Track test: Michelin Pilot Sport performance tyres

Track test: Michelin Pilot Sport performance tyres

What would you do with 48 of the most exclusive high-performance sports cars, 1,150 fresh Michelin performance tyres and an empty race track at your disposal? Is there really any question to answer? No, of course not.

You would do exactly what I did a few months ago – get your skinny behind into the nearest bucket seat and start evaluating as many car/tyre combos as you could fit into the day.

Michelin Pilot Sport Tyre Test - EstorilWe were spoilt for choice. Literally.

The track; Circuit Estoril in Portugal. Our hosts; Michelin. The tyres; Michelin’s Pilot Sport Cup, Pilot Super Sports, PS2 and Pilot racing slicks.

And the cars? How about, every major Porsche 997 variant, Audi’s V8 and V10 R8, Audi TTRS, BMW M3, Ferrari’s 458 Italia, KTM X-Bow, Nissan GT-R, Gumpert Apollo.. You get the picture.

From track to street

Back-to-back testing provided the opportunity to evaluate the different characteristics of the tyres and how the technologies developed for the track have been passed on to the road.

Our main focus of the day was to learn about the relationship between Michelin’s race tyres and those which you or I can buy for our road cars.

I’ve been a customer for many years and yet I hadn’t realised just how seriously Michelin takes its racing. Rather than being a platform to show off their brand, racing is at the core of the company’s research and development programme, working closely with partners such as Porsche, Audi, Citroen and BMW.

Michelin treat all racing teams in a fair and equal way, collecting data, mixing it together and then advising teams on the most appropriate tyre choice, without actually sharing any identifiable data from a specific team.

But it’s not just global car manufacturers that Michelin works closely with, the tuning industry provides an important source of insight, blurring the boundary between road tyres and those best suited for the latest Nurburgring lap record.

We’re told that Michelin are the biggest spender within their industry on R&D, committing over 500 million Euros to the task of keeping their tyres at the very top.

So committed to the purpose of racing as their primary means of R&D, that the company says it has no plans to compete against Pirelli to supply tyres to Formula 1. Competing against other tyre makers is at the core of Michelin’s philosophy, and it believes that achieving high-performance over distance with consistent performance is better earned through competition.

Michelin’s Pilot Super Sport

Before travelling down to Estoril, we asked what you’d like to know more about and in fact during the day I was in constant contact with you via Twitter.

The most common question concerned Michelin’s latest high-performance tyre, the Pilot Super Sport, which will eventually supersede the well-respected PS2, which we got to compare it against out on track.

If you’re familiar with Michelin’s established track-day tyre, the Pilot Sport Cup+, then you’ll be aware of its benefits but also some of its disadvantages.

Cup tyres behave in a pseudo-slick-tyre way, benefiting from some heat-cycling before hard use and providing chewing-gum levels of grip and consistency at the limit.

Inside the 458 Italia during a fast lap of Estoril circuit. You can see how well suited the Pilot Super Sport is to such treatment.

The downside is, they don’t last very long – not if you’re used to the lifespan of a typical high-performance road tyre – and they’re ultra-tricky to drive on in the wet or when temperatures drop below 7 degrees C.

I’ve worn through a set of new £1,000+ Pilot Sport Cups in just a single weekend, which can bring a tear to the eye of even the most hardened track-day junkie.

Swap a set of Cup tyres for the more conventional PS2s and on track you’ll wonder where all the fun has gone. At the limit, the PS2s squeal like pig, give up their grip more abruptly and are more likely to lock-up under braking for slower corners.

As road tyres go, they’re one of the best, but out on track it was quickly evident how ill-suited they are to the task of consistent high-speed lapping.

Porsche 911 GT3 Cup on a similarly fast lap of Estoril circuit. This time the GT3 Cup is wearing a set of Pilot Slicks.

The new Pilot Super Sports represent a ‘step change’ in the capabilities of road-based performance tyres – equivalent to the alchemist’s trick of turning lead into gold. They’re a road tyre, but not as we have previously defined the breed.

On track they behave similarly to the Cup tyres, plenty of grip and consistency and none of the squealing so evident in the PS2s, whilst on the road they feel docile, reassuring and a fitting replacement for the PS2.

Whilst they’re not quite as quick on track as the Cups, they offer the same consistency which enables you to concentrate on trimming your lines and carrying more speed, without concerning yourself with the performance drop-off of an overheating road tyre.

The Super Sports are more stable under heavy braking, with less understeer a more positive steering response and a wonderfully wide slip-angle to play within on the limit.

Ferrari 458 Italia on Michelin Pilot Super SportsFerrari 458 Italia on Michelin Pilot Super Sports. These tyres were tortured for ‘research purposes’ shortly after this photograph..

If it’s credentials weren’t already solid enough, Pilot Super Sports last ‘twice’ as long as PS2s out on track, with around the same lifespan on the road.

When fitted to our Porsche 911 and Audi R8 test mules, the differences out on track were immediately apparent. Whilst nothing can match the purity, grip and response of Michelin’s racing slicks, we all agreed that the tyre we would choose to smuggle into our hand luggage for the return flight home, would be the Super Sport.

Michelin Pilot Performance tyres and the MTM Audi R8The two-wheel drive MTM Audi R8, awaiting a fresh set of rubber.

If there’s a downside of such a tyre innovation, it’s the question of whether owners are able to fit them to their latest purchase. Although Michelin has worked with manufacturers such as Porsche, BMW M and Ferrari in developing the Pilot Super Sport, Porsche in particular must put the tyre through their own homologation processes before approving the tyre for fitment to their range of cars.

This N-rated classification, which you will find on the sidewalls of all Porsche approved tyres, is the result of their independent testing for dry handling and braking, wet handling, hydroplaning, rolling circumference, high-speed running, wear, rolling resistance, noise and comfort – all of which is then optimised to deliver the desired levels of Porsche-ness.

Whilst the Pilot Super Sports felt ideally suited to the 997’s we drove around the dry Estoril track, they must also suit other road conditions and the abilities of a wide range of drivers, so frustrating as it might seem, the Pilot Super Sports are unlikely to be homologated for Porsche cars until late Summer 2012 at the earliest.

Porsche and Michelin Pilot Super SportPorsche’s 911 and Michelin’s Pilot Super Sport – a marriage made in heaven. But unfortunately you can’t chose them on your Porsche yet, until they are officially homologated. Big shame.

The consequence of fitting a non N-rated tyre to your Porsche is purely one of insurance, both when claiming on Porsche’s warranty and if the worst happens and you’re involved in a road accident. It’s a grey-ish area and one which I have frequently crossed with the Porsche’s I’ve owned myself, but it’s a risk you should be aware of should you decide to take the plunge early.

Fear not though, if you really must wear the latest and greatest footwear on your Porsche, then we’re reliably informed Porsche’s new 991 model will be available with them as an OEM fitment when shipments begin.

Interestingly, we learned from our time with Michelin that even though the Pilot Super Sport is normally quicker than PS2 and Cup+ is generally quicker than both on track, this is not always the situation for every car.

For instance, the Michelin PS3 is a better tyre on the KTM X-Bow than the Super Sport, and Michelin often advise a less sporty tyre for its tuner customers, depending on the unique dynamics and balance of their cars.

So, bear that in mind the next time you go tyre shopping – the widest and stickiest aren’t necessarily the fastest – and with very few exceptions, you can’t go far wrong with Michelin’s latest Pilot Super Sport.

  • Homer

    Have u guys heard of a Go Pro? Seriously, the video’s are pretty much unwatchable.

  • As I believe I said in the article, we were jumping in and out of cars without much time to mount a camera. We had nearly a full day and access to nearly 20 cars, so opted to focus on driving the cars and answering questions on Twitter, rather than film the sessions.

    I initially recorded these two videos purely for private use, but thought it worth sharing purely for the atmosphere they convey.