PowerflexUSA: Audi/VW Suspension

Powerflex is known for their extensive experience in automotive suspension and chassis systems, and they’ve combined these skills with advanced polyurethane manufacturing techniques to bring some of the best aftermarket solutions to the automotive industry.

PowerflexUSA recently announced the latest innovations from their product engineers designed specifically for the incredibly-popular Volkswagen and Audi PQ35 platform vehicles: VW Golf Mk5/Mk6, Passat, Scirocco, Audi A3, S3, and TT. On top of the usual high-performance and longevity benefits of the Powerflex product line, these latest offerings also provide suspension geometry adjustability.

85-501G fitted web-600


The Powerflex Front Wishbone Front Bush Camber Adjustable (PFF85-501G) features a CNC-machined stainless steel sleeve with an offset bore that can be rotated using the supplied Powerflex tool. The adjustability offers +/- 0.5 degrees of on-car camber adjustment, and it’s designed to complement the new Front Wishbone Rear Bush Anti-Lift & Caster Adjust that fits into the rear position of the same arm to provide anti-lift and caster adjustability.


The Powerflex Front Wishbone Rear Bush Anti-Lift & Caster Adjust (PFF85-502G) is Powerflex’s complete bracket and new polyurethane bushing that fits into the rear position of the front arm. This bushing setup increases the stiffness of the bushing by 120% at a load of 4000N, and it allows for caster adjustment of 1 degree and 7.5mm of additional anti-lift properties.

The Street option durometer provides the ideal balance of performance with minimal changes in NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness). For drivers with dedicated track cars and race cars looking for optimal performance without any concerns with NVH, their Black Series part increases stiffness by another 43%, to give a 214% increase in stiffness over the original part.

Assem bush and bracket coloured 2

The full bracket kit comes with Powerflex bushing pre-installed and is ready to be installed straight onto the car using brand-new corrosion-resistant bolts.!

On top of the increased performance and longer life of quality polyurethane versus stock rubber, all PowerflexUSA bushings come with a Lifetime Warranty. This means you essentially never have to buy replacement bushings again.

PFF85-502G from Powerflex on Vimeo.


Sunday Funday – In the Snow?

I was lucky enough to go to a testing day at Heartland Park a couple of weeks ago, and it was great!  Temperatures started in the mid-teens, and the rose to a balmy 20 degrees as the day went on.

I happened to have just installed brand-new high-performance all-season tires that I was anxious to test, as I’ve always been a summer tire fan – especially because most all-seasons have seemed useless from my experience in the past. The full tread on the new Michelin PSAS3s  added a level of squirm on track, but I was thoroughly impressed with them on despite the sub-freezing temps, or maybe because of them.  Even from the outlap, grip was shockingly good for the conditions.  Driving levels never exceeded 60-70%, however, as this was really just a day to test recent revisions to the track surface. We didn’t have emergency vehicles on hand, and I like to get home to my family at the end of the day, so no one was pushing too hard on the semi-frozen surface.  That said, the tires were extremely impressive!

Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3

Even with patches of snow at the track’s edge and ambient temperatures well below freezing, the PSAS3s offered substantially more grip than expected.

I didn’t expect tire pressures to go up muchbecause of the ambient temps, so I was surprised to have seen an increase of 5 PSI after a few laps.  No doubt that came from heat generated by a combination of tread squirm and longer braking zones—it was 20 degrees after all, but the tires were working hard.  Very good stuff!

As of last night, however, I’m really wishing I had gotten some of the X-Ice 3 snow tires for the real winter weather.  I’ve been a huge proponent of dedicated winter tires since some back-to-back testing I did for European Car Magazine a couple of years ago, but I figured I’d give the PSAS3s a serious shakedown this season.

Last night we had a whole lot of sleet and freezing rain, and I had to zip down to the grocery store.  Okay, maybe I didn’t “have to,” but it was a good excuse to have some slip-sliding fun on the short drive. I had the option of taking out our skinny-tire wearing FWD car, which made more sense, but I’m not always sensible, so a wider footprint and RWD was my only real choice, wasn’t it?

It was downright spooky!  Sure, even real winter tires would’ve struggled somewhat, but the would’ve had a much more progressive nature in the foul stuff.  All was fine at very low speeds, but I did some brake testing and even at 5 mph the ABS system was going crazy with a hard push of the brake pedal.  Not a big deal, as I leave plenty of room and try to plan ahead, but still a little frightening.  The hilarity came from acceleration tests, though.  Again, all was fine at a very mellow pace, but I did some rolling tests at just 20 MPH in 3rd gear which resulted in very impressive wheel spin.

There’s really not a negative thing to be said about the PSAS3s in those conditions, as this isn’t what they were designed for, but that doesn’t make testing any less fun. They did great on the slushy stuff, but with a layer of ice underneath plenty of caution would be mandatory on even the best winter tires.

Michelin PSAS3 tread

You can clearly see the tread of the PSAS3s doing a nice job of finding grip and channeling out the slushy stuff, but the layer of ice underneath was the real concern.

Today we’ve got 3-4″  of snow on the ground, so I think it might be a great day to test the real “light snow” abilities.  I sense a Sunday Funday ahead…


Michelin Pilot Super Sport: Review

Pilot Super Sports T8 Rain

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

We’re in the middle of some rather exciting times in the automotive world.  Car manufacturers are having an all-out horsepower war that’s almost frightening—if you have to occasionally ride right seat at subsonic speeds anyway.  Tire manufactures haven’t hesitated to wage war against one another either.

The line between extreme-performance street tires and DOT-R competition tires seems to grow increasingly blurry as time goes on, and there are street tires now which rival some favorite track day tires.  Add in the extended life of the new generation of extreme-performance tires and that line gets all but erased with the prospect of being able have one set of tires for both street and track.  
Note: I’m not referring to those looking for absolute maximum grip and lowest possible lap times, obviously.

Michelin has long been renowned for their line of high-performance tires, and they’ve been standard issue on many high-end sports cars and exotics for about as long as I can remember.  I don’t hide the fact that I’m a BMW fan (most of us being closet Porsche fans), but I recall vividly when the ’95-’99 M3 was popping up in just about every car magazine you can name, and was always lauded for it’s incredible handling right out of the box.  Michelin was supplying their most extreme tire of that era, the Pilot SX MXX3.  A good deal of the crisp turn-in and overhaul handling ability of the E36 M3 in stock form came from the tires. Most new BMW M cars continue to be supplied with latest-generation Michelins.

The Pilot Sport, which came out next, was known to have good wet-weather abilities, but was never much of a favorite among those looking for ultimate handling.  That, of course, was back when you had to compromise between a tires ability in the wet versus dry.  The original MXX3s, for instance, weren’t the most confidence inspiring tires in the rain.  Not that I’d know (he says with guilty eyes).

Then, at some point around 2004-2005 they released the Michelin Pilot Sport 2 (PS2) in which they seemed to magically blend wet-weather abilities with dry-weather grip.  I had a set and was “stuck” driving on my them for a weekend at Sears Point in Sonoma, CA and  also spent a full lapping day at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, CA.  That set of tires turned me into someone who actually enjoyed driving in the rain.  Needless to say, I came away thoroughly impressed.  Not to the point where I’d leave the idea of R-compound tires behind, but impressed nonetheless.

Michelin PSS on E36 M3 - Alignment

“New” car getting a pre-track alignment after some suspension bushing rehab.

Fast forward to 2013.  I find myself once again owning an E36 M3 with a track weekend on the horizon and in need of some tires.  Being a little further into the age of wisdom now (i.e. I’m getting old), I don’t necessarily want to swap wheels around all the time, nor am I on track a few times a month anymore.  It’s more like a few times per year now, and track rubber doesn’t really like to be stored for long periods of time, so an all-around, run-what-you-brung sort of tire sounded appealing.

Michelins have always been high on my list, but I’d lost touch with keeping up on the street tire technology over the years since I started going with less expensive options in order to maximize racing budget.  With my racing “career” on hiatus, I canvased a few friends in motorsports who’d made similar transitions to see what they were driving on.  The big name that kept coming back  was the Michelin Pilot Super Sports (PSS).  Based on my experience with the PS2s back in the mid-2000s, it seemed like a no-brainer.  Even if they just performed identically to the PS2s, I’d be very happy.

Granted, the Pilot Super Sports aren’t exactly brand-new to the tire scene.  They were actually released in 2011, but remember that the PS2 design was around for several years while others were trying to catch up, and is still available now.  The Super Sports bridge the gap that no one knew existed… Between the PS2 and their race-tire sibling, the Pilot Sport Cups (PSC).  Near-PSC levels of grip plus much-hyped abilities in the wet?  Seemed like an easy choice, really.

Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cutaway

Photo courtesy of MichelinMan.com

The Super Sports have a Bi-compound tread design.  The outer  shoulders are inspired by Michelin’s multiple LeMans victories and offer very impressive dry grip in cornering and under braking.  The inner portion of the tread design utilizes the latest generation of their wet-weather elastomers.  As great as these are in the dry, their wet-weather stability deserves a category of it’s own.  Truly incredible.

They also employ their new Twaron belt technology which increases stability at high speeds and keeps the wear even across the tires.  (They have some videos available here.)  I can attest that they are extremely stable at speed, and even with a camber-challenged car at the moment, I didn’t get the amount of wear on the outside shoulders that I was expecting after a few days at Heartland Park of Topeka.  Of course, a good chunk of that time was in wet conditions, so time will tell…

Michelin Pilot Super Sport Tread

Photo courtesty of MichelinMan.com

Most people expect a good wet-weather tire to have some sort of a V-pattern for water evacuation.  Just looking at these Pilot Super Sports you wouldn’t think they were designed for anything more than light rain.  Having tested them on track in heavy downpours with standing water, however, I can honestly say these are easily the best tires I’ve ever experienced in wet weather.  They’ve obviously put some sort of voodoo magic into them.  It’s to the point that I was laughing to myself as I could seemingly break the laws of physics while testing them at Heartland Park of Topeka…

“Test” Weekend – Heartland Park of Topeka

While the car was relatively “new” to me, it’s a chassis I’m incredibly familiar with, so getting in touch with the car itself wasn’t a problem.  Luckily, the first day of this 3-day event provided as much wet-weather driving as one could ask for, so, after a warm-up session to get reacquainted with the track, it was all about getting a feel for the tires and where their limit was in the wet. 

E36 M3 Michelin PSS HPT T8 Rain

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

It was the first day of a non-competition weekend and I was in my daily driver and I forgot to sign up for track insurance in time for the weekend, so 10/10ths was definitely not on my to-do list.  That being said, I wasn’t exactly driving Miss Daisy around either, so try as I did, I was never able to find the absolute limit in the rain.  A couple of other fellow racer/instructors who took rides with me also commented on the prodigious grip in the rain.

E36 M3 Michelin PSS - Wet

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

Later in the day as the rain continued to dump on us, it got to a point where you could drive the car as if it were on dry asphalt.  Sure, you still had to avoid painted surfaces and be comfortable with the car moving around a bit under threshold braking, as well as moving a bit through the one heavy river running across turn 8, one of the faster parts of the track, but the overall performance of the PSSs in the wet was jaw-droppingly good. 

E36 M3 Michelin PSS T4 - Damp

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

What about the dry, where most people really care about performance?  Well, the Super Sports are no slouch at all. I’d go so far as to say that they’re the best street tire I’ve driven on track.  Getting the hot air pressures right takes a bit more patience than with R-compounds, but once dialed in (I found 34-35 hot to be about the sweet spot on these), they felt great.  Even with a car on stock suspension for the time being (only minor negative camber added to the front), I was surprised at how little understeer there was.  And this is on a chassis which is known to push hard in stock form.  

Yes, you give up a little bit of ultimate grip to DOT-R tires, but not as much as you’d expect and their extremely easy to drive at their limit with just enough slip angle to be really enjoyable.  The only places where they give up an edge to real track tires is under heavy braking in the dry and initial turn-in response.  

While turn-in isn’t quite as crisp as R-compounds,it’s still not bad at all.  You simply take a slightly different initial set at turn-in and all is well.  On the street this is actually a good thing, as it means the front end isn’t darting around on the road.  Factor all that in with only needing one set of wheels and tires and not having to change anything at the track, and these become a no-brainer decision.

Another ridiculous plus to these tires is the UTQG Treadware rating.  The old Pilot SX MXX3s were very good in their day, but lacked wet-weather confidence and tended to wear down rather quickly with spirited driving.  They had a treadware rating of 140.  The PS2s I used to love so much were great in the rain, very good in the dry and had a pretty decent life expectancy, though the price made you want to eek just a little more out of them.  They were rated at 220 and had a 20,000-mile warranty.

The Pilot Super Sports, which take after the PS2s but do everything better, have a 30,000-mile warranty and a UTQG rating of 300!  That’s better than some of Michelin’s luxury performance tires, yet you can spend weekends on the race track with these.

Michelin PSS SidewallSome may argue that there are other choices on the market which will edge these out on a dry track or autocross course.  That may be true, but there are really no compromises with these.  With most other choices in this segment, it seems you have to choose 2 out of 3 qualities you want, but here you get fantastic dry performance,  ridiculous wet-weather capabilities and a comfortable and quite ride.  




HJC Si-12: Lightweight Brain Bucket


As the saying goes, “How much is your head worth?” Don’t skimp on the safety equipment.

More often than not, expiration dates on safety gear can be a real pain. Sometimes, however, they can be a blessing in disguise.

“Luckily,” my old Snell 2000 helmet was expired, and not just because of the stench of over 10 years of heavy use. I was forced to find something new, and it wasn’t going to be the same make or model this time around.

My biggest priorities this time were quality and lightness followed by comfort, but the price had to be realistic, too. I came across many carbon fiber helmets in my search, but the prices were often a bit shocking or the quality looked like it might be a bit sub-par.

Then I started finding a constant theme when searching for lightweight helmets… The HJC Motorsports name kept coming up, and specifically the Si-12 model. Surprisingly enough, HJC has a carbon fiber helmet which looks extremely cool, but the Si-12 is actually lighter… Their lightest, in fact, as it features their “Advanced Super Lite Composite Weave Shell,” and I can attest to how light it is.

HJC Si-12

HJC’s super lightweight and extremely comfortable Si-12 helmet.

Holding my old helmet in one hand and the new Si-12 in the other, you quickly notice the Si-12 being much lighter, but it’s not until you put it on your head after wearing something else that you really notice the difference.  When the weight is being supported by your neck, even ounces make a difference.  Compound that with the momentum and inertia of the normal forces on track (cornering loads, acceleration, braking), let alone the amount of force generated if something goes awry on track, and those differences are magnified exponentially.  Fatigue is obviously the most prevalent benefit of a lighter helmet, but neck-snappy safety is the real concern.

The true test for me was three back-to-back days on track after being missing in action for just over a full year. With combined driving of my personal car and instructing/coaching for three out of four sessions on a busy, high-speed track with some long sweepers, I ended up with precisely zero muscle soreness in my neck at the end of the weekend.

It used to be that I’d get sore after just one day with my old helmet if it had been a while since I wore it, and I work out regularly, so it wasn’t a weak neck so much as a ridiculously heavy helmet. It doesn’t hurt that the new helmet just looks so much better than my old one, and it also has actual working ventilation (Advanced Channeling Ventilation System), which seemed non-existent on the old one, despite the slots it had. It’s also pre-drilled for a HANS device and comes with a very nice hemet bag/case.

Of course, aside from just the lightness, comfort and even looks, I’d have to say that new-helmet smell is a pretty big plus at this point.

HJC Deluxe Bag

HJC’s helmets come with their Deluxe Helmet Bag at no additional cost.
Photo courtesy of HJC Motorsports.

HJC Si-12

HJC Si-12, also available in rubbertone black for those who want a well-heated head in the summer and like the matte black look.


Curves: Soulful Driving

Dream RoadsWhile there’s no hiding the fact that I love cars, it’s not always just the mechanical, technological, aural or aesthetic aspects I love most.  In fact, depending on the car, any one of those aspects falls a distant second to the one thing I love most about cars… Driving them.

Anyone with a passion for driving has a favorite road or two, but even those of us with a mental notebook of our personal favorites also have the dream roads we’ve never driven, which we keep on our driving bucket list.

While we have some pretty good mountain roads in the U.S., and some that are genuinely great, it’s hard not to acknowledge some of the absolutely incredible roads and mountain passes across Europe.  Some of it is just the scenery, but that’s a big part of what makes these roads so amazing.  The curves and switchbacks are obviously a huge part of the equation.  Part of what makes these European dream roads so extraordinary is that they seem to have been constructed around the European landscape, rather than through it, as is often the case in the U.S.

As I was doing some recent road day dreaming I happened to come across the Curves-Magazin website dedicated to these exact roads, and to what they refer to as “Soulful Driving.”  They publish periodicals with some of the most breathtaking images and they also have route maps, key places to visit and even recommended hotels and restaurants. 

I ordered up CURVES 2 Borders – Soulful Driving and it arrived within just a couple of days—you’ve got to love international air shipments.  The book shows some of the most spectacular mountain passes between Italy and Switzerland, including the rather famous Stelvio Pass.  As you can see in the sample gallery below, it’s rather easy to spend a lot of time simply staring at the photographs and letting your imagination run wild.  As much as I’d like to understand the text, it’s really all about the pictures anyway… At least until you actually book your trip. 

It’s a 224-page softcover book with 150 stunning photos.  The only problem (for me anyway) is that it’s all in German, so it may be time to invest in some Rosetta Stone language lessons.  The reality is that it doesn’t matter what language it’s written in, though.  It’s really all about the images… Until the European road trip gets planned anyway.

 This is just 20 of the 150 awe-inspiring photos:

Curves 2 Borders - Soulful Driving

Available at Curves-Magazin.com


Maxxis RC-1: Fast Track On a Budget

Maxxis RC-1

The new Maxxis RC-1 race & track day tire.

Thanks to friends at SCTS Racing in SoCal, I was able to test a shockingly good tire recently.  It was a set of the new-to-the-track-scene Maxxis Victra RC-1 tires.

If the pricing information that we’ve heard is correct, the Maxxis RC-1 should quickly become the track day tire of choice once officially released.  They’ll likely become the race tire of choice, too, for those who are looking for a great combination of grip, predictability, longevity and budget-friendly pricing.

Maxxis RC-1 Size Chart

Initial size offerings for the Maxxis RC-1 tires.

During testing in a heavy 3,700-lb car, I was impressed by the overall level of grip. Although we were short on time to prepare for the weekend of testing and thus unable to get a track alignment done in time, there was never  a hint of understeer (that wasn’t driver-induced anyway). As confidence levels grew, and a bit more slip angle was introduced,  the Maxxis RC-1s were incredibly predictable and extremely easy to control.

Watch for these to be seen on many fast cars at future events.


Carbon Fiber Seats for Your Man Cave

While it may not look like the most comfortable office chair in the world, if I ever put a nice table in the man cave, it’s absolutely going to be surrounded with a few of these carbon fiber seats from GruppeM.

GruppeM is well known for high-end, hand-built carbon fiber intakes, titanium exhausts and some very nice aero pieces, but now they seem to have just created a whole new level of home furnishings for the ultimate man cave.  Not just a standard looking chair made of carbon, they took it to another level by styling them as racing seats.

The body and base are made of real hand-crafted carbon fiber —not an overlay—with a nice wrap-around effect for all those lateral Gs you might experience at the table.  Whether eating, drinking, playing cards or watching an F1 race,  support is always a good thing.

The chair is one solid piece, and while it’s made of a hard resin, it’s designed to feel both warm and “soft,” by their description.  No luck convincing them to send one to my “lab” for testing, unfortunately.  

As with their carbon intakes, the seats are completely handmade with serial number plates.  Shipping is direct from Japan, so you can’t just go pick them up, but the 2-4 week wait would be worth it.