You'd think picking out the right wheels and tires for your whip would be easy. Find the style you like from the brand you trust in the diameter you think you need, and then, with whatever money you've got left over, wrap whatever tires you can afford around them.
Turns out you've been doing it wrong all along. Your car's wheels and tires are the most important things keeping your Civic from handling, stopping, and moving the way you'd hoped it would. All of which means things like your wheels' offset, your tires' compound, and your suspension's alignment settings that make it all work just got really important. Understand that what works for the guy tracking his FR-S probably won't do a lick of good for you and your Prelude and all of a sudden you're on the right track. Behold, the following are eight different setups that've been tested, proven to work, and are now laid out before your very eyes.
Practicality is the name of the game here. A true street car ought to be able to turn, slam on the brakes, and pull into taco shop driveways without mangling up things like fenders and front spoilers and without the sort of excessive camber that'll chew up those brand-new tires you can't afford to replace again.
'91 Mazda Miata
Oscar Jackson Jr. classifies his first-generation Miata as such: "It's a street car that's track friendly." Getting the best of both worlds usually means compromises have to be made, but with a car like the Miata, that isn't always necessary. Jackson opted for 949 Racing's 6UL wheels in the elusive 15x8-inch size and with an offset of +36 mm. Before the 6UL, an 8-inch-wide rim in that diameter wasn't easy to find and is critical to the sort of grip Jackson expects when matched with the 205/50-15 Dunlop Direzza ZII tires he's got. "It's an affordable and strong wheel that only weighs about 11.5 pounds," he says. Alignment changes aren't terribly exciting, and that's mostly because it's a Miata, which happens to be set up well to begin with. According to Jackson, toe's been set to 0 degrees up front and -2 degrees of camber have been introduced all around. "We're looking for [good] tire life as well as performance and something that fits properly," he says. "You'll get the maximum contact patch if you set up your wheels, tires, and alignment like this."
'14 Mitsubishi Evo X
Even if you don't plan on relegating your Evo to the track, setting it up as if it were to tear things up on the road course will never be a bad idea. That's the path Rowie Landicho followed, which made the occasional track days he'd later take part in a whole lot easier to prepare for. The setup starts with 10.5-inch Advan TCIII wheels wrapped in 275/35-18 Toyo Proxes T1 Sport tires. Besides being a fan of Advans, Landicho appreciates the wheels' flow-formed construction, which means they're strong, lightweight, and something he could afford. And their width and +20mm offset, he says, "is the perfect fit for something that's functional and streetable." All of this gives Landicho the aggressive look he was after but without having to stretch its tires on for clearance. "I wanted a beefy look, but 265s would've stretched themselves on too much so I went with these; they're the perfect size tire for a 10.5-inch wheel." Alignment changes are conservative and are made up of nothing more than -1 degrees of camber at each corner, which helps promote better traction as weight unloads onto the tires while cornering.
Here, besides horsepower, it's traction that wins races, and it need only be generated in a straight line, which means what wheels and tires you think you need just got a whole lot simpler. And complicated. You think you need the biggest pair of wrinkled-up slicks you can fit underneath your front or back end and you're wrong. Go too big and, at best, go a whole lot slower than you'd planned on and, at worst, be prepared to snap all sorts of drivetrain bits.
'90 Honda CRX
Breaking the 9-second barrier without any sort of forced induction in a FWD Honda isn't easy, requires a whole lot of traction, and is something driver Nalani Whatley and husband and crew chief John know all too well how to do. Racing slicks up front are mandatory here as are the lightest wheels the Whatleys could find, which, in this case, happen to be 8.5x15-inch Weld Magnums with 5-inch backspacing that weigh a scrawny 10 pounds each. (Backspacing is a product of offset and is often the preferred unit of measurement with wheels designed for drag racing.) "The lightweight wheels," John Whatley says, "help reduce rotational weight, thus freeing up power to the wheels, which results in [better] acceleration." It's the 26-inch-tall M&H Racemaster slicks that allow the CRX to lay down the 1.36-second 60-foot time that it does without any sort of traction control, though. "Slicks are designed for the sole purpose of getting us as much traction as possible," he says. "These get us through an entire season without them needing to be replaced." Out back, the less tire that contacts the pavement, the better. Here, spindle-mounted Weld Magnum rims weighing just 7 pounds each are wrapped in skinnies (ultra-slim and lightweight tires) that reduce rolling resistance and keep the CRX's curb weight down. Alignment settings don't get a whole lot simpler when going in a straight line, of which the most crucial point to consider is the CRX's toe, which must remain between 0 degrees and an 1/8 inch inward in order to reduce any potential tire drag and to promote stability at higher speeds.
Traction's just as important here as it is on the dragstrip, albeit slightly more complicated. Bungle up things like fitment and your alignment and you won't only go slower, you'll destroy an otherwise perfectly good set of tires in a hurry.
'02 BMW M3
There was a time when Tony Jackson's E46 hauled him back and forth to work, but nowadays it's almost strictly a track car, and its wheel, tire, and suspension setup reflects that. It's all based on 18x9.5-inch Advan Racing GT rims that with their +22mm offset allow the 285/30-18 Yokohama Advan Neova AD08R tires to clear the M3's already generous fenders without any rubbing. According to Jackson, in terms of size, the setup is standard fare for E46 M3 owners, going on to say how he went online to "get a good idea of what'll fit from everyone else." Skimping on tires wasn't an option, either: "These are street tires," Jackson says, "but they're faster than some of the track tires I've used in the past. Alignment-wise, little's been messed with save for camber that's been corrected to -4 degrees up front and -2.2 degrees in the rear to ward off rubbing during suspension travel and ensure traction when cornering.
'13 Scion FR-S
Jackson Racing's supercharged Super Touring Under FR-S has been set up for one thing: to go as fast as possible and follow SCCA's rules while doing it. For that, they looked to class-restricted, 17x8-inch 949 Racing 6UL wheels with +40mm offset that preserve all of the Scion's handling and steering characteristics and allow for plenty of brake caliper clearance. SCCA has tire restrictions, too, which led to 245/40-17 BFGoodrich g-Force R1 S rubber that driver Oscar Jackson Jr. says "is an amazing race tire that's really sticky and [has] good longevity throughout the race." Jackson remains somewhat tight-lipped about the car's alignment specs, but does say that, not surprisingly, some negative camber has been introduced, that toe has been left alone, and that a bit more caster's been put into place up front. The results? According to Jackson, tire wear's better on the track, which normally takes a beating on the outside edges, and the whole package has "made a car that was already crisp on turn-in even better."
Set up your drift-bound track car right and you've just defied many of the rules other forms of racing have come to embrace. Here, traction matters—sometimes—but the ability to have less of it at the right time is even more important.
'87 Toyota Corolla
Luis Chavez knows exactly what it takes to deliver his Corolla from the street to the amateur drift events he regularly takes part in and then back to the street. It starts with wide, 15x10-inch Work Equip 03 wheels out back that, according to Chavez, help with stability and turn-in at the track. (Smaller-width wheels can result in spinning.) The marginally less important front wheels measure in at 15x9 inches with -13mm offset compared to the rear's -3mm fitment. Chavez looked to 205/50-15 Dunlop Direzza DZ102 tires for the rear and 195/45-50 Toyo Proxes T1R tires up front that were carefully sized in order to avoid contact with the frame. "A 50-series tire up front," he says, "would definitely catch at full lock." Alignment settings are just as important as those rear wheels and tires are; up front, -4.5 degrees of camber was introduced along with +2.8 degrees of caster that pushes the whole wheel and tire assembly forward for even more clearance when turning. According to Chavez, "the negative camber helps when throwing the car into turns and keeps the wheel from coming back at you; it also helps with clearance within the wheel wells." Out back, the Corolla's solid beam axle means no alignment changes can be made. The best part about Chavez' setup, he says, is that with just a tweak to the car's front camber he can exit the drift course with more grip for something that'll hold its own on the road course or the street.
'90 Nissan 240SX
Like Chavez' Corolla, Von Landayan's maxed out what'll fit within the confines of Nissan's S13 chassis. The daily driver and weekend drift car is based upon 17x9-inch Rays Nismo LM GT4 rims up front with +22mm offset and 17x9.5-inch ones with +12mm offset in the rear. "There's no more clearance up front because of the lower control arms and the stock fenders," Landayan says. "This is the widest you can go with stock body panels." Landayan says he opted for the more expensive forged wheels because of their strength and reduced weight, which can help under-powered cars like the S13 spin when they need to. Drift cars also require a unique mixture of tires that are capable of adequate grip up front and just anything that'll wrap themselves around a wheel in the rear. "I didn't want some crazy stretch and risk the tires de-beading," he says. Also, you definitely need grippier tires up front when drifting," which is what led to the 215/40-17 Dunlop Direzza ZII tires that also help eliminate understeer. Out back, more expendable 215/45-17 Kenda Kaiser KR20A rubber is on call. "Anything goes back there," Landayan says. "It doesn't matter." To make it all fit and to allow the 240 to do what he wants on the track, Landayan introduced -5 degrees of camber up front so that, as he puts it, "at full lock, the tires' contact patches will stay exactly how I want them."
It's controversial, it doesn't always make sense, and yet it usually looks good while doing it. The whole idea typically revolves around excessively low ride-heights that are made possible by air suspension, a significant amount of negative camber, and smaller-width tires that've been stretched beyond their limits onto their rims.
'03 Honda S2000
Brandon Stephens' S2000 has the look he wants, and that means that this roadster is no longer something he can drive every day. Come to terms with how counterintuitive that sounds, and maybe you're ready for something just as aggressive. Stephens' setup starts with 18-inch SSR SP1 Professor wheels that are 10.5 inches wide up front with +11mm offset and +13mm offset in the rear to accommodate the wider, 11.5-inch rims. "I wanted a cross between something really crazy and something functional," Stephens says. "The S2000 is definitely not a drift car, and with this setup, it has kept me out of trouble." The setup works because of the S2000's air suspension that can be raised and lowered on demand that, when dumped, yields -3 degrees of camber up front and -5 degrees in the rear by way of adjustable ball joints and a small amount of toe-in that Stephens says are both mandatory. Fender flares and stretched-on tires, according to Stephens, also aren't optional, the latter of which comes by way of Nexen N'fera SU1 rubber sized 225/35-18 up front and 215/35-18 in the rear. "That aggressive tire stretch," he says, "is the main thing that allows me to drive with maxed-out camber like this."