If tyres are the shoe of a car then Michelin is to tyre what Louboutin is to shoe. It is, in my opinion, the best. In Portugal we were lucky enough to test the range from slick to PSS and what I took away from the track was amazing. Driving on Michelin slicks on a sunny, slightly windy day round the Estoril circuit is as close to driving heaven as I have been.
We were lucky. A small group of us flown from Heathrow to Lisbon for Michelins first Pilot Performance Day. There was a slight disappointment that we weren’t met by a small child in a Michelin Man suit, but the white legs of the Michelin PR guys were a welcome all of their own. We had a tour of Lisbon and I would love to share with you all the history of this beautiful city but I’m afraid I can’t, I was too busy chatting with my new friends about Gin and how, ever since the iPhone arrived, we try to do the two finger zoom on the Sunday newspapers. I did however pay attention when we were offered some of the famous Pastel de Nata, a Portuguese custard tart. Yum. We arrived at our hotel, The Grande Real Villa Italia. Five stars AND a Spa? This was shaping up nicely. A hotel room is important to me and let me tell you Michelin delivered. After one of the most beautiful meals I have ever eaten at Arola, part of the Penha Longa Hotel and Golf Resort (well worth a visit) I went to bed in one of the most stunning suites I have ever slept in thinking, if Michelin put as much attention to detail in their product as they have into this trip, tomorrow will be unforgettable.
A 7:45 checkout and departure was tough but as we drew up at Estoril heavy eyes turned to wide eyes. Around 20,000 bhp awaited us and as we poured off the coach we could hear those horses champing at the bit.
Michelin are the kind of company I am inspired by. They Market things perfectly and produce a fantastic product to back it up. There are a lot of competitors in the tyre industry both on the road and on track but Michelins approach is that without competitors they would not just win races, they would lose races. I like that. I look at Macchina in the same way, how can you be the leader in your field if there is no one else to beat.
They don’t compromise on quality. I like a brand that will walk away from a sport with such massive marketing key as F1 because, amongst other reasons, it doesn’t fit with the companies ethics of longevity and quality to build a tyre that is designed to fall apart after a few laps. Michelin has guts. It believes in itself and consequently, I believe in it.
We spent the early part of the morning in workshops, learning more about the brand and looking at the pretty impressive test results comparing Michelin to it’s rivals. On paper everything looked impressive but call me a cynic, I am, I tend to ignore what I am told by companies and what’s written on paper, as a car dealer with an understanding of marketing I know all about ‘the smoke’ and ‘the mirrors’ I wanted to test these tyres. Michelin granted my wish and we we’re sent off for our wet braking tests.
Now I would like to point out here that I took Miles with me, he is my wing man for all that is technical. He is a car nerd, a boffin. The kind of guy that you would want next to you in an exam. I can tell you there isn’t a car on this planet he couldn’t identify just by looking at a picture of trim or engine or something. Miles has run body shops, restoration shops and specialised in Porsche mechanics. I call him my walking car encyclopedia. My Mr Haynes.
First thing Miles did when we got to the wet braking area was to check tyre pressures, tread depth and other bits were the same. We have heard how some tyre manufacturers do unfair tests and we wanted the facts. Not to be hoodwinked into believing something only to discover the test hadn’t been fair. Everything was even. Every thing the same. Except the brand of tyre. We all took part in the test. Driving a BMW M3 up to 100 kph and then hitting the brakes between cones on tarmac that was being covered in water. Some of us took a while to get the hang of it. Don’t ask why, but there are a group of 10 guys out there that know what I mean. The results were outstanding. Consistently, over the two days, the Michelin tyres bought the car to a stop on average a meter earlier than the competitor. Let’s face it, that is a scary difference. That’s life or death kind of distance. Michelin have achieved these results through tireless (pardon the pun) consistent, research and development. In my eyes it shows why Michelin stand out as a manufacturer. It is why I choose to have Michelins on my car be it on the road or, nicely lining the next paragraph up, the track.
Finally, the part of the day all of us had been waiting for had come. Driving. Oh my goodness I was excited. A pit lane full off Porsche and Audi was making my tail wag. I shall mention my tail went into hyperdrive when I met Fred. I love a man that can drive but a man that can drive AND has a french accent. Michelin, you clever things. Frederic Rouvier is a professional racing driver and has competed in, amongst others, the Radical SR8 LM. He is also the director of Autoride a fantastic online magazine for those of you that can speak French. More importantly he was mine, for the afternoon. Hurrah.
Driving around Estoril in a GT3 RS with Fred riding shotgun, is without doubt one of my favourite moments of the last few years. I won’t lie to you, it helped that Fred was gorgeous, but putting that to one side I was in awe of his driving. To show the incredible amount of grip you can get from a Michelin Slick, He took me out in an Audi R8 GT3 and although I had to rearrange my insides when I got out (no, i wasn’t sick) I was squealing with delight, I can honestly say I have never experienced speeds like that but at no point did I feel the car was going to let go. The car was stuck to the road. The driver was incredible and the tyres were awesome.
My favourite Michelin tyre of the day was the slick, for obvious reasons. I have driven on Pilot Sport Cups and was again reminded, around Estoril, why these tyres make me smile. Even a girl like me finds it hard to get in to trouble wearing a set of these. On the Porsche GTS I experienced Slick, PS Cup + and Pilot Sport and was incredibly surprised at how well all of these performed on the track. But it was in the Audi TT and the Audi R8′s that I got my biggest surprise of the day. The Pilot Super Sport, one of Michelins latest offerings.
The first Audi I drove was the TT RS MTM with a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup. A great little car from renowned tuning company MTM. It performed as expected, I certainly wasn’t pushing the car to its limits but with the Cup underneath you it gives you confidence to brake later and accelerate harder.
From the MTM I climbed into an Audi TTRS with a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sports on. I have to be honest, after discovering how well these tyres performed in wet conditions, I wasn’t expecting them to remotely compare to what I had just experienced with the Cup but a few corners in I found these tyres were really making me smile. They are grippy, I did oversteer a bit but in all honesty that just made Fred and I ‘whoo hoo’ I was pushing these guys hard. They were incredible!
The PSS is a road tyre, albeit it its designed for powerful top end sports cars but it is design for the road not the track. When I ask myself what I expect of a slick I know I’m expecting something that is stickier than my 5 year olds fingers but as soon as the rain comes will be like trying to moonwalk in rollerskates on an ice rink. With the Pilot Sport Cup I am expecting consistent grip on the track but with a compromise to speed in the wet. With the PSS what I got was a tyre that allowed me to drive merrily around a race circuit, chucking the car into corners and enjoying every second of grip it gave me with the added benefit of knowing that if it rained my fun wouldn’t be compromised. No this tyre isn’t made specifically for the track but wow, having a road tyre that I feel confident enough to use on an impromptu track day and that I don’t feel I am wasting by nipping to the shops with is incredibly appealing to a girl with a heavy right foot and a well worn credit card.
Michelin shine out as a company that is consistently raising the bar. They have incredible products but what excites me most is knowing somewhere in the Michelin factory is a group of people working away on a tyre that will one day astonish me even more than these. I raise my Gin to Michelin, a company that not only inspires me but excites me too.