Michelin ups the ante on the competition


500 RPM
Senior Member


500 RPM
Senior Member
Dec 12, 2007

It doesn’t matter if your car is fast; it doesn’t matter if your car has 300, 500, 800, or even 1000 horsepower because your car is only as fast as your tires allow it to be. Those four palm sized contact patches that put down all that power are arguably the most important aspect of a running vehicle, performance oriented or not.

To ensure that a driver gets the absolute last drop of power and is able to carry speed into and out of corners with absolute confidence, tire makers go to great lengths to ensure that their product is able to withstand every type of demand exerted onto the tire. After they create the product and pit it against the competition claiming to be the best, they invite us auto-journo’s over to reaffirm their assertion that they have officially created the best product. This time, it was Michelin who invited us to Thailand to put their latest product to the absolute limit.<!--more-->

Michelin flew us to Bangkok and then drove us 200km’s to the royal resort town of Hua Hin where our product briefing was to be held. After an overnight stay, we were once again back in the bus for the hour long ride to the Kaeng Krachan Circuit situated about an hour out of Hua Hin. For those who think that we auto journo’s are a lucky lot with all the flying and travelling that we do, trust me when I say that our kind of flying and travelling is no fun. We spent three days in Thailand and spent only a couple hours with our feet firmly on terra firma, otherwise it was behind the wheel of a car, in a briefing, in a hotel, in a bus, or its 30,000 feet up in the air, what’s so fun about that?

I’ll tell you what fun is though, being able to push a tire to its absolute limit in a controlled environment like a circuit. Now the Kaeng Krachan Circuit is unlike our Sepang International Circuit; it’s narrow with plenty of tight corners and elevation dips, get it wrong here and it’s going to hurt, a lot. The walls are just a few feet away and if it’s not the wall then it’s what looked like a monsoon drain. The circuit seems more suited to high powered karts with massive brakes than they do cars but we were due to get behind the wheel of regular street cars, so it’s good then that we were testing the one tire that claims to be the industry leader now.

So what is it about the new Michelin PS3 that has its makers, the press and enthusiasts all excited? Well, to put it simply, we now have a tire that is able to combine outstanding on-road performance with environmental features that are unrivalled in its category. Environmental features in this context meaning improved fuel efficiency and extended tire mileage. What else could you need in a tire right? Well it just gets better, I get to prove that the tire actually works, I was out to make sure that it wasn’t just another marketing gimmick.

At the circuit, the Michelin crew had set up various stations, each designed to prove a specific point. There were journalists from a number of different countries and we were grouped according to our country, our Malaysian contingent started off at the Wet Performance Station. This is where we were given the opportunity to test the PS3 in the wet and compare it to a competing tire, the Yokohama S-Drive. We were a little concerned as to the choice of competition because there are tires out there that are much more capable than the S-Drive. Michelin executives explained that they chose the S-Drive because it was THE tire of choice in Thailand and the most accessible and they were out to prove that the PS3 works better than the regular tire of choice.

At the wet test, Michelin had fitted one Toyota Altis with PS3’s and the other with Yokohama S-Drive’s and we were given instructions to tackle a tight sweeping right hander in the wet at a pre-determined speed and judge the level of understeer, after that we were instructed to floor it and stand on the brakes on wet patches and determine the distance it took for the cars to come to a complete stop.

At the right hander, the levels of understeer in the Yoko’s was enormous, the steering needed some working to dig the tires in to achieve grip and get the car out of the corner before it starts to run over the cones. It really is unnerving and in a real life situation, understeer is never a good thing. But understeer was apparent in the PS3’s as well, however there was no need to work the steering wheel, just point it towards where you need to go, feel the front end and steering wheel loosen up a little and before it strikes you that you need to make some corrective maneuvers, suddenly you have grip, everything tightens up and out you go, very little speed lost and no drama at all, I kid you not.

Out of the corner, blast down the circuit and prepare for the wet brake test. Floor it and get on the brakes as soon as you get on the wet patch, now it’s difficult to judge braking distance from inside the car but we had equipment fitted that actually did the math and judged the distance. We had two runs on each tires and on the Yoko’s the stopping distance was 30.2 meters on the first run and 29.9 on the second. The Michelin’s took the better half of 3 meters to come to a complete stop – 27 meter on the first run and 27.7 meters on the second.

Now its predecessor, the Pilot Sport 2, was regarded as the benchmark tires for many competitors, but its dry and braking performance were regarded as good enough to be kept, it is the wet handling part that needed improvement. Contributing to the improved performance of the Pilot Sport 3 is a host of new technologies. First, Michelin has developed the Sport Power Compound, a unique rubber formula that for the first time combines three new technologies that combine to deliver superior wet grip, fuel efficiency and greater tire mileage;

  • Wet Grip Elastomer - is a polymer that is both very dense and extremely flexible. These properties enable the tread to break through the water’s surface and adhere to even the smallest dry surface and it plays a key role in wet-road braking.

  • Long Lasting Elastomer - is embedded in the rubber compound and is characterized by its exceptional durability. This elastomer never breaks when stretched to the limit and so by maintaining the rubber compound’s integrity, tire longevity is guaranteed.

  • Silica – With each rotation of the wheel, the tire is deformed under the weight of the load when it makes contact with the road. As its structure is deformed, the components heat up and some of the energy transmitted by the engine is lost. The silica incorporated into the rubber helps to limit this heat build-up, making it possible to reduce fuel consumption and, consequently, reduce CO2 emissions.
Secondly, Michelin created the Anti Surf System to go with the Wet Grip Elastomer. It basically is an improved tire design with a specially shaped shoulder that evacuates large volumes of water. Conventional tires have a square profile when seen from the front; Michelin’s Pilot Sport 3 has a rounded profile that reduces the risk of hydroplaning.

Finally, power is nothing without control, so to improve steering precision and responsiveness, Michelin created the Programmed Distortion Tire architecture. Since a lot of tire feedback is closely related to the rubber temperature and its resulting deformations, the PS3 addresses this issue by keeping the tread at an optimal temperature in all circumstances. At low speeds, the tread heats up quickly to attain the level of flexibility required for good traction. At high speeds, it maintains its stiffness to prevent excessive temperature build-up. To prove this Michelin did road trials totaling 100,000km to validate the technology’s effectiveness.

Back to our test at the Kaeng Krachan Circuit. Followed by the wet test, it was time to feel how the PS3’s handle in real life conditions so we were allocated cars ranging from the new BMW Z4 to the car that I was put in, a Subaru WRX boring-cause-its-not-a-STI, all fitted with, you guessed it, Michelin Pilot Sport 3. The thing about driving on country roads in Thailand is that firstly, they’re very narrow, secondly, bikers and trucks appear from nowhere and finally the conditions of the roads are as bad as our own “kampung roads”. Just great.

So testing the tire here was just for the sake of driving, the pace of the group was what can only be described as leisurely. It definitely was no way to test a performance tire but it was a great way to feel the tire under regular driving. I can only describe the tires as silent, besides the burble of the Subaru boxer engine, there was no other noise intrusion in the form of humming from the tires. At the twistier bits, the response was great. I let the rest of the group disappear into the corners ahead and with plenty of Subaru power to pile us through, it was up to the tires to provide as much feedback and control as possible and this is where the PS3’s truly came alive.

Now being able to carry as much speed as I wanted to, there was only the tires to stop me but they didn’t. There was literally no tire wall flex and with 4wd at my disposal, it was just fun at each corner. In all honesty, I’m being dramatic, the rest of the group kept their leisurely boring pace and I was right back with them after about three corners, but it was enough to win my respect.

Back at the circuit, and at our final station, the Sports Handling station. Now behind the wheel of a BMW 325i and the twistier parts of the circuit right ahead of me, it was my opportunity to set the tires alight and see if the PS3’s really are different than the competition, the same Yokohama S-Drive. But first I had to win over the trust of the instructor sitting next to me, so I went slow for the first few rounds, clipped each apex at the right time, braked early, and just behaved myself. Then I asked to turn off the traction control and he said ok, traction control off and my horns were out!

Yoko’s first. First corner, sweeping right hander, at about 80km/h and with the car’s balance slightly offset, you can just feel the rear about to break loose, but with the next corner coming up, you have to ease off and straighten the car out to turn, a little bit of drama there because you have to think of the rear and the corner ahead. Brake hard for the tight right hander and turn and whoa, understeer, plenty of it, work the steering wheel to reel the front back in and immediately there’s no speed for the slight uphill to start over again. Boring Yoko’s.

PS3’s next. Same thing, first sweeping right hander and I’m doing about 80km/h and still on the accelerator pedal. It sticks and sticks and by the time I get to the turn, I’m scarily close to 100km/h. Straighten out, brake, turn and not a whimper, with the car’s balance offset this was my chance to stomp on the accelerator pedal and induce an oversteer so I did and … nothing. It was either there was not enough power or there was plenty of grip because I just sling shot out of the corner with plenty of power left for the uphill gradient. Impressive PS3’s.

That was it then, the end of the three stations that were meant to prove the superiority of the Michelin PS3 against the Yokohama S-Drive and it definitely pounded the Yoko’s but to be fair, I don’t think it was fair competition. So we asked for data from Michelin with regards to more established competition like the Goodyear Eagle F1, Yokohama Advan Sport and Bridgestone Potenza RE050, below is the test sheet that Michelin sent us.

Overall, the new Michelin Pilot Sport 3 are really impressive and are so far, the tyres to have for your ride, and the best thing is, they are available in so many different sizes from 185/55 R15 82V to massive 285/35/ ZR18 101Y, it doesn’t matter what car you drive (Kancil and a few others cannot la), there’s definitely a PS3 for you. And if you still doubt Michelins, here's one for the record, the Bugatti Veyron uses Michelins to get up to over 400km/h.

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