You get the best out of others when you get the best out of yourself – Harvey S. Firestone
Tires are important. I didn’t fully understand that until I spent some time with the people of Bridgestone. They showed me some cool technology in the tires they produce, and gave me a chance to try them out on the track. It was not only a learning experience; it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Bridgestone is the largest tire and rubber manufacturer in the world, and also owners of the Firestone brand. This past week I was invited to attend the Bridgestone Drive and Learn day at Gillette stadium in Foxboro, MA. The event is held in 22 cities throughout the US and usually attended by tire dealers. How they got my name is suspect, but I wasn’t going to pass up a day at the track. Basically, the event is held to give the product people a chance to introduce the new tires being offered, explain the new technology and demonstrate the benefits. The day starts with a few videos highlighting the new Dueler, Potenza and Ecopia line of tires. Then the fun begins.
A team of 8 professional drivers take us out onto an autocross style track. Driving new BMW 328i sedans, we are given a chance to attack the track driving on each of the new tires. The drivers are not your average wheelmen, and the introductions reminded me of one of Richard Hammond’s Top Gear Challenge races…champion after champion. The list and their qualifications are impressive.
Brian Cole – Program Manager for Driver’s Edge and a former Skip Barber School instructor.
Jeff Barker – Driving coach for Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the Ferrari Owners club, Porsche Owners club, test driver for BMW and Viper, and NASCAR Super Truck series driver.
Dominic Cicero – Winner of the Elf-Winfield Driving championship, winner of the TelMex Grand Prix in Mexico City, stunt driver for the Leverage and Grimm TV series, and driver for Elf Oils and Renault who competed at tracks like Monza, Monaco, Daytona and the American Le Mans.
Pierre Kleinubing – 5 time champion of the SPEED Touring Car series, former Brazil Touring Car Champion and driver in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car series.
Andre Serra – Driving coach, Kart racing champ and Grand Am Continental Tire Sports Car driver
Mark Weber – Legend of the SCCA Sports Car Club of America who has competed in over 500 races as well as being an acclaimed motorsports photojournalist.
Burt Frisselle – Grand Am Rolex Sports Car series driver (Daytona prototype class).
Toby Grahouec – Sports Car Club of America SCCA National Champion, Grand Am Koni Challenge champion, US Touring Car champion and All American Ice Hockey Hall of Famer.
The driving was fun and pretty challenging. We were placed in a car with a set of the new tires, and given a few laps around the track. Once done, we switched to another car with a different set of tires and repeated the process. All in all we drove on 5 different types of tires, from the economical Ecopia line, right up to the ultimate Potenza S-04 Pole Position Ultra performance tire. The difference was amazing. All had an excellent feel and ride quality, but the more high performance the tire, the more we could molest the new BMW’s. The ultra high performance tire was the most fun. It had amazing braking and cornering capabilities, no feel of skip on spin on the tire, and returned a feeling of being really connected with the road. Even the fuel efficient Ecopia tires had an excellent feel to them. Though they were less forgiving of my driving faults, they were quiet and gave an excellent ride, all while saving serious money.
To cap off the day, we were then broken up into 4 teams and challenged to a Le Mans style race. Each team is setup in relay race style. The first guy runs to the car, buckles in and does the fastest lap he can. Once back, he is given a specific area to park (within some cones) and then runs to tag the next guy in line. Points are lost for hitting a cone, not buckling up, or parking outside the boundaries. It was a lot of fun, even though my team came in second.
So, what about the tires? Bridgestone is on the cutting edge of tire technology. The company is focusing on green tires made from things like soy and even dandelions, as well as compounds and polymers that work on a molecular level. The average design process has been reduced from 1-2 years to a month, so they can keep on that edge. Recently, the company even introduced an air-free concept tire made from thermoplastic resin which is entirely 100% recyclable. Current tires are also designed for excellent wet traction using a silica compound and futuristic stuff like 3D sipes and Particle Z.
Fuel efficiency is improved using something called NanoPro Tech which controls the interactions between the polymer, filler materials and other rubber chemicals at the molecular level. Fuel saver sidewalls help reduce rolling resistance, and computer optimized components put all the right materials in the right design to make the most fuel efficient tire possible. Add all this technology to improvements made in ride comfort, wear life, tire noise and even ride comfort and you have an amazing lineup of tires.
So, what did I learn? First, I learned that in spite of my enthusiasm for cars and racing, I am slower than your average tire dealer. Second, I learned that the right set of tires can compensate for a lot of simple mistakes in my driving. Better tires allow for slower reaction times, and can mean the difference between avoiding a crash or becoming part of one. Third, I learned that when you get an invitation to a track day, never pass it up.
Article and Photos Courtesy of Chris Raymond