Photography and video by ©2018 Toni Avery
What’s the first thing you think of when talking performance for your car? Engine modifications? Bigger brakes? Louder exhaust? Lighter weight? What about tires? Tires aren’t always considered while they can actually make the biggest difference in your cars performance. Now I’m not just talking performance on a racetrack, but also inclement weather performance, stopping performance and road noise reduction. All of these can very easily lead back to what tires your car is rolling around on.
It’s easy to walk into a big name tire shop and say, “give me the cheapest tires you have, and oh, I also have this mail in rebate.” But tires are actually one of the most important replacement parts on your car. For me, this became true when I started working at the Porsche Experience Center and drove on different brands feeling the vast performance differences. But the kool-aid didn’t fully absorb till I attended the Michelin Women In Drive Tire School. A first for the company, the program aimed to educate and further strengthen the knowledge of women in the automotive industry on a tires real importance, specifically Michelin tires.
Being one of the 20 women invited was an honor in itself, but to also be involved in the first ever event of its kind was pretty big as well. So began my adventure to South Carolina for a four-day trip on tire education.
Day one started quite early, 3:30 AM to be exact and ended late as well. After an entire day of travel, we ended with dinner walking distance from our downtown hotel. This was my first introduction to local eats and a nice beginning to the rest of the trip.
The official first day of activities started with a long car ride to the Michelin Sales Training Center and the Research and Development Center. Our group was split up into two and I was in the first to take a tour of the plant where Michelin tires are made. While no cameras were allowed, I can tell you the manufacturing process was pretty incredible. How much detail goes into a single tire is eye-opening. The thing that had the biggest impact on me was the fact that each and every tire is hand inspected.
After touring the plant, our group returned to the Sales Training Center where we spoke about the tour and more about tires. Some guest speakers came by to talk to us about their experiences with Michelin and career in the industry. From there we went on another long drive to our evening activity of indoor Go Karting.
Le Mans Karting welcomed us for an evening of friendly competition. We were all split into teams of three with one of our members being a Michelin employee. Ours was a test driver for the brand. After a quick practice session, we sent our Michelin test driver out to qualify for our group. The night ended with a ninety-minute endurance race split between the three of us, which was a lot of fun.
Day two of activities started with another long car ride, this time to the Laurens Proving Grounds where we could put our tire knowledge to the test.
We were again split into groups, and mine was first out to the giant skid pad where we tested worn front and worn rear tires in two different Ford Focus’. With the worn front tires, as you’d expect, the car understeered. Which, for the average person, is safer to correct. For drivers, like myself, we hate it. The worn rear tires created oversteer, which was more fun for me and even at the 40+mph speeds I was carrying the slides were easy to correct with quick reactions. But a lot of 360s occurred amongst the groups, which was the point of the exercise. A question was asked at the beginning of the day: if you are going to replace only two tires, which ones should they be? For the general public, understeer (front tires) is safer and easier to control, thus the rears should always be replaced first.
The second exercise was on a large wet course where we drove two different cars, a minivan on Michelin tires and a BMW 3-series on competitor tires. Starting with the BMW, I noticed how noisy the tires were. I occasionally experienced some oversteer in a few portions of the course. Once I switched to the minivan on Michelin tires, I noticed an immediate difference. Road noise was drastically reduced, the minivan actually handled better than the BMW and while there was no fun oversteer, the car did occasionally understeer. I was really impressed that even in a minivan that the tires made such a difference in the road noise in addition to the handling.
Before lunch, we made a stop to one of the road courses were we got hot laps in a Mustang GT350 R on PS4S tires driven by one of the test drivers.
After lunch we had two more exercises to complete. The first of which was a wet braking module, again with two of the same car (Hyundai Santa Fe SUVs) with one on worn Michelin tires (Premier LTX at 5/32” tread depth) and the other on Bridgestone Dueler H/L Alenza Plus (not worn). I again was surprised by the difference in performance of the two tires, being braking distance. We were told to set cruise control in both cars once up to about 40something mph and ABS brake until we fully stopped at the same spot each time. I could sense the difference right away when I completed the exercise in the second car. Once completed, I received my results and was shocked; a full thirteen feet shorter distance for the car on Michelin tires (113 feet compared to 100 feet). That’s the difference between stopping before impact and stopping because of impact. And the Michelin’s that were used were worn! If I wasn’t convinced before, I definitely was then.
The last exercise was the first on dry pavement. Two V6 Mustangs were parked at the start of a small course made of cones. One Mustang drove on Michelin PS4S tires and the other on Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position tires. While all the wet exercises showed drastic differences from competitor tires to the Michelins in multiple ways, the dry exercise didn’t show as many to me. Just like with all the past exercises, the noise level was the biggest difference. But that’s not to say I haven’t noticed a difference between Michelin tires (PS4S specifically) and other competitor brands on dry pavement. It might have been a combination of the conditions and not wanting to hit any cones in-car that wasn’t mine. At the Experience Center, the Michelin tires shine in so many ways. While they are overall better, they specifically are more quiet, under hard braking harsh tire chirping is minimal and the feel is just so much better. Video below.
The day finished up with a nice walk to a downtown steak house where we had dinner and said our final goodbyes. It went by way too fast.
I have an entirely new appreciation for Michelin tires and the brand itself. Having the opportunity to meet the people that make the company what it is, seeing how each tire is made, and being able to test them out in different conditions was amazing. I can’t express how thankful I am to have been included in this first ever Women In Drive event and to have met so many amazing women in the industry.