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Making It Stick Part 1

The Comprehensive Suspension Tuning Guide

Illustration by Ti Tong

Suspension tuning is the black art of compact performance. With the majority of the world concerned about making horsepower, handling has traditionally taken a back seat. However, as all serious geeks know, every fast, well-rounded street car has as much suspension tuning as it does power tuning.

With the popularity of drifting, time attack contests and racetrack hot lapping on the rise, suspension tuning and handling are becoming popular with enthusiasts who previously spent all their efforts making power.

Finding straight-line horsepower gurus to help you is relatively easy, but it's much harder to find an expert who can make your car corner well. The solution? Make yourself the guru. If your automotive interests are greater than a one-dimensional urge to blast straight down the 1320, then it's time to get to work.

In this series, we'll uncover the mysteries of car handling one at a time. This month, we begin with the four fundamental first steps.

Step one: Sticky tires
Tires by far are the biggest contributor to finding more cornering force. By bolting on a set of stickies, you-in minutes-make the biggest possible gain in cornering power. Generally, putting the biggest tires that will fit inside your wheel wells without rubbing is the way to go. Choosing an ultrahigh-performance tire is also important.

The list of sticky street tires is miles long. Below are a few of our favorites organized by cost. The cost-no-object tires will ultimately yield more grip than the value-priced tires, but in most cases, the value-priced choices offer 90 percent of the performance of the more expensive tires at 60 or 70 percent of their cost.

Some of our favorite ultrahigh-performance street tires
Cost No Object
Michelin Pilot Sport and Pilot Sport2
BFGoodrich g-Force KD
Bridgestone Potenza S-03
Value Priced
Falken Azenis

If you're attending track events, autocrossing or simply wanting the most grip possible, try a set of DOT-approved racing tires. Some can be used for everyday driving, while others grip almost like racing slicks and last only slightly longer. These tires produce more road-sucking grip than any suspension mod you can make.

The drawbacks are many. First, these tires can be expensive; second, they wear quickly; and third, the number of heat cycles their rubber formulations can withstand before losing significant grip is limited. Many of them don't do well in the wet and none work in the snow or ice. It's possible to end up with expensive, fast-wearing and not-so-grippy tires by using them on the street and by subjecting them to too many heat cycles. Most users of these race tires use them only on the track.

DOT-Approved Street-Legal Race Tires
Durable enough for street use
Yokohama A032R, Yokohama A048
Toyo RA-1
Nitto NT 555 RII
Hankook Z211
Pirelli P Zero Corsa
Michelin Pilot Sport Cup
Avon Tech R
Kumho Victoracer V700
Track only
Hoosier A3S04, Hoosier R3S04, Hoosier Radial Wet
Kumho ECSTA 710, Kumho ECSTA V700

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