Some people are rich. They can afford a dedicated track day car plus a support crew with well-stocked toolkits and well-shod racing wheels. Good for them. The rest of us, however, who still like to turn in a few hot laps every now and then, have a different set of challenges. These are often based on different sets of tires. What works for getting us between our place of employment and home week in and week out doesn't usually hold up so well on that fast, sweeping right-hander just before the start/finish straight.
So we asked Woody Rogers of Tire Rack to give some advise on the best tires to take us from street to track and back again. The excellent Mr. Rogers is a product information specialist, and Tire Rack is the largest independent tire tester in the United States (as well as being a retailer). This is how Rogers obtains much of his product information, along with 25 years of being a track rat. He devised an ingenious two-pronged approach: trackable street tires and streetable track tires.
1 | BFGoodrich G-Force Rival
Narrower sizes have a three-rib design; wider versions use a four-rib pattern. The asymmetric tread consists of a silica-infused compound. Chamfered block edges resist that "feathering" effect caused by hard cornering and braking, while sidewall inserts help with steering feel. Sizes range from 205/50 ZR15 to 285/35 ZR20. A set of four costs from $408. Rogers remarks: "High lateral grip and very long wearing. Perfect for CrapCan racing."
2 | Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R
A newly developed compound is molded into a directional tread design with a continuous center rib flanked by large shoulders, plus "seven-shaped" multi-angle lateral grooves. The tire's symmetrical internal structure helps to keep a balanced footprint distribution during aggressive cornering. Size range: 205/50 R15 to 275/35 R19. Set of four: from $492. Rogers remarks: "Bridgestone's fastest street-legal tire."
3 | Dunlop Direzza ZII Star Spec
These Dunlops are recommended by Tire Rack as suitable for autocross and drifting as well as regular track work. They provide consistent grip over a range of temperatures. The tread is highly rigid and deflection forces are distributed along the two-ply polyester sidewalls so a driver can feel how the tire behaving at its limits. Size range: 185/60 R14 to 275/35 R19. Set of four: from $492. Rogers remarks: "Precise steering response and high-grip level."
4 | Hankook Ventus R-S3 (Version 2)
Tire Rack calls these Z222 tires "Version 2" to differentiate them from the pre-2014 range that had an older tread compound formula. It doesn't actually say "Version 2" anywhere on the sidewall. The directional tread design includes large shoulder blocks, notched intermediate ribs, and a wide center rib to make as large a contact patch as possible. Two-ply polyester sidewalls, like the Dunlop Direzza, are similarly useful when drifting. Size range: 195/50 R15 to 305/35 ZR20. Set of four: from $460. Rogers remarks: "The new Racing CarbonBlack silica tread compound comes up to optimum temperature quickly."
5 | Yokohama Advan Neova AD08 R
Not only does this tire have plenty of carbon for dry grip and Micro Silica for wet grip, its micro-molecule polymer blend also increases rigidity and wear resistance. On top of that, it features orange oil to replace some of the petroleum-based product traditionally used in tire construction for a little less environmental impact. They don't give off an orange-like smell, though. Twin circumferential center ribs, extra-wide Uniblock shoulders, and HydroArc channels. Size range: 205/50 R15 to 305/30 R19. Set of four: from $452. Rogers remarks: "Precise steering feel and strong dry traction."
6 | Toyo Proxes R1R
A double whammy of arrowhead tread design augmented by an autocross-inspired casing lets the proxes r1r into the extreme performance party. The former finds the balance between grip and water evacuation while the latter allows the driver to get on the throttle early at the exit of a corner. Toyo recently changed the r1r's uniform tire quality grade (utqg) from 140 to a 200 treadwear rating. Size range: 195/50 r15 to 265/35 zr18 (there's a 275/40 zr17, by the way). Set of four: from $468.
7 | Continental ContiForceContact
We often hear about cars being developed and tested at the renowned Nurburgring, but here's an example of a tire that underwent the same rigorous trials. The company's proprietary Black Chili compound is formulated using resins for grip at the microscopic level and molded into front/rear, size-specific asymmetric tread patterns. They're unshaved for better performance in the damp. Shaving improves performance, but that naturally affects tread life as well as traction on damp surfaces. Size range: 225/40 ZR18 to 305/30 ZR20. Set of four: from $880. Rogers remarks: "Very predictable at the limit, plus very good wet traction."
8 | Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2
Peruse the sidewalls of almost any supercar and there's a good chance they will say Michelin Pilot Sport. The Sport Cup 2 is original equipment on the Ferrari 458 Speciale, Porsche 918 Spyder and the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Coupe Black Series. Its asymmetric tread pattern features different compounds for the inner and outer regions to provide maximum cornering grip as well as precise steering feel. The company's Filament at Zero degrees (FAZ) technology combats centrifugal forces and works to keep the contact patch consistent. Size range: 235/40 ZR18 to 325/30 ZR21. Set of four: from $1,684. Rogers remarks: "A supercar tire you can use on any car."
9 | Dunlop Sport Maxx Race
This tire came as original equipment in the track package option for the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe Black Series. The compound comes from motorsport applications and is set into an asymmetric tread design with an extra-large outside shoulder block, as continuous center ribs help with steering response and stability through the corners. Size range: 235/35 ZR19 to 305/30 ZR20. Set of four: from $1,340. Rogers remarks: "Great dry grip for your track toy."
10 | Yokohama Advan A048
This tire comes in medium or medium hard compounds so it can be ideally suited to a car's weight and performance capabilities. It's probably not surprising that the Lotus Elise and Exige roll out of the factory on these race-ready tires. Tread design is a single block that brings stiffness and stability. It handles transitions from straight-line speed to high cornering forces and then back to straight-line speed with a reassuring predictability. The directional tread design and symmetrical internal construction allows remounting partially worn tires inside out to squeeze a few more miles out of them. Size range: 205/50 R15 to 295/30 R18. Set of four: from $532. Rogers remarks: "Great dry traction and a reputation for long wear—for a track tire."
11 | Falken Azenis RT615k
Tire Rack doesn't carry Falken tires, but we have a soft spot for them that's in no way swayed by the fact that the company likes to go racing with Porsches and has won championship titles. The rt615k sports an asymmetric tread pattern on either side of a solid central rib. One part of that design consists of large shoulder blocks that should inspire plenty of confidence through the corners. Size range: 195/60 r14 to 315/30 r18. Set of four: from $384 (price sourced from Pep Boys via Amazon).