AUTO TECH AND ROAD SAFETY

Stretching the Rubber Envelope

Stretching the Rubber Envelope image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Tito F. Hermoso | posted July 12, 2011 12:23

Michelin PS3 Asia Launch in Sepang

For a pleasurable driving experience

You take them for granted every day you drive; those 4 contact patches of your car's tires that embrace terra firma. Within the safe confines of your car, your life depends on them. Though tires may all look generically the same, but they are composed of chemical compounds that are almost as numerous as a car's body parts. Thus, their manufacturing process isn't any less complex.

The good Doctor's orders

At least they preserved the good Doctor's (Mahathir Mohamad) dream. KL International, the Sepang F1 circuit, the North-South Expressway and the vast expanses of Palm Oil orchards was the Mahatir dream before the '97 Asian Crisis hit. Perhaps it was only a blip in the long and upward march to growth of Malaysia, as everything must be the way the good Doctor dreamed of for the Bhumiputras.

What's the PS3 for? PSS?

The ultimate of automobile tires will have to be for cars that can be driven as fast as a racing car, on both tracks and routine public high speed roads, like what one finds in Europe. Or in select parts of the world with international standard circuits. Unlike motorsport tires which are good for a couple of laps on a race, tires for ultimate high performance cars have to last as long or even longer than tires of regular cars. Then they have to be up to the abilities of the high performance car in sustained hyper speed, braking and cornering while providing the comfort and quiet fitting very expensive luxury car. Today's environmental concerns must also be addressed as the extravagance of a plutocracy, being selfishly irresponsible to humankind deserves social opprobrium.

Racing really improves the breed

Admittedly a stratified field, lessons learned in achieving contradicting goals (i.e. a tire that is long lasting, minimizes ecological damage, improves fuel economy, precise in cornering, tractive in braking - wet or dry - comfortable, quiet and will keep all such properties till the end of its useful life) makes extreme demands on technology. Though Michelin has several top secret R & D laboratories, Michelin's other laboratories are the race tracks of the world. Eighteen victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, including 12 in a row, are among Michelin's outstanding achievements in automobile racing. The group's commitment to this sport, which requires both high performance and endurance, has enabled it to collect a wealth of valuable technological data. Moreover, with more than 200 original equipment certifications in its six years on the market, the MICHELIN Pilot Sport PS2 and Pilot Preceda have been widely successful with carmakers, becoming the benchmark tire for Porsche and the world speed record holder with the Bugatti Veyron.

Steep learning curves for all

Through the years, tire makers' learning curves and their product abilities have climbed in steep trajectory. Michelin continues to participate in the 24 hours of Le Mans endurance races as it proves that "driving pleasure through precision" reduces stress all around, giving the driver and the car a definitive advantage in endurance driving. Our turn with the PS3 (Pilot Sport 3) and PSS (Pilot Super Sports) range in Sepang, its latest ultimate for replacement and upgrade tires, allowed us to experience the universality of the Michelin dogma.

Wider access

Michelin believes that highly precise steering enables the driver to maintain perfect control at all times and know exactly how the car will respond to the slightest turn of the steering wheel, thus relieving him of doubt and stress. This pleasurable driving experience enhances safety. To make the Michelin "pleasurable driving experience" accessible to many, the PS3 an PSS is being made for all kinds of high performance cars ranging from tuned city cars to the RUF-Porsche class, from Audi A5 to Audi R8. It was only a few years ago that Michelin's Pilot Sport 2 and its very competitive rivals, was the ultimate for tuned Porsches, Paganis, Ferraris and the record beating Bugatti Veyron, certified for 430km/h on some stretches of Autobahns.

All that stuff

To achieve this balance, the MICHELIN Pilot Sport 3 has been built with unique, highly advanced proprietary technologies developed at Michelin's own technology centers. In addition to its energy efficiency, the MICHELIN Pilot Sport 3 increases mileage by a remarkable 10% compared with the MICHELIN Pilot Sport PS2, which was until now the benchmark for mileage in its category. This means fewer tires will need to be manufactured to cover a given distance and fewer end-of-life tires will need to be disposed of.

Safety in pleasure

Statistics show that accidents tend to occur during changing weather conditions. When tire grip weakens, cornering and braking become critical safety issues. Michelin also felt that the pleasurable driving experience would not be complete without the added advantage of energy efficiency which not only saves money, but also the environment, since CO2 emissions are reduced accordingly.

Overcoming the odds

All the seemingly contradicting objectives in making a all-around-everybody happy tire needed new and unique technology. In the PS3, the Sport Power compound, wet grip elastomers and long lasting elastomers makes the tire grippy, durable and comfortable. The Anti Surf System, allowed Michelin to shape the shoulder in such a way that the square shoulder of conventional tires can be re-profiled to evacuate large volumes of water. Compounded with silica, heat build up on cornering is evenly dissipated, keeping tire performance consistent corner after corner. The Programmed Distortion Tire architecture system allows the tire to reach operating temperature quicker for optimum traction and prevents excess temperature build up without a loss of side wall stiffness at sustained high speeds.

Twaron, like Aramid

The Pilot Super Sport, on the other hand, has ballistic grade Twaron fiber in the belts. These bands resists the centrifugal bulging by tightening the tread more than the shoulders. The bi-compound imbues different grip properties on either side of the tread, enhancing grip and water evacuation. The Variable Patch maintains its area of surface traction no matter what speed or cornering angle.

Base line: us

For us to understand and decipher how much of an advance the PSS and the PS3 is, we had to have had the experience of trying out the competition side by side. Our level field or base line was due to previous experience with other ultimate high performance tires in the same Sepang F1 race track over the past several years, since 2003.

Hallowed company

The next humid morning, a tantalizing array of cars greeted us on the pit lane of the Sepang F1 Circuit. Lotus Exige. Renault Clio Sport; specially modified cars for England's Clio Cup Race Series. The latest 480hp BMW M3. Porsche Cayman S and Carrera GTS. Subaru Impreza WRX. Audi TT. And the most coveted pair of red cars, Ferrari's 580hp 458 Italia. Armed with the hope that Michelin's live-in R & D with the great brands - Porsche, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, etc. - would more than compensate for our driving inadequacies. But before that everyone had to undergo a blood pressure test.

Then there's the competition

Approximately half of the test fleet were fitted with PSS and/or PS3 and the other half were fitted with the current rival. Only the Clio's had Pilot Cup race-only tires which was to give us a base line for the extremes of what a dedicated race tire can do. Michelin's live-in R & D with the great brands - Porsche, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, etc. - would more than compensate for our driving inadequacies. But before that everyone had to undergo a blood pressure test.

Clio Cup experience

Our 101 intro to racing was with Clio's as we donned fireproof overalls, balaclavas, racing helmet and learned the intricacies of shifting a racing sequential gearbox after contorting ourselves into the driver's cage. With the Pilot Cup racing tires, we had loads of fun tossing the Clio through the tight turns and long sweepers of the circuit's South course. For a race tire, the Pilot Cup was surprisingly comfortable on the rumble strips of the corner edges.

WRX in slalom

Next were a couple of Subaru WRX's fitted with the PS3. Having a bi-compound tread, the inner tread were optimized for the dry, while the outer tread was for wet conditions. With a slalom course that looked laid out for 60km/h, we were surprised to take it at 80, with no slip nor snap when traversing from the dry side to the flooded side.

The M3, then the rain

After lunch, we had turns on the BMW M3's. Almost to a driver, everyone's exit speed and cornering lines were not only faster in the PSS but smoother than the M3 shod with the competition. We were ready to repeat the laps when we moved up to the Rosso Corsa piece d' resistance, but a thunderstorm temporarily halted track sorties as visibility was drastically reduced. But it didn't mean we couldn't have fun in the Ferrari 458 Italia.

The 458 Italia experience

With 580hp at the tip of a toe, one had to be very careful, especially in the damp. Clumsy on the throttle, the temperamental Italian stung me in the tail, corkscrewing the rear while I piled on past Turn 2 on the North Course. Despite the hot blooded fidgetiness of the Ferrari, the PSS held its own allowing me to close the gap between the other Rosso Corsa car fitted with the competition. The Ferrari provided us the hair splitting experience where the extremely sensitive throttle and drive traction made us appreciate the higher threshold of forgiveness (and pleasure) the PSS served us vis-a-vis the competitor. Though the Porsches were competently fast, vocal in their own unique roar, the Ferrari is like a frisky Colt. It was pure Formula One in sound and fury, even if the 458 has absolutely nothing interchangeable with the F1 racing car.

Bibendum's challenge now

As a Michelin event, Michelin's image of the touring and touristic lifestyle was not to be missed. Though we were domiciled in the hard to reserve business like Pan Pacific hotel right by KL international airport, the French touches of food, drink and good living was as good as it gets. In sum, it was only a matter of time that Michelin would outdo the Michelin Pilot Sport 2 (PS2) and Pilot Preceda, those existing pinnacles of high performance road tires. With Michelin's PS3 and PSS, Bibendum has again challenged its highly competitive rivals to come up with a tire that is as good as theirs.