The tires in this guide are for die-hard speed junkies with a lot of disposable cash. When you buy any of these 12 tires, you're buying ultimate, short-lived traction. These tires are an amalgamation of street tire and race tire. They're expensive, and they might only last 7,000 miles of street driving, but they grip the road better than every other streetable tire on the market. Bottom line: a set will make any car faster.
For the purposes of this guide, we've classified any tire with radial construction that falls between the minimal D.O.T. (Department of Transportation) certification and the top-of-the-line Max-grip tire as "R-compound." That's why this guide includes many drag and autocross radials, which have very different sidewall constructions.
The only good way to identify where an R-compound tire fits in between racing slicks and street radials is by looking at the tread and water channel design and by reading the UTQG rating. UTQG is the industry standard for rating a tire's performance. The number represents the wear rating, followed by a letter traction rating and then a letter temperature rating. The lower the number, the faster the tire will wear out. So, for example, a 400-rated tire will last twice as long as a 200 tire.
The traction rating is based on the tire's ability to stop on wet pavement. AA is highest, followed by A, B and C. Temperature ratings range between A, B and C and describe the tire's heat generation and dissipation characteristics.
For reference, the tires on a 2004 Chevy Impala have a UTQG wear rating of 500/A/B. Some race-governing bodies consider anything with a UTQG wear rating of less than 140 not to be a street tire. Incidentally, all of the following tires have a wear rating of less than 100, but we would happily drive them on the street.
In fact, we left out wannabe cheater slicks that barely meet D.O.T. requirements, such as the Avon R Tech, Hoosier R3SO3 and Kumho Ecsta 710, because they're not even remotely practical. Despite their being street legal, their manufacturers don't even recommend you use them on the street.
Though these R-compound tires are fast and sticky, don't take a set to your local professional autocross or hard-core drag competition and expect to win. You'll have your ass handed to you by the guys running cheater slicks.
To make things easy, we've organized this guide in alphabetical order by manufacturer, and we've provided a listing of approximate prices and size ranges for each tire. These prices are for nonshaved trims. Maximum tread depth starts at 8/32-inch and many can be ordered shaved down to 3/32-inch.
Now go out and go fast. Just be ready to pay for another set of skins real soon.
BFGoodrich g-Force T/A Drag RadialBFGoodrich was the first to introduce a street-legal drag radial for the enthusiast with uncompromising needs for straight-line traction. Its twin full-width steel belts and stiffened crown are designed to resist tread distortion under hard acceleration. The street compound offers reasonable wear for street applications while providing great launch traction without having to do a burnout first. Shallow-tread grooves minimize the amount of movement of the large tread blocks and resist chunking of the tire rubber.
To make the tire useable on the street, these drag radials have sufficiently stiff sidewalls to handle cornering loads and not sag under the vehicle's weight. The current g-Force T/A Drag Radial line has three tread patterns over the range of sizes available. The conventional tread pattern, originally the Comp T/A Drag Radial, is now merged with the g-Force name for applications on rear-drive high-horsepower applications. Two other tread patterns from the newer g-Force line released three years ago are intended for front-, rear- or all-wheel-drive sport compact applications.
We tested these tires on a recent BFG driving event and they proved harder to break loose than the clutches on our drag Mustangs. Available sizes range from 14- to 18-inch wheel diameters with an UTQG tread wear rating of 00/B/C, making it crystal clear that the tire isn't intended for long mileage. Prices range between $96 to $286 per tire. www.bfgoodrichtires.com
Michelin Pilot Sport CupThe Pilot Sport Cup is on the extreme end of the Pilot Sport Line. Originally designed to meet the needs of Porsche Club racers, this tire was the first to free drivers from the hassle of changing tires once they arrive at the track. Because of these origins, the Cup still offers some streetability for refined tastes, but performs to meet the needs of track-bound Porsches. Sidewall construction is similar to the other tires in the Pilot Sport series. However, the tread pattern is asymmetrical and drastically different.
The dual-zone tread compound has a soft dry compound on the outer shoulder and wet compound on the inside featuring directional sipes. The tread block on the outer shoulder is a continuous contact patch broken only by small voids to hold water much like rally tarmac tires. Internally, the Pilot Sport Cup features two, full-width steel belts reinforced with Michelin's Banded At Zero (BAZ) technology to stiffen the tread area and prevent the contact area from distorting during aggressive acceleration, cornering and braking. The Cup is offered in sizes 15 to 18 inches and has a 80/AA/A UTQG wear rating. Prices range between $191 to $388 per tire. www.michelin-us.com
Yokohama A032R H/SYokohama's A032R entry-level autocross/track school tire is well suited for street driving and high-performance applications. The Aqua Tusk design features huge tread blocks that are broken by directional grooves and sipes extending all the way to the tire shoulders for good water evacuation. The H/S rating refers to the hard (H) or soft (S) compound that the A032R is available in. Harder compounds are generally recommended for higher powered, heavier vehicles or where endurance for multiple track sessions is desired. The soft compound is better for lighter, lower-powered vehicles that can take advantage of softer tires and not wear through them with excessive tire spin. Yokohama offers the A032R in the standard 6/32-inch tread depth or shaved exclusively for track use. It's available in 13- to 17-inch wheel diameters with a 60/A/A UTQG tread wear rating. Prices range between $103 to 290 per tire. www.yokohamatire.com