TEST TYRE 16

MEGA TEST 10 performance tyres rated

by JEZ SPINKS pics THOMAS WIELECKI

We grab racetrack, turbo all-wheel-drive hot hatch and V8 Supercar driver to find Australia’s next top tyre

$150 OU shouldn’t have to follow motorsport to appreciate the critical importance of tyres when it comes to not just performance but also safety.

You could have enormous power, the sharpest chassis and Jupiter-sized brakes, but you couldn’t call your performance car effective if the rubber between it and the road wasn’t up to scratch.

And it’s not true that car makers always fit their vehicles with the best rubber possible. Reality is, they’ve got to balance a number of factors including fuel consumption, noise, ride quality, wear resistance/ life, supply logistics and cost.

Current F1 tyre monopolist Pirelli features in our tortuous 2016 Tyre Test, joined by former grand prix racing suppliers Michelin, Goodyear, Dunlop and Continental. Also here are Korean brands Hankook and Nexen; from humble beginnings in the Aussie market these brands have established respected reputations.

Toyo and Nitto are Japan’s only representatives, Bridgestone benched because its new tyre relevant to this test wasn’t yet available. China’s HiFly rounds out the list and here’s hoping it fares better than last year’s last-placed compatriot, Winrun.

We’re testing a 235/35 R19 this year, chosen for its popularity in the ever-burgeoning compact, highperformance car segment.

That makes the new Audi RS3 an apt choice as Y our workhorse for cycling through the five driving disciplines on 10 sets of boots. Not only will its 270kW, 2.5-litre, five-cylinder engine ensure each set of tyres is given a thorough workout, but the quattro all-wheel drive system reduces a variable in the testing process by spreading the drive loads between all four tyres.

Our test regime comprises four disciplines run in the dry – slalom, braking, motorkhana, lateral G – and one in the wet. Wet-braking is designed to expose any tyre that might be a one-trick, almost-a-slick, trackattack competition special rather than a real-world all-rounder that performs no matter the conditions.

A control tyre was tested periodically to establish a reference point for all our competition rubber. This allowed us to assess whether any tyre was able to gain an advantage by running at a time of day that happened to be optimal conditions. Our number one gun Warren Luff captains the driving side again, and we’re using our pinpoint-accurate Racelogic timing gear.

We wouldn’t trust anyone but the efficient and effective JAX Tyres and Eagle SMF teams to man wheel guns, pressure gauges and swap rubber.

And in our ongoing efforts to improve the Test, we’re completing dry disciplines on the more real-world bitumen surface of Sydney Dragway’s enormous car park, a departure from Sydney Motorsport Park’s concrete testing surfaces. We have more control over the spread of water this year, too, improving consistency. (But sadly we couldn’t control the amount of dirt on the surface, as you’ll see.) With everything locked and loaded, it’s time to get stuck in.

Slalom

CONE-WEAVING – or slalom by its more technical name – is a classic tyre test exercise (and exercise run during almost any performance driving course you care to mention). Going against the stopwatch is fun, of course, though it’s also a stern test of a car’s ability to swerve and recover in the case of something suddenly coming into your path, such as the classic kid-chasing-a-soccer-ball-onto-the-street situation.

We’re not here to test the Audi RS3, but Luffy says the Audi is so well balanced it provides the perfect platform for our first challenge of our 10 tyre models’ construction, as their sidewalls and shoulders are subjected to deformation with multiple aggressive changes of direction.

Our slalom test is set up on the relatively normal stretch of bitumen that lies beyond the super-sticky, traction-enhancing VHT of the competition strip where top fuel drag cars battle to transfer thousands of horsepower to the surface.

Luffy rolls through a start-gate at 50km/h then negotiates nine equally-spaced cones before triggering the Driftbox again at the finish point.

As with all the following tests, our aim is to eliminate as many variables as possible. So the Audi RS3 remains in second gear to wipe out any differences in shift times. Electronic stability control and traction control are also switched off.

Five runs are recorded on each set of tyres, with the best and worst results deleted and an average time for the remaining three results going into the notes.

The first run on the control tyre points to 10 seconds as an approximate marker for the test.

Just the name of Hankook’s Ventus S1 Evo2 creates certain expectations, yet the Korean tyre-maker recorded 10.0sec exactly to place third and leave Luffy summing up the MOTOR team’s thoughts on the brand that triumphed in the 2014 Tyre Test. “It’s noticeable how much the Hankook range continues to improve,” he said.

Indeed, its scalps in the slalom included the big names of Pirelli, Goodyear and Continental.

Korea’s other representative here didn’t fare so well – second last. “In the slalom on the Nexens, the back of the car really starts to move around a lot, and that ultimately dictates the speed you can carry through there,” Luffy noted.

Michelin was one of only two tyres to break the 10.0sec barrier, though it was Dunlop’s Sport Maxx RT that was a further two-tenths clear to lay down an early benchmark in the slalom exercise.

It was Dunlop’s Sport Maxx RT that laid down an early benchmark in the slalom exercise

Dry braking performance is handy for drivers who don’t want a kangaroo through the windscreen

Dry Braking

IT’S PROBABLY best the Sydney Dragway grandstands were empty during our testing, avoiding mass headscratching as a car tried to do the opposite of the traditional action and slow as quickly as possible.

Our second dry exercise was again held beyond the 400 metres of extra-adhesion surfacing to ensure the tyres were being tested on a hotmix that has more in common with typical Aussie roads.

Having tested directional grip in the slalom, now the 10 sets of tyres were being tested for their performance under brakes – which in the Audi RS3’s case were proper bits of hardware. Eight piston calipers up front with drilled discs are more than enough to shoulder the repeated hauls needed for this test.

Dry-braking performance isn’t only handy for the last-of-the-late-brakers on the track, but also for drivers who don’t fancy a rendezvous with a kangaroo that’s gone walkabout on a stretch of their favourite country road.

That makes our 100km/h cruising-speed approach hugely relevant, with a coned gate marking the point where Luffy starts braking – and a line of equidistant cones providing a visual reference for the final resting points in addition to the Driftbox readings.

With ABS making emergency braking as easy as ABC – limiting tyre slide as Luffy stomps on the brake pedal – the only variables in this exercise stem from the tyres themselves: compound stickiness, tread pattern and material construction.

Those variables, though, were enough to put a full seven metres between the first-placed Dunlop (34.75m) – proving it had both impressive straight-line and directional grip following its slalom win – and the last-placed Nitto (41.75m).

Seven metres is nearly two car lengths.

If Skippy had sat 40 metres ahead of the point of braking, the driver of a Nitto-shod RS3 isn’t the only one who’d have road kill in their bloodied lap. The Nexen and HiFly had respective stopping distances of 40.81m and 40.21 – starting to set a pattern for the performance of the cheaper tyres.

In a performance context, the Dunlop-tyred RS3 offers an advantage under brakes of 1.5 car lengths compared with the Audi hot-hatch when fitted with Nittos. Even the skid marks of the second-placed, German-butmade- in-the-Czech-Republic Continentals ended nearly two metres further down the track than those of the British-but-made-in-Germany Dunlops.

Just 57cm separated Michelin, Pirelli and Goodyear, while Hankook’s 6th place (38.19m) suggested its development had placed greater emphasis on lateral (cornering) grip over longitudinal (braking) grip.

Never tyring

We couldn’t do it without...

GETTING 40 tyres gathered, fitted, inflated, balanced and tested takes some logistical trickery, so a massive thanks to JAX Tyres.

The JAX team was responsible for organising and transporting our 10 sets of rubber and executing more pit-stops than your average Bathurst 12-Hour race – 13 – so Luffy could test them all (as well as the control tyre three times) in a relatively short timeframe of a normal working day. There was notable assistance, too, from Eagle SMF, who supplied the tyre changer machine the JAX Tyres team used to fit and remove all the tyres, using two sets of rims: one set being prepped while the other was on-track. If you need a change of boots for your car, check your options at www.jaxtyres.com.au – with full pricing transparency – and book an appointment online.

Motorkhana

IT’S FAIR to say our version of a gymkhana wouldn’t get the kind of YouTube views enjoyed by Ken Block.

But while there were no stunt vehicles, hovering helicopters, or doughnuts involved here, there were plenty of witches hats and Australia’s own Hoonigan, Luffy, MOTOR’s man-who-we-ask-to-do-theimportant- stuff, Warren.

The motorkhana – laid out in Sydney Dragway’s vast car park – comprises seven tight-radius bends, interspersed with a short-burst straight, a quick-ish S-bend, and a shortish start/finish that blends into a fast, sweeping right-hander.

From a rolling start with the stopwatch triggered at an established start/finish line, three laps are recorded cumulatively – in second gear only and again with all electronic safety nets unclipped to eradicate those undesirable variables.

This is the toughest test yet for the tyres, as they’re subjected to the longest duration of punishment – asked to perform consistently on a longer run, with tyre heat introduced as a factor with the potential to affect results.

And tortured the tyres are, as Luffy attacks every lap as if he’s qualifying for a Bathurst pole – putting the Audi constantly on the edge of adhesion.

Tyres that performed well in the dry slalom were expected to go well here. And yes there was some familiarity in the scattering and ranking of the top six brands and bottom four brands in the motorkhana, albeit with some order changes in each group.

The budget tyres struggled, with the HiFlys making themselves heard not so much through squealing but through the RS3’s flaring revs that exposed power-down issues.

It was the Nexens’ turn to collect the wooden spoon, though – six-tenths slower than the HiFlys. The Toyos were seventh, yet would probably have hoped for a greater margin than four-tenths over its subsidiary brand Nitto.

Luffy noted some rollover in the Hankooks’ sidewalls and the Ventus set couldn’t replicate the podium heroics from the slalom, though they were still fifth – and still in the highly respectable 1min20sec ballpark along with the Continentals, Michelins and Pirellis.

Half-a-second divided the ContiSportContacts, Pilot Super Sports and P Zeros, again showcasing why these well-known performance brands are so popular with both enthusiasts and performance car makers.

No trophies for guessing the only tyre to break the 80sec barrier. The Dunlops volleyed home a 1min19.14sec to make it three wins out of three and leave rivals needing to come up with a different kind of hat trick involving a rabbit, if they were to top this pile of rubber.

Mr Consistent

Luff y provides testing times for our tyres

YOU DON’T hire any old numpty to do the driving for a tyre test.

Warren Luff brings to the table skills from his full-time job as a Movie World stunt driver, his experience as one of the best V8 Supercar endurance racers around and the fact he knows modern performance cars, and road tyres, better than surely any other Australian race driver.

As a MOTOR stalwart he knows well the Tyre Test drill, which this year included 100 laps of the motorkhana, 600 cones slalomed around, and more than 2000 metres of emergency braking. Literally the best man for the job of testing tyres in Australia. Follow the Holden Racing Team’s Luffy on Facebook or Twitter (@warrenluff).


The motorkhana is a tough test for the tyres. They’re subjected to a longer duration of punishment

Luff y’s task in the lateral force test was to follow the circle to the tyres’ breakaway point

Lateral G

GOING AROUND in circles doesn’t always mean you’re lost. MOTOR found the answers it was looking for in its final dry-bitumen discipline: the lateral G test. Or circle test/cornering test, by other names.

Whatever you call it, this test should come with a warning label: Not an exercise to be conducted straight after breakfast or lunch. And, fortunately, with 10 sets of tyres and three control tyre runs to get through in just a day, Luffy proved to have an iron-clad stomach.

It was left to each set of rubber to spew marbles as they were subjected to an exercise that determines outright lateral grip.

Luffy’s task was to simply build up speed in the RS3 around a circle of witches hats, keeping the Audi’s nose close to those cones and accelerating to the point of breakaway understeer – where the tyres are part gripping, part slipping.

The RS3’s quattro system spreads torque to the ground evenly via its rear-mounted hydraulically actuated multiplate clutch to help eliminate wheelspin, while second gear is employed again wheelspin, while second gear is employed again and electronic aids switched off to reduce other variables.

There are complex-looking formulas for calculating cornering forces, though we simply left it to the 10Hz GPS engine and motion sensors of our Driftbox timer to record peak lateral force (g-force) for each tyre.

The test threw a curveball at the bottom trio of Toyo, Nitto and (last again) Nexen, though the RS3’s chassis ensured the 0.97g to 0.99g cornering-force range was still well above that of your average road car.

The HiFly managed to equal the earth’s gravity with a 1.00g. It was appreciated by Luffy for its predictability, despite its obvious status as a budget tyre.

“The HiFlys have struggled in most aspects with the class they’re in today, though while the grip level was a lot lower than the more fancied runners you could tell where the tyre was going to let go.”

Goodyear’s Eagle F1 was also praised for its consistency, which kept it in the midfield across all disciplines. Michelin’s Pilot Super Sports and Pirelli’s P Zeros tied with a lateral g result of 1.02g – upstaged by Hankook again (1.03g), while also trailing the Continentals (1.04g).

Reaching appropriately dizzying heights again, though, was Dunlop’s Sport Maxx RT rubber, peaking at an impressively sticky 1.07g.

We regress

Levelling the fi eld

YOU CAN’T do much about variables, but you can get some data to show what might happen if the playing field was equal. We run a control tyre at intervals throughout the day to get a grip (sorry) on how things like surface temperature, vehicle deterioration and driver fatigue might affect the scores. How the control tyre’s performance changes gives us an idea how the playing field might also be changing. It’s called linear regression and it’ll finish off the battery in your calculator, but basically applied to the raw data to cancel out any advantages or disadvantages a given tyre might enjoy or suffer, the only change to our final line-up was a tying of the last three places for the HiFly, Nitto, and Nexen.

Wet braking

OUR FIFTH and final discipline isn’t a foregone conclusion, regardless of the relentless success enjoyed by the Dunlop Sport Maxx RT so far. If our previous tests were ideal-world conditions, this one is real world.

A road tyre that can’t perform when dark clouds A road tyre that can’t perform when dark clouds unleash their contents is of little use to any true enthusiast driver with a high-performance daily driver. If you’ve ever experienced aquaplaning, you’ll know it’s not as fun as it might sound. When you’re driving at speed, you don’t want your car trying to do an impression of a surf board that not even Kelly Slater could control.

Fortunately, none of our 10 competing tyres could be accused of being semi-slicks. Virtually all are of the asymmetrical-tread variety – compromising optimum dry grip by featuring plenty of the deep grooves and smaller slits critical to channelling water away from the contact patch. Interestingly not one tread pattern looks alike, so it’s all down to their specific design and compound.

Luffy conducts the runs with third-gear approaches, dropping the anchors while cold at 70km/h. The Driftbox records the stopping distance from 60km/h to a brake-juddering halt.

With Australia’s harsh sun baking the bitumen at up to 55 degrees surface temperature at one point in the afternoon, our water tanker was kept busy – frequently unloading the water to ensure a consistently wet test section.

If there had been any thoughts the Toyo, Nexen, HiFly and Nitto tyres had sacrificed some dry-grip performance to be superb in the wet, they were soon dispersed once the taps had been turned on.

The wet braking featured the usual suspects in the bottom four, with just Nexen and Hifly trading places (8th and 9th). The HiFly and last-placed Nitto were more than 2.5 metres off the winning distance of 13.96m. That’s a sizeable margin considering how significant every metre could be when braking in an urban environment.

Pirelli, Michelin and Goodyear occupied the midfield, closely matched in a stopping range from 15.04 to 15.57m. Hankook halted just below 15m to register an impressive third place.

And just four centimetres separated first and second. As shown in the raw data on the opposite page, Dunlop scored the win on the day to make it a remarkable clean sweep, though after our linear regression calculations were made post-testing (see breakout) the Continental was established – by the numbers – as the adjusted wet-track victor.

A road tyre that can’t perform in the rain isn’t much use to a true enthusiast driver

The Verdict

IT’S A blackwash!

Even if our post-testing linear regression calculations knocked the Dunlop back one spot in the wet-braking, there was no changing the fact – or the overall final order – that the British rubber was stunningly dominant.

“It was a stand-out across the board for its performance in both wet and dry conditions,” said Luffy of the Sport Maxx. “This is just an excellent allround tyre.”

Its winning margin of 10 points was the biggest since MOTOR re-established its annual tyre tests in 2008.

The gap between the next four pumped-up protagonists, however, was more like the one between the 235/35 R19s and the RS3’s wheel-arches – all covered by just six points.

Continental’s ContiSportContact couldn’t repeat the 5P’s 2015 Tyre Test victory, but was a valiant runnerup.

And while it wasn’t quite three stars for Michelin, bronze is a bonza in (mostly) exalted company.

For bargain-hunters desiring a cheap tyre that could mix it with more expensive runners, our test results punctured those hopes. The HiFly, Nitto and Nexen tyres were all tightly grouped (with identical scores, in fact, after the application of linear regression), serving as perfect examples of a false economy.

“All the tyres gave good feedback, but it’s the tyres’ ability to react to the driver that is the big difference,” says Luffy. “Especially when you’ve got a fantastic sports car like the Audi RS3, you want a tyre that’s a match for the car.”

And in our 2016 rubber war, no tyre was quicker or sharper to respond than the Dunlop Sport Maxx RT. M