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 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 out-lap, 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…