AUTO INDUSTRY NEWS

Piloting a new course for high performance tires

Piloting a new course for high performance tires image

Text: Jude P. Morte / Photos: Jude P. Morte | posted April 14, 2006 00:00

Normally, high performance tires are known for their dry tarmac-only performance, strong grip and unusually high noise and discomfort levels.

French tire manufacturer Michelin took the said maxims as a challenge and developed a new tire for the discerning driver who yearns for excellent performance in dry AND wet conditions, clawlike grip on the road and low levels of noise and discomfort - This tire is the new Michelin Pilot Preceda.

The new tire is a successor to the previous Pilot Preceda line, perhaps best known as the OE tires of the new Mazda Miata MX-5. But this newest incarnation (dubbed as PP2) exhibits characteristics unlike any other high performance tire. "The PP2 is a true sports tire designed for Asian markets to be the leader in comfort, silence and wet performances," said Rebecca Lee, Michelin Asia-Pacific communications director.

Grip like eagle' claws

An opportunity to test the PP2's characteristics were given to a select five from the Philippines including the author and over eighty motoring journalists from the ASEAN region and Hong Kong. These journalists traveled from their countries of origin to the Automotive Research and Testing Center (ARTC) in Taiwan for the Michelin Pilot Preceda Experience (MPPE), lumped into groups of 12 or more, with each group spending a good 45-65 minutes at four stations that showed the unique selling points of the PP2.

A secret of the PP2's grip is Michelin's True Sport Tire (TST) construction, toting high shoulder reinforcement, joint-less nylon caps and full-width steel beltlines, resulting in enhanced response and handling. "Further helping the PP2 provide tons of grip is a four-groove tread pattern derived from Michelin's involvement in Formula One (Michelin-equipped tires were the tires of choice for 2005 Manufacturer's Champion Mild Seven Renault and most of the works teams in Formula One [such as Mercedes Benz, Toyota and Sauber BMW]) and an asymmetrical tread design that was derived from its predecessor and features smaller inside blocks for reduced road noise," added Oliver Brauen, Michelin Asia-Pacific product marketing head.

In order to test the said claims, journalists went to one of the Michelin-handled stations (billed as station two) along the ARTC testing grounds that showcased a feel of the PP2's response and handling on dry roads. Journalists drove around a course that was short, tight and full of turns. Weapons of choice were two 2.0L Mazda 3s, one equipped with 225/40R18 PP2s and the other equipped with 225/40R18 Bridgestone G3s and filled to 30 psi (pounds per square inch) of pressure following OE (original equipment) specifications. In the test session, it was clear that the PP2s gave feedback on turns at around 60+ kph; in contrast, the Bridgestone G3s gave feedback at around 70-75 kph. Also, the author observed that at 70-75 kph, the G3s provided noisy ploughing understeer while the PP2s just gave feedback without losing grip. From this test, one can conclude that the PP2's quick feedback at lower speeds gives motorists faster reaction time to correct the steering wheel or apply the brakes.

Another opportunity to test the PP2's roadholding ability was at station one, where journalists rode shotgun with Michelin Asia-Pacific motorsports director Regis Jean Denade in a 2005 Subaru Impreza WRX around the ARTC's 3.575-kilometer high-speed circuit. This once-in-a-lifetime experience provided journalists to gauge PP2 grip at 140+ kph; Mr. Denade took full advantage of the track's 38-degree banking turns and the WRX's two-way limited slip differential to showcase the PP2's grip at an observed 180-220 kph.

Wet or dry, this tire's fly

Since most Asian countries often have prolonged periods of rain, tire grip in the wet as well as in dry conditions is vital. The PP2 answers this need with the aforementioned asymmetrical tread design that features bridged center rib sipes, extra stability block bars, a five radius tread profile (FRTP) design, a new sport formulation (dubbed Formula G, a hybrid silica/carbon black/sulfur tread homogenization) and smaller inside blocks that its predecessor.

This translates to better wet grip and disperses water faster from the contact patch without compromising wear and rolling resistance, making PP2s last longer and providing better control in wet conditions. And if one has doubts about the use of the tires, just ask the folks at Porsche. The design and the compounds used in the PP2 are derived from the Pilot Sport Two (PS2) tires that were homologated for the Porsche Carrera, Cayman and Boxster.

In order to test the PP2's grip in the wet, station three within the ARTC gave journalists the opportunity to test the PP2's ability to provide grip in quick wet-dry transitions. Journalists drove two BMW E46 3-Series (one 320i coupe and one 320i sedan) equipped with 225/40R PP2s (filled to OE specification tire pressure) around a water-doused six-cone slalom track with a hairpin at the end. The author observed that the transition was smooth, with little loss of traction as he drove the E46 coupe 65-70 kph around the course's half-wet, half-dry hairpin.

Come on, feel less noise

One of the knocks against performance tires is road noise, occurring as air is trapped within the tires' grooves as the vehicle moves; the trapped air is compressed even further as the tread blocks hit the ground. As the tread blocks leave the ground, the compressed air is suddenly released, making a sizzling sound as it leaves.

Michelin finally cured this tire affliction with the PP2's aforementioned small inside blocks and an optimized pattern arrangement. The latter feature offers a three-variable pitch design and a four-variable arrangement sequence to improve air dissipation and provide less noise.

Station four in the MPPE featured an opportunity to ride inside two Nissan Teanas, one with 215/55R17 PP2s and the other with 215/55R17 Bridgestone G3s, both filled to OE-specification tire pressure. The vehicles were driven by Michelin staff across a four-lane straight featuring four different degrees of road roughness at 80 kph, with coasting speeds of up to 40 kph with the engine and aircon turned off. This was meant to discern road noise from engine noise during testing proper, and although there were concerns from some that the procedure might wreck the Teana's transmission, the results were nevertheless relayed effectively. The PP2s produced a low humming sound while the Bridgestone G3s sounded (and quite loud, in fact) like the intro to Bread's "Picture" on constant play.

With the Michelin PP2s, one can choose from over 52 fitments ranging from 30-series to 65-series, from 14 inches to 19 inches and will be available in the second half of 2006. As observed during the Michelin Pilot Preceda Experience, Michelin's newest tire line has the capability to pilot a new course in tire manufacturing.