13
Jan
2013

Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 intro

Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 Intro, NOLA Motorsports Park, New Orleans, LA.

By; Robert Lauder.

Discerning tire consumers can struggle to rationalize the utility of all-season tires especially if living outside of the GTA and travelling distances for work and play all year round and in sometimes challenging conditions. So; when Michelin asked me if I would join them in New Orleans in the middle if December to participate in the intro of the new Pilot Sport A/S 3, their latest ultra high performance (UHP) all-season tire, I was both a little skeptical and intrigued as to how this tire would fit into the Canadian market.        

Michelin boasts incorporating some interesting new technology into the A/S 3 together with including performance features in this new tire used in others such as their outstanding Pilot Super Sport tire. As Steve Calder, ultra-high performance technical manager for Michelin North America put it “During the development of this tire, we were intensely focused on providing a total performance package that would deliver superior handling and wet/dry braking in all seasons”.

Michelin wanted to give us the opportunity to drive the tire in some real-life driving situations to better explain the new technology and demonstrate its capability. So they took us to NOLA Motorsports Park for a day of driving exercises. Little did they know that it would barely get to 5 degrees C that day for the high and the morning was considerably colder, providing a far better environment for testing tires on cold, wet pavement than I frankly expected an event being held in the deep south would offer. 

NOLA Motorsports Park is a brand new country club style facility on the outskirts of New Orleans. It includes a fast, technical 51/2 mile road course offering multiple track configurations, additional skid pads, a kart track and a soon to be built rally cross stage along with some superb technical and social amenities. I was intrigued by the rows of garages that line the long driveway in from the main gate and fantasized what might be parked behind the closed doors of each unit. As we climbed off the bus, I was equally impressed by the club house, which reminded me more of a high-end health club setting than your typical race track drivers’-meeting environment.  

For a tire category that many consumers perceive to be an all-season “compromise”, Michelin incorporates some uncompromisingly high performance technology into this all-new UHP all-season tire.

First; the asymmetric tread design places more rubber and rigid blocks on the outside shoulder of the tire to provide high levels of lateral grip. Unlike previous generations, the asymmetric design allows greater flexibility for tire rotations and exhibits less noise as the tires wears over time. Combined with biting edges in tread grooves, which aid traction in snow, Michelin claims that drivers experience better acceleration and braking in all conditions.

 

Second; Michelin has incorporated their Variable Contact Patch 2.0 (VCP 2.0) technology into the A/S 3, which is derived from their vast experience in endurance racing. VCP 2.0 is said to improve dry and wet grip plus wear. It focuses on evenly spreading contact patch pressures and temperatures regardless of the driving situation, helping maintain the structural shape of the tire contact patch and allowing drivers to get extraordinary performance (cornering, braking, accelerating) and tread life. The A/S 3 is the first application of the VCP 2.0 technology in an all-season MICHELIN® tire.

Third; special silica in the tread compound of the A/S 3 provides breakthrough levels of wet performance according to Michelin. First tested and proven in endurance racing, this marks the first time extreme silica technology has been used in the all-season category. When combined with Michelin’s Helio CompoundTM, a natural, biodegradable material derived from sunflower oil, the compound materials in the A/S 3 provide better grip at low temperatures plus cold weather mobility.

Fourth; the A/S 3 incorporates Michelin’s 3-D Variable Thickness Sipe Technology (VTS™). VTS allows the use of more sipes for adverse road conditions (wet and snow) without giving up handling and wear performance. The unique, self-supporting construction provides biting edges when traction is needed most and locks together under stress for greater tread block rigidity. This is the first application of the technology in an all-season MICHELIN® UHP tire.

To more practically demonstrate the performance of all this technology, Michelin created 4 different driving exercises for us to experience. Probably the most meaningful specific exercise was the dry slalom course, which the group I was in, happened to do first. This was the only exercise of the day where we were comparing apples to oranges in that we were comparing the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3s to leading competitors’ UHP summer tires; the Continental ExtremeContact DW, the Pirelli P Zero and the Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position. This was a bold move on the part of Michelin but it soon appeared to have paid off for them.

With the exception of their tires, four identical Subaru WRX STIs awaited us to hammer them through this dry slalom course. One WRX STI was equipped with the Pilot Sport A/S 3s and the others with competitor brand UHP summer tires. The course was pretty tight and not that long so cornering speeds were moderate but it was certainly a good environment with which to assess moderate speed cornering control, grip and noise levels. Higher cornering speeds would come in a later exercise. While certainly not scientific in testing methodology, it was clearly up to me to try to drive each WRX STI through the course as consistently and similarly as I could to give myself the truest comparison of the performance of each tire. So I can’t tell you categorically that the Pilot Sport A/S 3 was the best performing tire in the exercise but, at the very least I can honestly tell you that it felt equal to or better than every other competitor tire in the exercise, in terms of under-steer, over-steer, predictability and noise emission. Given that the Pilot Sport A/S 3 was the only “all-season” tire being used in the exercise it left me with a very favorable, early impression.   

The second exercise for our group was an open section of the NOLA road course. The six cars in this case were equally equipped Cadillac CTSs; one shod with Pilot Sport A/S 3s and the others with leading competitors’ tires. The purpose of this exercise was to demonstrate the tires’ ability in high speed braking and cornering giving us an opportunity to cause under-steer and over-steer in each case and to compare overall grip, predictability and noise levels. Again the Cadillac with the Pilot Sport A/S 3s seemed to perform the best of the six tire brands with a generally superior feel as I threw each of the Cadillacs around the fast, expansive course.   

The third exercise involved driving a series of similarly equipped Audi A4 sedans through a slightly more open slalom course that provided both a tight straight-line set of slalom cones and some higher speed sweeping turns in the overall course. In each case it was easy to be consistent with each of the four cars so as to be able to fairly compare tires. The course was frequently flooded by a water tanker that kept it wet and slippery for each tire test. While all the tires surprised me with their overall performance, to sum this exercise up simply, the Pilot Sport A/S 3 Audi was the only car I couldn’t make the traction control kick in and provided me a more assuring, consistent level of grip through the water logged course. 

The final exercise was, I guess, the most scientific exercise in that we were able to actually measure both wet and dry straight-line stopping performance of four equally prepared Infinity G37 sedans through the use of GPS-based data logging devices on the dashes in each of the cars. Again, one G37 had the Pilot Sport A/S 3s on it and the 3 others had competitors' all-season tires. The course was the pit straight of the road course with the far end of the straight drenched with water sprinklers. In the dry part of the course, after getting the car up to just around 60mph, the Pilot Sport A/S 3 shod Infinity performed the best stopping in the shortest distance at 115.2 feet with the Yokohama tire car being the next best taking 119 feet to come to a complete stop. In the wet and at the same 60 mph speed, I was able to stop the G37 with the Pilot Sport A/S 3s in a distance of 121.9 feet with the closest competitor performance coming again from the Yokohama Avid ENVigor at 130.3 feet. Interestingly enough the other comparison I was able to calculate was a wet/dry performance differential factor by brand and yet again the Pilot Sport A/S came out on top with a factor of 1.058 vs., in this case, the Goodyear Eagle GT, which had the next closest differential performance between wet and dry braking distances of 1.079.    

There is still no doubt in my mind that utilizing a combination of “summer” tires and “winter” tires is the best performing scenario for anyone that has to deal with the type of driving like I do mainly out in the country and on the highways all year round where more exposed, extreme cold and snow-covered roads can be par for the course. However I’m probably the minority and for city dwellers and short commuters that drive a few kilometers to and from work, mostly in and around the city where the roads get plowed in the winter and they aren’t taking their car to track-days on the weekend in the Summer its quite different. Other than the odd extreme weather day, these folks have very little need for the, albeit superior performance of “winter” tires. These scenarios provide car owners a legitimate opportunity to leverage the performance benefits that the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 all-season tire offers all year round and eliminating the need for a second set of wheels and tires.

The Pilot Sport A/S 3 is an ideal all year round driving choice of tire for drivers of high-performance sedans, AWD cross-overs, or driven-all-year convertibles or sports cars typically equipped with over-sized aluminum wheels and lower-profile tires.

Evidently from the exercises we performed at NOLA Motorsports Park, coupled with Mother Nature’s contribution of abnormally cold weather conditions for a mid-December day in southern Louisiana and, I might add, nicely beyond the control of the Michelin event organizers, I couldn’t help be left with the impression that this had been a legitimate and meaningful demonstration of the impressive performance of the Pilot Sport A/S 3 both generally and against every other competitor brand of tire used in the comparison exercises.

As we headed back to the airport, I was asked by a Michelin marketing exec what was the most impressionable exercise I had done that day, I had to say that it was actually the Pilot Sport A/S 3’s ability to outperform consistently, in every exercise, even against competitors’ “summer” tires and the incredible versatility of the tire that was most impressive to me.

The MICHELIN Pilot Sport A/S 3 tire is designed, engineered and manufactured in North America including certain sizes made in a plant in the Halifax, NS area. It will be available in 65 sizes ranging from 175/65/R15 to 285/35/ZR20 in late Spring 2013.  Go to http://www.michelinman.com for more information.

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