November 29th, 2010

Tested: Michelin Pilot Super Sport

Some believe that tyres are merely the black bits wrapped around a wheel. But those ‘black bits’ are incredibly important. Now, I’m probably not the first person to stress the significance of tyres and I definitely won’t be the last. But on a recent trip to the Dubai Autodrome I got to test the brand new high performance Michelin Pilot Super Sport against its competitors. Being able to test these brand new tyres on hot tarmac really showed us how having the right set of rubber can make a real difference to your cars performance, your lap times and most importantly your safety.

The Michelin Pilot Super Sport is designed for high performance cars or normal cars that have been severely tinkered. Bibendum’s idea was to create a tyre which would succeed the Pilot Super Sport PS2 but would also be as fast as the Pilot Sport Cup but with added extreme weather performance. Basically, it wants to be a decent all round road tyre but with capable track performance. It sounded too good to be true, but after some thorough testing on the track, in both wet and dry conditions, I can safely say that this tyre does tick all the boxes.

If you didn’t know, Michelin are quite handy at endurance racing and one place that is ‘their house’ is Le Mans. The car that has won the race for the last 13 times has been fitted with Michelin boots. The technology used during Le Mans races has now been fitted to the Pilot Super Sport road tyre.

There are three Über techy components that have trickled their way down made it into the new tyre. Firstly you have Twaron, a high-density fiber used by the Army to stop bullets. Instead of stopping bullets in flak jackets, Michelin wrap the Twaron around the inside of the tyre. It helps with high-speed stability and helps tame the centrifugal force created by the tyre rotating at high speed. This allows the rubber to be more effectively distributed on the road, which means more grip.

Like the PS2, its successor comes with a bi-compound. This is something straight from racing tyres as different rubber compounds are used on the left and right sides of the tread.  On the outside of the tyre there is a unique, carbon black-reinforced elastomer which ensures the tyre keeps on biting when corners are tight. On the inside of the tyre is a high-grip elastomer which allows the tyre to perform well in the wet by breaking through the water and displacing it in order to provide a decent level of grip.

Finally, the Pilot Super Sport has a variable contact patch. Tyres need to be able to move to generate heat and therefore generate more grip. The more tyre on the road, the more grip you will have. The variable contact patch allows the tyre to manage the heat within it more efficiently by spreading it over the whole tyre so one part doesn’t overheat and lose traction. Even though the contact patch changes shape when cornering, the amount of rubber in contact with the road remains the same so you don’t suddenly fall off the road. But enough with the science lesson, to really know how a tyre performs you need to feel it.

Luckily there was a test track and line of Porsche Carrera 2S’ all wearing different footwear. Starting in the Michelin you could really feel the responsiveness of the tyre, very little tyre roll and you were able to manage the initial understeer of the Porsche very easily. In competitor tyres the ABS would kick in early under hard braking and the whole car felt unsettled, the rear would step out with less warning and there was generally less feedback.

Michelin claim that compared to Pilot Sport PS2, the Pilot Super Sport offers 50% more tread life on track and will make you 1.5 seconds quicker on a 2.7km dry lap. In the braking department it also has made a big jump from its predecessor. If your car is fitted with the new improved rubber you will come to a halt 1.5 metres shorter in the dry and 3 metres shorter in the wet from 50mph. Now this helps two things, out braking your mate on the track, but more importantly improving safety on the road.

The tyre was developed in conjunction with manufacturers such as BMW’s M division, Ferrari, Porsche and AMG. To really see what the tyre could do at the limit I rode shotgun with a Ferrari, AMG and Porsche tyre engineers to see how they want the tyre to work with specific cars.

Ferrari are agility fiends and expect the tyre to give maximum grip on turn in to provide incredible accuracy. They allow a bit of slip out the back, which is always fun, but AMG think differently. When AMG tested the Pilot Super Sport with the SLS they were looking for Autobahn bruising stability. After conducting sharp lane changes at 150mph it was incredible how quickly the tyre would respond to the direction change and not just slump onto its sidewalls.

If you want to get your hands on a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sports you will need to wait until January. They will be on sale for the same price as the outgoing PS2, but like all tyres you will need to hunt around for the best price. If you are desperate Super Sports and want to skip the queue you can always by a Ferrari 458 or 599 GTO where these boots are chucked in for free as stock equipment. Now, you can’t go wrong with that deal.

Words: Rowan Horncastle