“Hey Jeff, this is Michelin – we wanted to know if you’d be interested in flying out to New Orleans to drive some cars?“
“What type of driving?”
“Oh, we’re going to bring you out to the new NOLA Motorsports Park for some track-related activities? Have you been out there yet?“
“Maybe… but yes, I’m definitely interested.”
“Oh, and we’re going to talk to you about tires, specifically our new all-season ultra-high performance tire. It’s called the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 and we really think- hello? Jeff, are you still there?“
Yes, I was still on the line but my eyes started to glaze over. Track time and a trip to the Big Easy are always enjoyable. Sitting through a talk on new tire technology however, doesn’t rate super high on my BOOKITNOW-Trip-o-meter (patent pending). Even worse, I was going to have to pay attention to a talk related to an all-season tire. If tires went to high school, the all-season would be the quiet bookworm who watched the summer tires score touchdowns and lay tracks with the prom queen.
Can an all-season really be considered an ultra-high-performance tire? Time to hop on a plane bound for ‘Nawlins to find out.
The day began with a bus ride out to NOLA Motorsports Park, the new half-completed playground outside of New Orleans. The 45-minute ride was a less-than-perfect way to shake off the Bourbon Street cobwebs formed the night prior. Michelin had something in mind, however, to fix this.
Waiting at the track with engines blaring were a Ferrari 458 Italia, Porsche 911 Turbo, and a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. No, they weren’t letting us loose with these high-dollar machines. Instead, Patrick Long, Tommy Milner, and a handful of other very competent hot shoes waiting in the wings. I sat shotgun while Mr. Long did his thing, and it helped enforce the notion of just how terrible the rest of us are behind the wheel. That dude… can drive.
After the very Hoon-worthy wake-up call, we assembled for breakfast inside and we were given a break down on just why we were here. Michelin has created a brand-new tire called the Pilot Sport AS/3. It’s an extension of the Pilot Sport family, which was created in 1999, and runs all the way up to the oh-so-awesome Pilot Sport Cup tires that coddled the wheels of the Centennial Edition Z06 I drove earlier in the year.
Michelin believes both the all-season and ultra-high-performance segments are growing. It would make sense to them that the time is right for a new tire combining the best of both worlds. Does it actually make sense though? Can an all-season offer up true levels of high performance to make the enthusiast driver happy?
Michelin set up four stations throughout the NOLA complex. The first being a wet and dry braking zone involving an Infiniti G37 sedan and a stop from 60-0 miles per hour. The Infiniti would be shod in the AS/3 and also competitor tires, and each car was wired with a Racelogic box to record accurate braking distances. The driving instructor riding shotgun was from an independent company, and was not a Michelin worker.
I ran down the tarmac in the Michelin-shod G37, and the results were impressive. I managed to come to a stop in just 115.8 feet on the dry section, and I needed only 118.7 in the wet. It was time to hop into a car wearing the competition, so I set off and recorded a dry braking run of 122.2 courtesy of a set of Goodyear Eagle GT tires. Next up was the wet… where I broke the car. I went to leave the dry section, and the car was in some sort of limp mode. No warning lights, no chimes, just no power. We shut it off, turned it back on, tried again… and nothing. The car didn’t want to take another run. I was in the first group of the day, and I was already breaking shit.
So, we hopped into another competitor-wearing car. This time, the G37 was wearing Bridgestone Potenza G019 Grid tires. Set off, line it up and go, and then bring it to a stop. OK great, let’s do the wet, wait, did I just break this one too? .
…Yes. I managed to do the same exact thing. Whoops, sorry everyone else who wanted to try out the competition. There was one competitor car left, and I decided to leave it be. Later at lunch, I found out the problem happened to a few other folks, as it seems the brake sensor became overheated and reverted to a stuck on position which resulted in the decreased throttle. Not Michelin’s fault, just a weird Infiniti thing that I “helped” them discover.
Enough braking tests though, I came here to drive a little and Michelin was ready to oblige. There were two autocross courses set up, one wet and one dry. The wet one was alright, but the cars were boring. At this station we were piloting Audi A4 sedans around the course, and I’m not talking about 6MT Quattros. These were of the front-driving CVT-equipped variety. Still, with each car being similar and wearing different tires, it again became clear that the Michelin AS/3 was the correct choice in rubber. It felt like there was a lot less slip happening under heavy throttle, and the transition from grip to less grip was far more clear and progressive.
The dry autocross was far more entertaining. This was a larger course and the burbling group of Subaru WRX STI hatchbacks seemed eager to play. I may have pushed my way to the front to go first. I’m not proud of it, but I don’t regret it either. It was here with the Subies that the strengths of the Pilot Sport AS/3 came to shine most brightly. Michelin wasn’t supplying the other cars with all-seasons here, but rather the ultra-high-performance summer tires of its competition.
Alongside the AS/3 sat Subarus wearing the Pirelli P-Zero Nero, Bridgestone S-04 Pole Position, and the Continental ExtremeContact DW. This should be a quick loss for the Michelin. It was, in fact, the stunning opposite. I came in expecting the Pirelli to walk all over the competition and to see the Continental come in for a close second. The Michelin handed all three their respective rubber asses. As a matter of fact, the Pirelli felt a bit sloppy on course. Entering a turn, it needed an extra second to set, and it felt like it wanted to push a lot more than the others. The AS/3 was far more crisp and responsive, and allowed me to feel more comfortable pushing harder and faster. I was so shocked that I grabbed a nearby GoPro to record back to back runs with my thoughts. Unfortunately, the audio is a bit crap… but hopefully you can hear what I’m saying:
After the revelation that was the dry autocross, we headed over to the rear section of the big track for some laps in a Cadillac CTS. Not a V, but the 3.6. Still, there’s enough grunt to have some fun, and the entire exercise only served to drive the point home that the Michelin truly is a high-performance all-season. I pushed it in both the wet and dry with confidence. I stopped shorter in both the wet and dry compared to the rest of the competition. Finally, I was absolutely floored when the tire not only hung with the summer tires, but kicked their asses as well.
The summer tires stayed home and became townies, while the bookworm all-season went off to college and hit the gym. Forget the prom queen… the Michelin Pilot Sport AS/3 is ready to date supermodels, er – super cars.
[Disclaimer: Michelin flew me to New Orleans, put me up in a lovely hotel, and served me food at K. Pauls (I gained 37 pounds, worth it though). After that I was let loose on Bourbon St with a few other writers… something something *blank spot* alarm clock.]