed our RaceLogic DriftBox data acquisition system in the car with Pilot Super Sport tires, and found the tire + vehicle combination was pulling over 1.0 lateral g-forces in several of the corners (shown in red).
Data from a lap on the Michelin Pilot Super Sport

this Koenigsegg Agera rolls on Michelin Pilot Super Sport tiresMichelin also brought along a few of their favorite toys to show off the capabilities of the Pilot Super Sport. Their test drivers provided hot lap rides in an AC Schnitzer-tuned BMW M3, Audi R8, Ferrari 458 Italia, Gumpert Apollo, Koenigsegg Agera, Lamborghini Gallardo, Mercedes-Benz SLS, a 1,000 horsepower MKB P1000 Mercedes-Benz SL65, Porsche 911 Turbo, and more. The Pilot Super Sport proved stable, predictable and very capable of harnessing the power of these amazing cars.
Ferrari 458 ItaliaGumpert ApolloMKB P1000AC Schnitzer M3

Scheduled to be released to North America in a wide range of sizes in the spring of 2011, we’re looking forward to the opportunity to evaluate the Pilot Super Sport back at our Indiana headquarters on our Real World Road Ride and Performance Track Drive.

Stay tuned for a full test report coming in 2011. Until then, take a look at more photos from our trip to Dubai on our Facebook page.

Pirelli World - Part 2

Friday, October 29, 2010 by Woody Rogers
Continuing our deep dive into Pirelli’s development, manufacturing and testing world, our next stop was Pirelli’s facility in Sandbach, Germany.

While Pirelli’s headquarters and evaluation department are centered in Milan, a large contingent works in parallel from the German technical center. This keeps them close to the large O.E. vehicle manufacturers based in Germany. Similar to their Italian counterparts, the German technical team is quartered adjacent to the test center. The same sorts of indoor tests are carried out here as in Milan, speeding test turnaround time for the German O.E. customers.

Pirelli's Sandbach, Germany campusTwo separate tire manufacturing plants are also housed in the industrial campus. In what must be the cleanest tire plant we’ve visited, small batches of prototypes and short runs of specialty tires are hand-built alongside large volume runs of more mainstream product.

Also tucked into the old-world complex is one of Pirelli’s MIRS robotic manufacturing facilities. This system is something to behold, as an army of robot arms spin and dance in a precisely choreographed routine that produces tires without any human contact. Amazing.

Next we head to the Nurburgring, to see how Pirelli tests tires on one of the world’s most challenging tracks.

Pirelli World - Part 4

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 by Woody Rogers
As we strive to understand how tires perform in the real world, we’re all about learning through doing, using our own in-house testing program to experience many of the tires we sell.

Dorr Motorsports BMW Z4 rides on Pirelli race tiresLearning through motorsports is also part of Pirelli’s development process. In addition to becoming the exclusive tire supplier for Formula 1 and GP2 (starting in 2011), Pirelli is involved with professional racing series around the world, like Grand Am, GP3, Ferrari Challenge, World Rally Championship (WRC), and more.

During our visit we had time to take in a 4-hour VLN Series race at the Nürburgring, and watch Pirelli race tires in action. All the teams get a chance to practice on the afternoon before the race. This gave us an opportunity to mingle with the cars, drivers and throng of spectators crowding the pit lane. We also had the unique opportunity to ride along with lead Pirelli test driver and Nürburgring specialist Rudi Adams as he piloted his #105 Dörr Motorsports BMW Z4 GT3 around the track. Rudi has competed in more races at the Nürburgring than he can remember, and likes to use racing as a way to keep his driving skills sharp.

Race day dawned grey and foggy, with intermittent rain showers soaking the track for the morning qualifying session. Mixing it up with Porsche 911 GT3s, Audi R8s, Mercedes-Benz SLSs and a variety of other potent cars, Adams used a set of Pirelli racing rain tires to qualify his BMW Z4 eighth out of nearly 200 cars. The afternoon race was also plagued by rain, with only one section of the track drying off briefly around the 3-hour mark. Despite an off-track encounter with the guardrail by one of his co-drivers, Rudi and his teammates were able to finish 18th overall, thanks to the performance of their Pirelli tires. 

Our trip has given us much greater insight into the lengths Pirelli goes to when designing and building tires, for the race track or for your street car.

Pirelli World - Part 3

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 by Woody Rogers
After leaving Pirelli’s Sandbach facility, we spent a few hours “flying” on the autobahn as we made our way towards Nürburg, Germany. Next door lies the famous Nürburgring, a landmark well known to driving enthusiasts around the world. The Nordschleife circuit has become a performance benchmark for nearly every performance car manufacturer, too.

Coming as a bit of a surprise to us, Pirelli uses the Nürburgring as a primary test location for dry weather handling. This grueling 12.9 mile track snakes its way through 154 turns as it flows over the rolling German countryside. When we asked why they prefer to use the Nürburgring instead of a typical (and shorter) test facility or race track, the answer was simple – tires that work on the Nürburgring will also work on a shorter track, but not always the other way around.

Pirelli maintains a workshop tucked away in the bustling industrial park that lies just outside the track entrance. Pirelli works closely with Porsche, BMW, Ferrari, Aston Martin and a slew of European and North American vehicle manufacturers, using the Nürburgring to prove their tire’s performance is worthy of Original Equipment (O.E.) fitment on some of the world’s most capable performance cars.

We had the chance to drive a lap of the Nordschleife circuit, and can attest to the punishing challenge this track provides.

Tomorrow we will get to see Pirelli race tires in action on the Nordschleife.

Pirelli World - Part 1

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 by Woody Rogers
Tire Rack was recently given first-hand access to Pirelli’s European tire development, manufacturing and testing facilities.

Firmly planted in the fashion capital of the world, Pirelli’s headquarters sits amid the style of Milan, Italy. Image may be everything, but power is nothing without control. Within Pirelli’s headquarters complex sits the development center, which is comprised of several floors of engineering offices circling in rings around a central courtyard overlooking an array of  test machines. We saw how computer modeling can predict tire performance characteristics, and saw indoor test machines that push new designs to their limits, long before you put them through their paces on your car.

We spent the next morning at their Vizzola proving ground Pirelli's Vizzola Proving Groundswhere wet handling, hydroplaning and braking tests are conducted. Here, drivers get down to the business of evaluating tire performance where it ultimately matters – on the vehicle. Basic ride and noise comfort over a variety of smooth and rough surfaces, and performance in wet conditions – braking, hydroplaning (straight and in-curve), glass plate footprint impressions and handling.

Wet testing at VizzolaThe track features a variety of intertwined paths twisted together into a nearly 2-minute loop. Steady-state corners are the feature, allowing the driver to easily evaluate ultimate grip, balance and stability. A rapid slalom challenges transitional capability and front-end authority. A unique feature we’ve never seen on any other test track is the up/down hill as a central feature of the course. Here, drive traction, front end grip and ultimate reserve capability are challenged under the dynamic of the changing elevation.

We had the chance to drive a few laps in wet conditions around the challenging course where every Pirelli road tire must pass muster before the design is approved. 

Our next stop will be in Germany, where Pirelli has additional development, testing and tire manufacturing facilities.

Lateral Hydroplaning test

Under Pressure: Pressure Gauge vs. Ambient Temperature

Monday, April 12, 2010 by Woody Rogers
Originally written for Grassroots Motorsports magazine late last year.

As we fine-tune our setups, we often make small tire pressure adjustments to help balance the car and manage tire wear. Small changes can make a difference, and the gap between winning and second place can be smaller still. So how accurate is your tire pressure gauge?

To find out how the various commercially available tire pressuregauges behave in real-world conditions, we tested several types against a calibrated, high-end digital unit. We used a tire and
wheel assembly initially set at 40 psi, and took multiple samples with each gauge. Readings were taken back to back with the reference gauge to minimize the influence of air loss after those multiple readings. The reference gauge and tire were kept in a climate-controlled room for consistency.

The Gauges
Reference This high-end digital gauge has been calibrated for 1/10 psi accuracy.
$50 0-60 psi dial gauge w/bleeder valve This gauge has been in service for several years, replacing one ruined by a single drop onto the pavement.
$18 low-cost digital gauge: We’ve used this one daily for nearly a year and have dropped and banged it a number of times.
$5 pocket digital gauge This one’s brand-new.
$1 pencil-style stick gauge: This gauge has led an unknown but lengthy service life.


Room Temperature (72 Degrees F)
Dial gauge 0.9 psi low, 2.26 percent error
Low-cost digital gauge 0.4 psi high, 0.98 percent error
Pocket digital gauge 6.4 psi high, 16.11 percent error
Pencil gauge 5.6 psi low, 14.18 percent error

The low-cost digital gauge proved to be consistent and accurate despite its hard
service life. The $50 dial gauge was also reasonably close, but it was off by more than
2 percent. Think all digital gauges are the same? The pocket digital gauge had a 6.4
psi error versus the reference—that’s 16 percent—along with a 2 psi variance in its
readings. And since most pencil gauges are known to be inaccurate, our example’s 6
psi error wasn’t much of a surprise.

Below Freezing (4.5 Degrees F)
Dial gauge 2.0 psi low, 5.13 percent error
Low-cost digital gauge not functioning, no reading
Pocket digital gauge not functioning, no reading
Pencil gauge 4.8 psi low, 12.37 percent error

Have you ever left your gauge in a glovebox or unheated garage during cold winter months? Just as tire pressures change with temperature, so can the readings on your mechanical gauge.
Why? Its pressure readings rely on a temperature-sensitive spring.

To measure the effects of a chilly environment on our gauges, we stuck them in the freezer for 18 hours. At subfreezing temperatures, the dial gauge read 2 psi—5 percent—lower than
the reference. Interestingly, the pencil gauge was slow to give its final reading, taking more than 2 seconds. Alarmingly, neither of the digital gauges worked. Their LED flashlights continued to
function, so we knew their internal batteries still had some power.

In the Sun (105 Degrees F)
Dial gauge 0.8 psi low, 2.06 percent error
Low-cost digital gauge 0.2 psi high, 0.52 percent error
Pocket digital gauge not functioning, no reading
Pencil gauge 1.5 psi low, 3.9 percent error

After giving the gauges 24 hours to return to room temperature, we placed them in the sun for several hours. We wanted to simulate a gauge left on the pit wall or tool box. The air temperature was 79 degrees F, but the gauges heated up to 105 degrees.


Our tire gauge tests taught us a few things, and helped us come up with some recommendations for gathering the best readings possible:
  1. Treat your tire pressure gauge like the precision instrument it is.
  2. Go digital. Even $20 will buy an accurate gauge; spending more adds features and may allow for recalibration, but probably won’t improve accuracy.
  3. Mechanical gauges are more prone to fluctuations in temperature. They can also be permanently damaged by even minor bangs and bumps.
  4. Always use the same pressure gauge. Different gauges are likely to give different readings. Using the same gauge will at least keep all of your readings relative.
  5. Have your gauge regularly checked for accuracy.
  6. If your gauge reads low, you are over-inflating your tires. If your gauge reads high, you are unknowingly under-inflating your tires.
And keep in mind: We conducted our test with our wheel and tire set to 40 psi. If your pressures are higher or lower, or if you’re using a different brand of gauge, your results are likely to be different. After all, even variance is variable.

Hypertech Max Energy Sport Power Programmer - Boost performance of your Mazda Mazdaspeed3

Thursday, March 18, 2010 by Woody Rogers
Hypertech engineers have found a way to safely coax additional power from the Mazdaspeed3’s turbocharged 2.3L motor. Hypertech dyno’d a stock car with 240 HP/280 Ft. Lb. at the front wheels. Their Max Energy Sport Power Programmer re-tune produces 255 peak HP and a whopping 314 Ft. Lb. of torque. All that torque comes at just 3350 RPM, and stays above 200 Ft. Lb. until well past 6000 RPM.
MAzdaspeed3 Dyno Chart
To find out how well it works, I installed a Max Energy Sport Power Programmer on my personal Mazda Mazdaspeed3. The power increase is immediately noticeable. With so much torque available at relatively low engine speed, there is no need to rev the car hard. Simply short-shift to the next gear and use all of that torque, even in normal driving. Passing rarely requires a downshift – just squeeze the gas to spool up the turbo and GO!

Max Energy Sport installation
Another nice feature Hypertech has built in is the option to remove the Mazda’s low speed throttle limitation programming. In today’s vehicles with electronic throttles, vehicle engineers tune how the throttle responds to input – the car’s computer will decide just how fast (or even if) all of the throttle is applied when you press on the gas pedal. In the case of the Mazdaspeed3, full engine power is not even available in the lower gears, in an effort to eliminate torque steer. The result is sluggish throttle response. The Hypertech tune eliminates this, giving you whatever throttle amount you want, when you want it. Throttle tip-in for driving in everyday traffic is now crisp and immediate, responding instantly to inputs from your right foot. And full power is available whenever you want.

I found the installation to be as easy as 1-2-3. Simply plug the Max Energy Sport programmer into the OBD-II diagnostic port under the dash, and follow the prompts on the unit’s display. In literally 3-4 minutes you’re ready to enjoy your new-found power. If you can download photos from a digital camera, you already have more skill than is needed to use this product.