If there is one thing in the automotive trade that struggles to capture any emotion or excitement at the time of purchase, it surely must be tyres. They tend to be viewed as an item that, along with engine oil, is purely an evil necessity bought purely on a cost factor unless high performance is key.
Tyre safety is too many times overlooked, which I find staggering considering your average passenger car is planted to the ground by nothing more than a surface area equivalent to four small envelopes. But tyre technology has leapt forward in huge advances over recent years which is why we grabbed the chance to test an all new product. The plane tickets arrived and I was off to Gatwick – I really do hate flying so I hoped the weekend would be fun and educational.
Bridgestone is the world’s largest maker of vehicle tyres (if you exclude Lego that is) and I was invited to put the new ‘Adrenalin’ tyre through its paces on track. What makes this new product special and, of course relevant to our love of MG and Rover, is the fact it has been purely designed as a non-OE tyre developed specifically for aftermarket purposes as a performance upgrade in sizes up to 18-inch. They claim the tyre has the best dry/wet weather performance possible – on a very wet weekend in Spain, just how did they stack up?
At first light we were all up and ready for the coaches to take the party of over 70 journalists and bloggers from all over Europe to Ascari. Arriving at the stunning private track, we were split into groups and listened intently as Bridgestone development staff, along with ex-Tyrrell F1 and Touring Car driver Stefano Modena, went through the planned schedule.
For those who don’t know, the Ascari resort is nothing more than stunning. The grounds and views of the local mountains takes your breath away and make Silverstone look like a regional Stock car track. However, if you happen to be a billionaire Dutch businessman and you are nifty with a cement mixer and a tar burner, you too can have one of the most impressive racing circuits money can buy. Banked corners, long straights and some eye watering hairpins all feature on this private raceway along with slaloms and skid pans – it really is quite something to see and experience – in fact, I strongly recommend a visit.
After some initial instruction (in German) from driving instructor Marcus Gedlich, our first sample of the Potenza Adrenalin RE002 would be to drive an Audi TT quattro along a straight section weaving through some tightly positioned cones. The road of course was soaking due to the rain, but the first thing I noticed after a couple of practice runs was the sheer grip on offer. I have driven many new cars in the dry seeming to offer less grip under evasive conditions so, as a consequence, I was impressed. The rain eased off for a while making the next experience a better example of the new tyres driving traits in finer weather.
Audi A3 2.0 models were supplied for this exercise simulating a family car environment, two were fitted with the RE002 Adrenalin and a similar number fitted with Bridgestone Turanzas. A seriously high-speed drive took place around the straight, banked and hairpin section of the circuit and, again, there was a marked improvement. I drove the car with the older tyre design first followed by the Adrenalin and the difference, though small, was a marked one. Steering reactions seemed quicker, more confident and almost leech-like in grip during hard fast banked cornering – it’s a fun tyre, but a safe one too.
The last challenge undertaken by our group of over 70 bloggers and website owners was a skid pan and slalom test in a fleet of current Volkswagen Golfs, again testing the two types of Bridgestone tyre under arduous conditions. Slaloms and chicanes were laid out on this part of the circuit which tested the tyres abilities under aquaplaning and evasive lane changing scenario in extreme wet weather. Again, the two types performed well and I drove the wheels off these cars, but again by a small but noticeable margin the RE002 had more grip and response through the wheel – but a margin large enough to differentiate between life or death.
A serious situation on the road requires not only a level of skill but a huge amount of built in safety from the car also. Some testers expected to see a night and day difference between the new and existing tyre design which is, of course, impossible to achieve on a standard road car. The key thing is the compromise between grip and all-weather safety – a lengthy topic of debate between myself, Stefano and Bridgestone Business Analyst, Peer Ischreyt. Traditionally a performance-orientated tyre would be of soft compound with ultra re-enforced sidewalls offering a good grip but sacrificing ride traits.
The new tyre feels harder in compound, but some clever design touches to the tread pattern, including a plough-like accelerator feature that spreads the water aside and away from the tread faster than before, makes an effective all-weather tyre. A harder compound also means cooler running and longer life expectancy than your usual high performance tyre too so it certainly looks and feels like an impressive balance of longevity, grip, performance and ride. Cars like the MG TF, ZS 180 and the larger capacity ZT – models already known for their prowess under duress – will surely benefit from these impressive tyres.
My thanks go to Andy Dingley and the team at Bridgestone Europe for a great and eye opening weekend that had everyone revved-up about a feature so many of us simply fit and forget – car tyres!