With proper rubber, even a boring family car can be fun on an F1 circuit.
We’ve said it multiple times before, but tyres really do make a world of difference to the way a car drives. But what if you take that thinking to the extreme? What happens when you put semi slick tyres on a completely standard family car and bring it to a race track?
For anyone who loves driving fast, trackdays are a must-do, even if only occasionally. They provide speed junkies a chance to get their fix in a safe environment unburdened with the stresses of traffic and law enforcement, and are the ultimate way for the average Joe car owner to test themselves and level up their driving skills.
But out there on track, the driving is several magnitudes harsher and more intense than anything on public roads, and to be frank your typical street tyre just doesn’t cut it – not even the best UHP street tyres like our AUTA 2022 winner, the Bridgestone Potenza Sport.
That’s where semi slick tyres (or more technically, Ultra-ultra High Performance or Extreme Performance tyres) come in. Thanks to much softer compounds, larger tread blocks, and stiffer construction, such tyres provide much higher levels of grip and maintain them for far longer before overheating, which results in a far more satisfying experience.
Which is why when it came to my first Sepang trackday, it was a no-brainer for me to buy a set. Even though the car in question – a 2006 Mitsubishi Grandis – is as unsporty as a car can be, that didn’t mean I wouldn’t be driving it as fast and as hard as it would go…
For expediency reasons, I ended up going for a mixed set of tyres on the car: Nexen N Fera SUR4Gs on the front axle and Yokohama Advan AD08Rs on the rear. With this sort of driving it’s not exactly best practice to mix-n-match tyres, but in my case the car’s setup is stable enough and the two tyre models are close enough in grip to not be an issue.
So, what does fitting super sticky tyres on an MPV feel like? Well for starters, they make your steering heavier, so parking and 3-point turns take that much more effort. Depending on tyre model they can also be a little or a lot noisier on the highway, and if you run them long-term you’ll probably see a reduction in fuel economy too. And beware driving in heavy rain, because the decreased number of grooves mean they’ll be inundated by standing water much more easily.
On a dry race track though, they’re an absolute joy. As you’d expect, they cling to Sepang’s smooth tarmac like a lizard clings to walls. No matter how fast you think you’re going, reset assured it’s your bravery that’ll give up long before the tyres do.
The way they’re constructed gives you the information and confidence to drive harder too. Their stiffness adds a degree of reassuring weightiness to the steering, while their squarer shoulders provide a clearer definition between grip and slip, giving you more precise feedback that allows you to maximise the tyres without going over the limit.
And through it all they supposedly have the thermal resilience to keep taking the abuse lap after lap after lap. I say ‘supposedly’ because my car’s cooling system couldn’t last long enough for me to get enough consecutive laps in to trouble the tyres.
One interesting side effect is that because the Grandis’s suspension was never designed to handle such intense cornering forces, the body rolls so much that in some corners i’m literally having to look out the windscreen at a 45deg angle!
Overall though, trackday tyres don’t drastically change the handling characteristics of your car, they simply expand the amount of liberties you can take dynamically. But if your car is badly set up or you drive like you have hooves for hands, then be in no doubt that you absolutely can still find yourself spinning off in a cloud of your own vapourised rubber.
Semi slick tyres won’t miraculously turn you into a driving god, and unless you see yourself regularly going to the track, there isn’t much point to running them on the road. A decent set of UHP tyres will be more than adequate for whatever level of brisk driving you might want to engage in; if you think you’ll need more grip than that, then maybe you should pause to reconsider your life choices before you cause a collision. Ultimately though, fitness for purpose is the key to a good time, and trackdays are 100% the purpose for these tyres. They certainly played a huge part in the fun I had, even despite the handicap of driving a boat on track…
Wanna know the full story about why I was mad enough to bring an MPV to a trackday? check out my article over on Burnpavement.com!