When Michelin launches a new tire, they go all out. Over 60 "market influencers"—also know as journalists, bloggers, social-media mavens, and car-club officials—attended the launch of the new Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 in Louisiana, an event billed, "New tire. New Track. New Orleans."
Kudos to Michelin, because I couldn't think of a more appropriate venue or city to host the event. The NOLA Motorsports Park is an absolutely beautiful facility, with every amenity you would ever want in a race track—and it's only 30 minutes from Bourbon Street.
Upon arrival, we were treated to some down-home southern hospitality, with a tour of the French Quarter and then a three-course meal at the famous K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen—you know, the seasoning guy. Marketing officials from Michelin, along with Mr. Bib—more commonly known as the "Michelin Man"—were on hand to welcome us.
After each eating our weight in dessert, and getting a good night's rest, it was time to put the new Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 through the paces at NOLA Motorsports Park. The anticipation of what was in store was building as our shuttle bus neared the track entrance. As we pulled up to the garage area we could see a fleet of exotic cars with a host of professional road racers lined up on the front stretch waiting to provide hot lap rides for all those who weren't afraid to do 150-plus-mph after eating a plate (or two) from the breakfast buffet. Patrick Long, Tommy Milner, Colin Braun, and friends provided high-speed rides—to all—around the 2.75 mile, 16-turn track with a 3,300 foot front straight. This was nearly everyone's first glimpse of the track as it was completed in late 2011—and what a great first impression it made!
After hot lap rides and breakfast we were led into the presentation area where we were briefed on the days activities and what to expect. Michelin had organized the day into four different driving events including a wet autocross, 60-0 braking, dry autocross, and road course testing. At each station we would be comparing the new Pilot Sport A/S 3 to at least three competitor models—that's what you call confidence in your product's performance. When the brief introduction and welcome concluded it was time to go play!
First up was the wet autocross in Audi A4s where we quickly learned there was a big difference in Michelin's tire verse the competition. In each comparison we drove on Michelin PSAS3s back-to-back with a competing tire company's offering. The grip and consistency of the PSAS3 was truly unmatched by any of the other tires as countless cones were launched into the air by A4s on non-Michelin rubber. Those who hadn't participated in a tire test before were especially surprised by the big gap in performance among major tire brands. It really was eye-opening.
After tossing the A4s around in the simulated rain conditions it was time for some 60-0 wet and dry braking tests in G37 Infinitis. With the assistance of an onboard computer and professional driving school instructor we measured our braking distances with four different sets of tires along the front stretch. Once again there were stark contrasts in the performance of each tire with Michelin beating the competition by a large margin again. Each tire seemed to have a personality of its own. A competing tire could be acceptable under dry braking, but then fail miserably under wet braking conditions. Much of the "personality" can be attributed to the compound and tread pattern technology that each company employs.
The third test was the dry autocross laid out in the paddock area with 6-speed manual Subaru WRX STIs. By now, we already knew what the outcome of the test was going to be and just wanted to have some fun driving the turbo wagons through the maze of cones. Once again the PSAS3 was superior under braking and in lateral grip, but not just against other all-season tires, this test was done against the best summer tires on the market. If that doesn't inspire confidence in the Pilot Sports A/S 3, then I'm not sure what will. This particular exercise was so fun that pro drivers Colin Braun and Tommy Milner couldn't resist and laid down some impromptu tire squealing laps before they were told to take it easy and get back to mingling with us "market influencers."
Finally, it was time to put it all together on the shorten road course layout in Cadillac CTS-Vs. I must say, it felt really good to turn some laps around the road course after staring at the track from afar all day. In this exercise we were able to test the stability of the tire with some high-speed cornering and braking. The PSAS3 provided excellent balance and equal front and rear traction without the surprise understeer or oversteer experienced in other tires. Each lap turned on the Michelin tire was smooth, consistent, and drama free—something you look for in a great street tire.
When the day had concluded there was a final briefing in the presentation area and we were given the link to the photo gallery were we could see our smiling faces in action—watch out Facebook!
All-in-all, no one launches and a builds a tire like Michelin does and there was no better setting for the occasion than the new NOLA Motorsports Park. The experience not only opened everyone's eyes to the performance gap among tire brands, but to what the future of road racing facilities looks like in America.
Make sure to look out for the new Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3, coming to market in summer 2013. You won't be disappointed!—Chris Hennecy
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