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 Treadwear 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 treadwear 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 quiet ride.  

 

 

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Comments

  1. Pat McNabb says:

    Great read. I like the comparisons to R-compound tires. Great photos, too.

  2. John Shen says:

    I’d be interested to know how these compare with other “Extreme Performance” tires like the Bridgestone RE-11, Yokohama ADVAN AD07/8, Dunlop Direzza Star Spec, etc.

    Having driven on them before at a Michelin event, I quite liked them, however they were being compared to some rather mediocre tires, so I wanted a more “even playing field” comparison.

  3. Agreed! I’d love to have been able to do some back-to-back testing with the RE-11 (or new RE-11A) or the new Direzzas, as well as the new BFG Rival. Simply didn’t have enough time to prepare for something that involved this time around.

    I haven’t driven on these other latest offerings, but I’d bet they probably have a very slight edge with dry grip. Of course, the life span of the tires will probably prove that, too. I have used the previous Direzza Star Specs, and while the grip was good, they simply didn’t last AND they were about the noisiest tire I’ve ever had on a car… and I used to daily drive Yokohama A032Rs for a while (which sound like Mickey Thompsons).

    I really think if you’re looking for broad spectrum, these are the go-to choice. Combining the wet and dry ability, *plus* the potential longevity of these would make them the winner for me. I don’t like replacing worn tires very often, though, so if I’m going to have an all-out track tire again, I’ll just go with a separate set of wheels/tires.